Should you take protein after training?

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Anyone who goes for their chocolate milkshake after a workout should raise their hand! Many people “supplement” with protein in powders, bars, shakes or foods after a good session at the gym, and I can understand them. From the marketing that surrounds sports products, it seems necessary to ingest protein after a workout if we want our efforts to be rewarded.

However, this is a bit of a myth as not everyone benefits.

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Firstly, why are you exercising? If your goal is to get better cardio, be healthier, lose weight, or have fun, taking protein after training probably doesn’t do much good. You don’t need anything more than water after running for 45 minutes on a treadmill.

(Let me digress for a moment. If your sole reason for working out is weight loss, perhaps you should try to find an activity that you enjoy. It’s hard to lose weight with exercise, and any habit that only makes you suffer or requires too much effort is bound to be abandoned eventually if you lack motivation. Yet moving has so many other physical and mental health benefits that it’s worth finding a different reason than the number on the scale).

If your goal is to gain muscle mass, then yes, eating a snack after the gym – not just protein – can provide benefits with a few conditions.

For those who want more muscle

First, you need to do the right exercises. I’m not a kinesiologist, so that I won’t go into that. Just know that you should validate with someone competent if the frequency, duration and type of training you do are the ones that are best suited to you and your goals.

In terms of nutrition, make sure you eat enough during the day. And at the risk of repeating myself: not just protein! A common mistake is to focus on protein when all nutrients are essential, and carbohydrates are crucial. So you need to eat a variety of foods.

An omelette with eight egg whites for breakfast every morning is not a varied diet.

Of course, even if they are insufficient, proteins are indeed essential. If you want your body to be able to build muscle, it must have access to the raw material.

Good sources are legumes, tofu, tempeh, nuts, seeds, dairy products, fortified soy beverages, eggs, poultry, fish and meat. Everyone’s protein needs are different, but incorporating some of the sound sources listed above throughout the day will likely provide your body with all it needs. The Institut national de santé Publique du Québec estimated in 2015 that only 3% of Quebecers do not consume enough protein.

In addition to eating everything, you need to eat enough. Gaining muscle mass means gaining weight, and therefore, you must consume enough calories to provide your body with this extra energy. This is not the time to fast.

If you train one or two days a week, the above advice is probably sufficient. Your diet should be able to meet your needs, and you have time to recover between sessions without any problems. However, if you train more frequently and don’t have a meal planned soon after you finish, that’s when a snack can come in handy.

To maximize the results of your well-planned workout, you can have a small snack that contains three times more carbohydrates than protein. It’s straightforward to find all of this in food without turning to supplements, bars or powders.

Examples of good post-workout snacks

Plain yoghurt/cottage cheese and fruit

Crackers with cheese

Dried fruit and nut mix

Chocolate milk (you can’t get away with it!)

Hard-boiled egg sliced on a bagel

Flavoured soy beverage and fruit

Indeed, some people who train intensely and want to gain muscle mass can benefit from a post-exercise snack. Before you get into the marketing of sports products, remember that a well-planned diet is often all you need.

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