Do you really need a supplement?
Whether you’re doing cardio or lifting weights, the nutrition you provide your body after exercise is key. Eating after exercise aka refueling within 30 minutes to one hour of your workout helps optimize your body’s recovery process.
If you’ve ever seen a refrigerator at a gym or browsed the “nutrition” aisle in a supermarket, you may think that a protein supplement is the best – or only – way to refuel. But do you really need a supplement? Let’s take a closer look…
While you may be tempted to grab a protein supplement post-workout, I always recommend getting your nutrients from real, whole foods. Why?
1. Unlike food and unlike drugs, which are monitored by the FDA, the supplement industry is unregulated, meaning there’s no guarantee that what’s inside is what it actually claims to be.
2. Supplements can be expensive.
3. With just a little planning, there are plenty of protein-rich foods that you can grab quickly and easily within an hour of exercise.
Be Smart About Supplements!
The main benefit to supplements is the convenience. You can throw some powder into a shaker bottle, add water, and down it as you’re leaving the gym or in the car. A ready-to-drink shake, which many gyms sell, offers even more convenience (for a price, of course). Protein powders are typically made from whey – which supports immediate muscle recovery- or casein, which is longer acting. Both are derived from milk and provide all the essential amino acids (the building blocks of protein) that your body needs to repair and rebuild muscle tissue. If you’re looking for a plant-based protein option, soy is the most nutritionally equivalent, being a “complete” protein will all the essential amino acids. Other vegetarian proteins include pea, hemp, and brown rice, often found in some combination in plant-based supplements.
Regardless of the source, most protein supplements provide 20-25 grams of protein per serving, which is the ideal amount to take in post-exercise (more than that is ineffective for muscle synthesis – excess protein is actually converted into a carb pre-cursor and used for energy.)
If you do choose to go with a supplement, make sure to choose a brand that is third-party tested. How do you know? Look for products labeled as “USP-verified” or “NSF-certified.”
Protein from Foods
- The great thing about food sources of protein is that they also offer a variety of other nutritional benefits. Dairy – one of the best-absorbed proteins post-exercise– also provides calcium and vitamin D, which are essential for bone health, and potassium, an electrolyte that can help manage blood pressure. Greek yogurt, in addition to calcium, contains probiotics, “good” bacteria that keep your GI system healthy and promote digestion.
- Turkey is high in an essential amino acid, tryptophan, which is a pre-cursor for serotonin and may help with mood regulation and sleep.
- Plant-based sources of protein such as edamame, black beans and whole grains also contain dietary fiber, which promotes healthy blood sugar and cholesterol levels. Plus, eating fiber-rich foods helps you feel fuller longer, and can support weight management by helping you eat less overall.
- Eggs contain choline, an essential nutrient for a wide range of body processes, and are one of the new natural food sources of vitamin D.
- Tuna packs in a good dose of heart-healthy omega-3 fats in addition to protein.
So bottom line, instead of spending money on a supplement, which may or may not even be what it claims, choosing protein-rich foods is a great way to refuel those hard-worked muscles while reaping a host of additional health benefits!
And don’t forget about carbs! The ideal post-workout snack provides both protein for muscle growth and repair, and carbs to replenish energy stores. (FYI: simple carbs actually help your muscles absorb and incorporate amino acids better!)
Here are some of my favorite post-workout snack combos:
- Greek yogurt + berries
- Cottage cheese + pineapple
- Apple + string cheese
- Whole grain crackers + turkey slices
- Whole wheat pita + tuna
- Fruit & yogurt smoothie
This nutrient-packed smoothie delivers the right amount of carbs & protein to help you refuel and rehydrate post-workout.
- 1/2 cup berries, fresh or frozen
- 1/2 large banana
- 1/2 cup plain, low-fat Greek yogurt
- 1 cup spinach (or your favorite green)
- 1 cup nonfat milk (or alternative)
Directions: Combine ingredients and blend.
Nutrition: Calories 280 | Fat 3g | Carb 44g | Fiber 4g | Protein 22g
Want more support?
Refueling properly after post exercise will help you recover from your workouts. But reaching your fitness goals is about so much more than just what you eat before and after exercise. A healthy, balanced diet is key to performance, reaching your ideal body composition, and overall health.
For more support developing a nutrition plan tailored to YOUR needs, preferences, and goals, contact Registered Dietitian Alissa Palladino at firstname.lastname@example.org.