Boosting Exercise Benefits

To get the most from your routine, consume high-quality protein after workouts.

July-August 2013

by Lisa James


Fitness means more than just exercising diligently. You can run for miles, lift weights on a rigorous schedule—and still not get the results you want if your eating habits don’t support your efforts.

It’s a common situation. In a survey of people who exercise three or more times a week, 82% admitted that they didn’t pay enough attention to what they ate after working out, the time when proper nutrition—especially high-quality protein—can maximize exercise’s effects in terms of increasing both performance and lean body mass.

Fortunately, protein shakes provide an easy solution to the problem of inadequate post-workout nutrition. But first let’s look at why protein can help you attain your fitness goals.

Making Muscle

Like the rest of the body’s tissues, muscle is constantly being broken down and built back up even in people who do nothing more strenuous than lifting a remote. Resistance exercise, such as lifting weights, speeds this process by creating tiny tears, or microtrauma, in the muscle fibers. The body then responds by not only fixing the damage but by creating even more muscle tissue to compensate for it.

Muscles are made of protein, which in turn is composed of amino acids. Providing amino acids after exercise allows the muscles to take in these crucial nutrients exactly when they are needed to build new tissue and while blood flow is still at a peak.

This explains why protein should make up the bulk of your post-workout meal. In one Japanese study, men who ate a high-protein snack after resistance exercise saw increases in lean mass and reductions in body fat (Journal of Nutritional Science and Vitaminology 9/11).

Multi-Source Protein

The protein used in shakes comes from a variety of sources. Soy has long been the gold standard among plant-based protein powders; soy protein isolate can be blended with powdered fermented soy, the type that helps give Asian cuisines their healthy reputation.

In parts of the world where rice is a dietary staple, brown rice is sprouted to unlock its full nutritional potential. Rice-based protein provides a balanced amino acid profile, including the branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs) that are crucial to muscle growth. Brown rice protein pairs well with that taken from peas. Some manufacturers blend all three protein types—soy, brown rice and pea—together for optimal results.

For protein to be effective, it must easily move from the intestines into the blood. One advantage of proteins from soy, brown rice and pea is their readily absorbable nature, otherwise known as their bioavailability.

Don’t forget to take some carbs with your protein. The ideal sports shake contains just enough carbohydrate to help the liver rebuild the body’s energy stores without scavenging amino acids, which leads to a loss of muscle tissue.

Other shake ingredients can also promote exercise effectiveness. One is creatine, an amino acid-based compound. Creatine helps create ATP, a molecule that fuels explosive power within the muscles and needs constant replenishment. Research has found that creatine helps increase the benefits of resistance training, including increases in strength and lean mass (Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition 7/20/12). And MCT, a form of fatty acid, helps promote better energy usage within the body.

Going for a workout? Throw a sports shake into your gym bag to get the most from exercise.

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