Protein shakes before or after your workout

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Protein is necessary for muscle repair and growth. It is an essential macronutrient that is required for optimal function.

For this reason, many people consume protein supplements in the form of shakes along with their workouts.

However, the optimal time to have a protein shake is an often debated topic.

Some believe it’s best to drink a protein shake before a workout, whereas others argue that after a workout is ideal.

Myself personally, am a fan of the train fasted, compete fed philosophy.

How much protein do you require?
The Recommended Daily Allowance (RDA) for protein is 0.8 g/kg of body weight.

The RDA is the estimated amount of a nutrient a person needs to avoid a deficiency. It doesn’t specify the amount needed to optimize body composition or health and performance.

Most research suggests that people who routinely strength train may need double the RDA, or 1.6 g/kg, to support muscle recovery and growth.

A protein shake is a good option between meals, either as a snack or around your workout. They typically contain 25–30 grams of protein per scoop.

The magical 30 minute window
Many people within the health and fitness industry believe that drinking a protein shake within 30 minutes of completing physical activity will maximize their results in the gym.

Previously, it was been thought that consuming protein within this window gave the athlete the best opportunity to build new muscle mass. More recent research however, suggests that this window is much longer than 30 minutes and may not be limited to the post-workout window.

Today, it has become widely accepted that total protein consumed throughout the day is probably as important to building lean muscle than the actual timing.

Whilst I am a fan of training in a fasted state, I do use branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs) on occasion and my morning coffee is usually combined with some collagen. Whilst technically it breaks the fast, the collagen provides a small amino acid boost pre-workout, fuelling the muscles and generally resulting in improved physical performance.

On the other end of the spectrum, there are people who just don’t respond well to training without eating or drinking something beforehand. If you fall into this category then a protein shake post-workout will still contribute to muscle repair and growth.

That being said, here are some of the benefits of taking some protein during the pre-workout window.

Increased protein synthesis
Pre-workout protein, specifically BCAAs, will help fuel the muscles during physical activity. BCAAs do not need to be processed by the liver, so after being consumed, they head directly to the blood stream to be used by the muscles.

Taking protein prior to your workout primes the pump, starting protein synthesis during, rather than after your training session.

A pre-workout serve of BCAAs increases amino acid delivery to the muscles during physical activity. Taken alone or as part of a complete protein, such as whey protein powders, BCAAs inhibit muscle breakdown. The result is an even higher level of net protein synthesis.

Carryover effect post-workout
There is also a carryover effect of nutrients taken pre-workout. Protein synthesis can stay elevated for as long as 3 hours after consumption.

What does this mean? Consuming protein pre-workout will elevate amino acids within the blood both during and after your workout is over. This elevation of blood amino acids will not only trigger protein synthesis but help prevent excessive post-workout muscle breakdown.

Fat burning
Taking BCAAs along with some coffee pre-workout can be extremely beneficial during periods of low carbohydrate consumption. Adding BCCAs pre-workout, when glycogen stores are low (they will be if you eating a low carbohydrate diet), will increase fatty acid oxidation (aka fat burning) during periods of intense physical activity.

In summary
The nutrients consumed around your workout are critical to building and maintaining your physique.

While protein shakes around workouts and between meals are helpful, make sure you’re getting enough protein throughout the day. Consuming protein from quality food sources should be your primary goal.

Additional supplementation using protein shakes can help you meet your goals.

While the post-workout shake has long been the go-to for many bodybuilders and athletes, consuming some protein in the pre-workout window may be even more beneficial, by supporting intra-workout muscle growth.

If you are generally healthy and getting a good amount of quality protein throughout the day, then a serve of BCAAs pre-workout will provide an adequate boost during your workout.

How to get more fat in your diet

a heart shaped butter pat melting on a non-stick surface

Most foods that we eat today have some amount of fat content. 

Fat is an amazing flavour enhancer. It makes everything taste better.

Many people are starting to accept that fat is not all bad and have started to make the shift into lower carbohydrate diets. The thing is, when you lower your carbohydrate intake, you will need to increase one of the other macro-nutrients, protein or fat.

From a nutritional perspective, humans have evolved eating mostly protein and fats. In fact, it was the shift into eating more fatty tissue and organ meats that made cognitive revolution occur. This is also known as the development of the human brain.

More recent times have led to the vilification of dietary fats, however it’s not all bad. Additional to providing flavour, dietary fat from whole food sources provides the necessary intake of valuable fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E & K.

More and more research is proving that the real enemy is excessive carbohydrate and processed “food” consumption, combined with an overstressed, sedentary lifestyle, that is causing the explosions in obesity and chronic “diseases of lifestyle” that are so common in present day populations.

Here is a bunch of ways to get more fat into your diet:

Use whole, full-fat ingredients
It’s time to remove all of the low-fat or lite food products from the pantry and refrigerator.

Look for full-fat dairy products. Milk (if tolerant), butter, cream, yoghurt and cheeses. Add in avocados and some pastured eggs. Try to add natural fats rather than avoid them entirely.

Fatty cuts of meat can be more flavourful, and are often cheaper than leaner cuts. Wild salmon and sardines contain high amounts of important omega-3 fats and make valuable additions to the dinner plate.

Cook with fats
Cook your vegetables, meats, fish and eggs in natural fats like butter, ghee or coconut oil.

Use a variety of natural fats for flavour
Different fats can provide different flavours to your food. This will create variety to your meals without too much complication.

