The Myth of the Post-Workout “Recovery” Protein Shake
If you don’t have a post-workout protein shake immediately after training, you’ll never recover.
The “shake after the gym” mindset comes to us because the majority of “recovery shake” studies were performed on athletes who had exercised in a fasted state. Fasted! Scientists generally like to control for every possible variable, so when they design studies that examine the effects of a protein shake after training, they typically want to eliminate any outside variables – in this case, a pre-workout meal is an outside variable. The more you can control for outside variables, the more repeatable and accurate your study is going to be. Unfortunately, the more “perfect” your study environment is going to be, the less it will resemble the real world; the real world is seldom perfect.
Fasting significantly elevates muscle protein breakdown, resulting in a net catabolic (muscle-losing) state. So when these studies looked at (fasted) athletes that were given a post-workout protein shake after training, they showed a huge spike in performance, muscle gain, strength, etc… but this is obviously going to produce a skewed result, or at least, a result that skews in favor of the post-workout shake – a result that is likely intended, since the preponderance of these studies are funded by (you guessed it) people selling recovery shakes. Quite frankly, if you want to get stronger and build muscle, there’s no reason at all that you need to pound a shake right after you train:
The problem is that nobody at the advanced/elite level is likely to be training or competing on an empty stomach (though fasted training isn’t necessarily the worst thing in the world, training with proper fuel is far more productive). With the exception of people whose schedule dictates that they train before breakfast (5am CrossFit classes, we’re looking at you), it’s unlikely that anyone really trains on an empty stomach. When we formulated 3Fu3l, we specifically designed it to be Fuel + Recovery. That’s because we knew that the fuel you need to perform is the fuel you need to recover. Can you have another shake after training? Of course. A high quality fuel that gets you through your session is also going to have the nutrients to help you recover. And as long as your total protein intake is high enough, the actual “timing” of your protein intake becomes less important (link to full study below) for muscle growth.
What we’re saying is that there’s no need for the “do or die” mentality of pounding a post-workout protein shake immediately after you train; not if you fueled properly, and your total protein intake is adequate.
This really great analysis of post-exercise nutrition (where we got this idea for this blog post) was published recently. It concluded that: “… widely varying feeding patterns among individuals challenge the common assumption that the post-exercise “anabolic window of opportunity” is universally narrow and urgent.”
The post workout meal, in other words, is not necessarily going to build the most muscle and be the most time-sensitive. Especially if you’re properly FU3LED.
*Statements made on www.3fu3l.com do not represent affiliation or endorsement by or with CrossFit.