Ever heard of the anabolic window? Many people believe the idea that they NEED to consume a certain amount of protein after workouts or else they will not see any strength gains. This is why the bros say “bro eat your protein after a workout”.
In this edition of buffscrolls.com, we will discuss the best protein after workouts.
Not all protein is made the same. Some protein sources will be more effective in stimulating the growth of muscle tissue, while other protein sources may influence weight gain. In order to understand which protein sources will be the best after a workout, we need to first understand the basics of how the body works to gain muscle mass.
Protein and Muscle Mass
Protein is a macronutrient that helps to enable growth and cell repair throughout the body. It is mainly used as a form of connective tissue – since protein is broken down into amino acids, which serve as the structural components of all living organisms.
Sounds pretty important right?
Yes and no. Some amino acids the body actually creates on its own – these are called non-essential amino acids. On the other hand, essential amino acids are amino acids that the body cannot create on its own.
Essential amino acids will be needed to put on muscle mass and keep us healthy, fit and strong. This is amino acids you will need to get from dietary protein sources.
Role of Protein in Muscle Recovery
Proteins and their respective amino acids play a huge role in muscle recovery. Proteins are not only low in calories but are generally low in fat and can help with weight loss (a topic for another article).
Some protein after workouts helps to stimulate a process known as muscle protein synthesis.
This is the process of rebuilding new proteins and repairing muscle tissue. Certain amino acids can help this process along faster and more effectively.
For example, research will show that L-Leucine, an amino acid found heavily in pumpkin seeds, some fish and Soy can actually help to stimulate muscle protein synthesis faster than any other amino acid.
This means that when we are looking for the best protein after workouts we are not necessarily looking to eat a specific protein.
Instead, we are looking for protein sources that contain essential amino acids that can help stimulate muscle protein synthesis.
Before we get into the most effective foods for muscle recovery and strength let’s talk about some of the most important amino acids for your recovery.
Quality Protein = Optimal Amino Acid Spectrum
Recovery is all about finding the best spectrum of amino acids. In my mind, quality protein sources should always be aimed at finding the perfect spectrum of amino acids. Simply looking at protein sources for the number of grams per serving is not enough.
Here are the most important amino acids you should be looking to acquire the best protein after workouts:
The king of all amino acids. Leucine is an amino acid that is primarily responsible for the biosynthesis of proteins – this means it works to create protein structures in the cell, aka, recovery.
Consuming a source of protein that is rich in leucine can help you to recover faster.
A very effective amino acid for muscle recovery – especially during deloading weeks.
Glutamine does not necessarily help with recovery like Leucine does, but it helps to starve off muscle wasting.
In other words, glutamine can help to limit muscle soreness and allow for recovery on weeks when you are not training as intensively.
L-Theanine is an amino acid that stimulates relaxation. Some research has even shown that supplementing with L-Theanine (and zinc/ magnesium) can actually help you sleep.
L-Theanine is an amino acid that can be used to assist in recovery. We all know the important role that sleep plays in your recovery and if consuming protein sources rich in L-Theanine can help we should pay attention to that.
The last and perhaps most forgotten amino acid for performance and recovery. Beta-Alanine helps to limit the accumulation of lactic acid.
For those unaware, lactic acid is that stuff that makes your muscles feel tired mid-way through a set.
Lactic acid pooling in the muscle can put a damper on the amount of work you can complete during a workout. In order to best emphasize recovery, we should be sure to have an adequate amount of beta-alanine in our diet to assist in the delay of lactic acid accumulation during a workout.
Best Protein After Workouts
Now that we understand that protein after workouts is about the amino acids contained in our diet we can break down some of the best protein sources.
NOTE: although red meats do generally contain a good spectrum of the above amino acids many of them will come with a high amount of saturated fats – which has been shown for decades to have significant correlations to heart disease, obesity, diabetes and other health diseases.
The foods we have chosen provide many of the most important amino acids we discuss in high amounts without all the unnecessary health issues that come with them.
1. Pumpkin Seeds
Delicious, snackable, high in calories and high in protein – pumpkin seeds provide a plethora of nutritional value for the fitness enthusiast.
Along with a long line of essential vitamins and minerals, pumpkin seeds also contain a high amount of L-leucine and L-glutamine.
2. Hemp Protein
Hemp should really be labelled as a superfood. Not only does it contain very healthy fats (including omega fatty acids) but it also contains a good amount of L-Glutamine and D-Aspartic acid.
Although we did not highlight D-Aspartic acid, it is another amino acid that helps with muscle protein synthesis and has even been shown to improve anabolic strength.
Don’t start shaking your head thinking we are crazy, crickets are a highly nutrient-dense food source. These little guys are packed full of nutrients and are primed and ready to help you put on muscle mass.
Not only do they contain a variety of vitamins and minerals, but they are almost 70% protein by weight and contain little to no cholesterol.
Ensure Adequate Creatine Supplementation
The last thing to consider is that you are optimally supplementing with creatine. Although creatine is not a protein or amino acid it plays a huge role in the regulation of recovery and fuel for your next workout.
For more information on how creatine can help to improve your workout check out our article on creatine and performance here.
Protein is a very important regulator for your success in the gym, but you must re-evaluate the way you view protein.
Consuming the best protein after workouts are not all about chugging whey protein and hoping for the best. Instead, I urge you to think about which foods will provide you with the best spectrum of amino acids and essential vitamins and minerals.
Simply looking for a huge dosage of protein is not going to be as effective as a whole-food that is packed with nutrients.
Thinking of taking the next step in your training? Grow stronger and improve your body composition with a customized nutrition plan. We include advice, recipes and a balance of food that is built for your busy life.