Try experimenting with these fats and oils:

  • Butter and ghee;
  • Lard, tallow, duck fat, or any other animal fat;
  • Coconut oil;
  • Olive oil;
  • Macadamia nut oil;
  • Avocado oil.

Top your dishes with butter or oils
A drizzle of oil. A dollop of sour cream. Melt some butter. You can top off almost any dish with some health promoting fats.

Garnish with high fat foods
Avocado. Cheese. Olives. Nuts and seeds. All of these high fat foods are packed with nutrients and important fat-soluble vitamins, so add these to your meals when available.

Eat more cheese
Cheese is a simple addition to any meal. It can even work as an appetizer. It goes with just about anything and can be eaten at anytime of the day. Packed with both protein and fat it makes a perfect addition to any meal or gathering.

If you are sensitive to dairy products, you may be able to tolerate hard cheeses such as Parmesan, Cheddar and Gouda as they have generally low amounts of lactose that most people will be able to manage small to moderate amounts.

Cheese is often served as dessert in my house.

Blend fats into your coffee or tea
Adding coconut or MCT oil to your morning coffee or tea is quick and easy. Full-fat cream works just as well and will give you that milky flavour with very little lactose content.

The combination of caffeine and MCT’s will provide you with some mental clarity, make you feel more alert and focused, as well as reduce the typical caffeine crash.

It will prime the body to shift from glucose to fat as a fuel source which will also keep your appetite suppressed for longer.

Is all yoghurt equal?

Greek yogurt in a glass jars

The same basic principles apply to making all types of yoghurt. The addition of specific strains of bacteria to milk followed by the an incubation period at temperatures warm enough to encourage growth and proliferation.

Yoghurt is milk transformed into a creamy, tangy and more nutritious product. At this point all yoghurt is created equal. From here, food producers have made the case to ruin a perfectly good thing with misguided additions, or reductions in an attempt to capitalise in the modern market.

Often, they remove perfectly good fats and replace them with gums, stabilizers, thickeners and gelatin in an attempt to recreate the natural creamy textures.

They can load it with sugars and/or high fructose corn syrup, assuming that the consumer can’t handle the tang of real yoghurt (we have been conditioned to prefer sweeter foods).

They turn a highly nutritious whole food with thousands of years of tradition into an edible product with little resemblance of its predecessor.

So, what to avoid?

Yoghurt with added sugar
Yes, sweet foods do taste great. But you would be surprised at how much sugar is added to manufactured yoghurt. Some varieties can have upwards of 20 grams of pure sucrose, which is far, far too much.

If you must have something sweet with your yoghurt, drizzle some raw honey on top. Another option, and probably better again is to add some fresh fruit, such as blueberries, raspberries, strawberries or even a banana.

Yoghurt with added thickeners and stabilizers
Innately, people love the traditional thickness of yoghurt, but they have been conditioned to be scared of the fat that creates that texture. Manufacturers often remove the fat and replace it with additives.

These additives are not necessarily dangerous to human health, but there is some supporting evidence to suggest that some of these additives may increase your risk of obesity by altering the diversity of your gut bacteria. So, why risk it when you can eat the unaltered whole food?

Some yoghurts and even kefir will have prebiotic fibres, such as pectin or inulin added. This probably is a good thing, as adding a prebiotic may actually increase the overall health effects and support the microbial population.

Most low-fat yoghurt
A high percentage of the studies that find dairy products to be beneficial to human health, it is full-fat dairy that has been used. Conversely, when a study links dairy to adverse health outcomes, low-fat diary has usually been used.

Most likely, the reasons behind why full-fat dairy is so good for us is because of what it is not. Highly processed, with added thickeners or stabilizers, industrial fibres and sugars to make up for the missing fats.

Fatty acids in their natural state are generally associated with optimal human health. Such as conjugated linoleic acid (CLA) found in pastured-raised dairy products which offers some protection against cancer and heart disease.

There are times where low-fat alternatives can be beneficial for short periods of time, such as a bodybuilder in preparation for competition, who is looking for a high-protein, low-fat food source to kickstart post-workout muscle protein synthesis without the potential fat gain.

What about the good stuff?

Classic full-fat yoghurt
This is yoghurt in its natural state. It’s creamy (when made with full-fat milk), tangy and full of healthy bacteria. It’s classic.

Strained yoghurt
Also known as Greek yoghurt, strained yoghurt is just yoghurt with most of the liquid whey removed. This creates an ultra-thick, high-protein, high-fat creamy yoghurt that is great for a variety of uses, such as making Tzatziki dips, or for use in some Indian style curries. It’s also amazing with mixed berries or even some raw honey.

Skyr
This is an Icelandic yoghurt/cheese hybrid that incorporates both bacterial cultures and animal rennet to produce a thick, high-protein cultured milk product.

Skyr is non-fat, which is the traditional way to make it. Skyr makers would use the leftover milk after making butter. An efficient way to maximise your resources.

Making the most of eating yoghurt:

  • Try different types. Different yoghurts often contain different bacterial strain combinations. The variety of good bacteria will help improve you overall gut bacterial diversity.
  • Try different species. The fermentation process reduces the allergenicity of bovine whey and casein proteins, but may not be enough if you’re really intolerant. Try goat, sheep or even a non-diary version like coconut yoghurt.
  • Try smaller amounts. Start with a teaspoon at a time, building up from there. Remember, you’re adding new bacterial residents to your gut and they’ll need time to settle into their new surroundings.
  • Try sourer varieties. The more sour the yoghurt is, the less lactose remains. Lactose is a common gut irritant.