Unless you hadn’t realised, there are dozens of sports nutrition companies making money from selling powdered milk protein to people like you.
They’re not really selling protein powder though, they’re selling a dream, the dream of your ideal physique, the dream of looking like Phil Heath, Dexter Jackson, or if you’re not that way inclined – Rob Riches or Ryan Terry. The dream of curling 25s, or sporting an 8-pack, of having bikini-clad fitness competitors hanging off your right bicep while you’re on muscle beach doing a one-armed muscle up.
Or something like that. While let me tell you a secret, that probably won’t happen. Unless of course you’re gifted with the genetics of a Greek god (Was your great great great grandad Zeus?), the time to do multiple workouts per day, the money to buy enough protein each week to feed the population of Western Samoa (for a year), and the inclination to pump yourself full of anabolic steroids. Sorry, but it’s true.
The Post-Workout Supplements Myth
I’ve gone into detail in previous posts about how you don’t need whey protein at all to build muscle, but in my latest rant, I want to scrutinise this post-workout supplement myth. If you’re already chugging back two scoops of ‘recovery shake’ no sooner than you racked up the 10s (or just left them on the gym floor, you bastard), along with some gratuitous form of sugar (Gummi Bears anyone?), you know what I’m talking about.
If you don’t, it goes a little something like this;
‘Post-Workout, your muscles are primed to soak up nutrients, so drinking a protein recovery shake within 30 minutes of your workout will give them the nutrients they need to rebuild, ready for your next session. Taking a form of sugar with your protein will spike your insulin levels, meaning the protein is shuttled into your bloodstream even quicker‘
Seems legit on first inspection, I certainly fell for it for a while. This supposed theory has spawned a whole ‘sub market’ of post-workout supplements – i.e. whey protein mixed with a form of sugar (Maltodextrin, dextrose, Vitargo etc), marketed as distinct from plain old whey protein powder.
Do you NEED Post-workout Shake?
No. The marketing of post-workout products is misleading – if you really want this kind of post workout supplement formula, you can make it yourself at a much lower cost by buying the ingredients separately (whey protein and your preferred form of sugar). But if you’re smart enough to release this, you can probably see through all the marketing bullshit too.
Think about it this way:
A prerequisite for building muscle is being in a calorie surplus (obviously with the correct macro nutrient balance). If the post workout recovery shake was as crucial for muscle building as the supplement companies would have us believe, does that mean someone who was training intensely enough, and getting adequate calories not gain muscle simply because they DIDN’T have a shake 30 minutes after their workout?
Don’t be ridiculous.
I’m not saying nutrient timing isn’t important, but you’ll still build muscle by forgoing that post-workout shake we’re lead to believe is so important, provided everything else (training, nutrition, sleep) is on-point. Aside from cost, the real disadvantage of buying into this post workout dogma is the massive sugar intake – whether it’s in the form of dextrose, Maltodextrin or Jelly Babies.
Of course sugar isn’t a problem in small, infrequent doses, but if you’re a proponent of the ‘Post Workout Shake cult’ you’ll probably be guzzling upwards of 50 grams of pure sugar per day.
That’s potentially 250g of sugar per week, or 1000 calories worth of sugar per week if you train 5 times a week.
Look at the nutrition info for CNP Pro Recover, one of the most popular post-workout formulas.
If you’re training hard enough (competitive bodybuilder hard) this might not be an issue, but I’m guessing you’re not, and therefore there are other nutrients you could be putting in your body that will do far more for you (i.e. they actually contain beneficial nutrients).
We’ve all heard the stories of competitive bodybuilders shovelling down tubs of Ben ‘n’ Jerry’s after working out, but that doesn’t mean you can. Don’t think for one second that you train as hard as competition level bodybuilders – these guys are doing an incomprehensible number of sets per workout, AND training with relentless intensity. Oh, and don’t forget the whole steroid thing. They can pretty much eat what they want and remain lean.
So Why do So Many People Take Them?
Well, we’ve been lead to believe that the sugar in a post-workout shake will ‘spike’ our insulin, which will shuttle the other nutrients in the shake (protein) into our bloodstreams quicker, increasing protein synthesis (the rate at which protein is absorbed).
This theory have spawned all kinds of buzzwords like ‘the post-workout window’ or the ‘anabolic window’. Impressionable gym rays (myself included, I admit) had the ‘YOU MUST HAVE A SHAKE WITHIN 30 MINS OF YOUR WORKOUT OR YOU WON’T MAKE ANY GANIZ’ mantra hammered into them for some time now. I
t seemed to make sense, but theories come and go, and if you needed any evidence to dispel the myth, don’t trust this post, trust Mr Layne Norton. Layne Norton is a natural bodybuilder, but he also has a Nutrition PhD, so he basically knows everything. Ok maybe not, but I’d certainly encourage you to respect his opinion.
So What Should you do Post-Workout?
It’s going to vary from person to person, but I can tell you what I do. I don’t have any form of post-workout shake. I train late afternoon/early evening, and if I have a shake directly after working out, it fills me up for a good hour or two. After the gym I’d rather have a huge meal with plenty of protein, carbs and fat – definitely my biggest meal of the day, and I don’t want anything to interfere with that – even if it means waiting a little longer to eat after I leave the gym.
If my appetite requires, I’ll sometimes have a shake before bed. This works perfectly well for me, if you train a different time, you may want to do something different.
What Kind of Carbs Should I Have Post-Workout?
First of all, you don’t NEED to have carbs post-workout at all.
Like I said, if you’re trying to build muscle it really does come down to calories and adequate protein, and as Layne Norton points out, you won’t get the alleged spike in insulin that aids protein synthesis. So is there any point in having carbs at all?
The plus points of carbs is that they’re very cheap – 1Kg of carbs – rice for example, is a fraction of the price of 1Kg of protein or fat. The other good thing about carbns is they they efficiently replenish muscle glycogen – the primary source of fuel for muscle contractions when you train.
The thing with carbs is they’re very much an individual thing – some people can get by and train hard on very few carbs, some people simply need them to fuel an intense session. Unfortunately there’s no right or wrong answer. Generally speaking I have 100-150g of carbs post workout, and that works out pretty well for me.
Be smart about your post workout nutrition, there’s no doubt that it’s a great time to have a big meal, bit you don’t need some powdered concoction with a colourful label. Taylor your post-workout nutrition to your goals, the type of training you’re doing, and the time of day that you train.