"Protein shakes" and other high-protein dietary strategies are believed by some to improve muscle recovery times after workouts. However, there is some opinion to the contrary: that protein intake beyond a normal level does not result in quicker recovery times. Does ingesting huge amounts of protein actually help speed muscle recovery after workouts?
You will find a lot of advice on the Internet about this one, most of it is not demonstrated.
This is what the British Journal of Sports Medicine says about it:
Recent research suggests that the timing of the intake of protein related to exercise may be more important than the total amount of protein consumed in a day. In the case of resistance training, an intake of approximately 20–25 g of a high quality protein source in the hour after exercise appears to produce the maximum rate of protein synthesis.
So, the total amount of protein consumed is not important, the timing is. But this amount is much more smaller what the supplementation guys say.
(to view the full article linked above you would have to subscribe for 30 days free).
There's some contradiction as to what's the most important part: timing, quantity etc. I have found pretty good studies that indicate that the post-workout shake doesn't really make a difference and then there are studies like the one Duopixel quotes that suggest the opposite. There are also many variables even regarding the post-workout shake: with/without carbs, what "type(s)" of protein, what quantity of protein, distance from previous/next meal etc.
I think that some things are more or less agreed upon:
- protein is important for recovery and for general health
- "huge" amounts of protein are not healthy, nor do they offer advantages over a normal quantity (it's very important to be clear about what huge vs normal means though, since the "right" amount of protein is subject to debate as well), no matter where they come from
- supplements are meant to help .. supplement your diet, they should not "replace" it; if you are getting enough protein from your diet, I see no reason to take protein supplements. If you need more protein and cannot, for some reason, resolve that through your diet, supplements will of course be helpful
I've spoken to 2 sports nutritionists on this very subject over the past year, and both told me that protein is ineffective in post-recovery workouts, that the muscles can't absorb protein after working out. They said to eat a high-protein breakfast instead.
They also said that carbs are all that count for recovery, and that you should eat carbs immediately after a workout, and then about 200-250 calories every 2-3 hours afterwards.
So far, it's been the most effective nutrition plan for me, as I haven't felt the need to eat everything in sight after a long bike ride or karate workout. Your mileage may vary.
I can only give an answer based on my personal experience, so this is definitively a piece of biased, unproven, good old Bro'science.
Disclaimer: Of course its out of question that the supplement industry tries to sell their stuff, but I think most of it is just as the name suggests, a supplement, maybe improving your form by a few percent or being completely without effect.
As you ask specifically for "recovery" I take that as an intentional differentiator from "build up", that is, you want to reduce soreness and get back to your muscular capacity in a shorter time. The only thing which works for me is highly processed protein, that is, whey isolate or whey hydrolysate. All other forms and types of protein do not work so well or don't work at all (compared to "normal" food). After a hard training (I don't work out, I train ;) ) I can decide to suffer from soreness the next day or I take around 50g of whey over the day (after training) and be more or less ok the next day. This effect is repeatable, I can document it and relate it to training volume/maximum effort and it is reliable within my universe of experience... which means that it is totally unscientific and I can not prove it. But, as is the axiomatic base of Bro'science, it works for me.
I tried BCAA's (and many other supplements) but apart from their high price it seems that the amino profile is too one-sided to reduce soreness and it seems my body demands more of the common (cheap) amino acids to recover effectively.
I have to add that I am already in my forties: I noticed a considerable difference when changing from cheap whey and casein to isolate and especially hydrolysate. This may simply be my digestive system which can no longer easily deal with lesser forms of protein - if you are younger (or have a stronger stomach), you may get away cheaper or with the protein from your diet only. Test it - try a series of workouts lasting a few weeks where you go as hard as you can, and switch from/to additional protein and try to be honest to yourself.
This is the most annoying question that can be asked in the fitness/wellness and bodybuilding world.... ranging between science to household magazines, the whole world has like 1 million different views about it and those supplement companies are trying to make us consume more and more while we might not need it that much in excessive amounts at all. edited my sentence here, because my remark that I used to generalized came over differently. So I calirify :D
My humble opionion is that you should fill those depleted glycogen depots you just used up after your workout and make sure you have enough amount of fats in your diet which will be used while your body needs the materials to create new cells. The rest is all debateble and optional. Why? Don't ask me, the whole world of experts and scientists are on a clash and noone says concludes the same- sometimes even their own in the past- twice.
After wasting a lot of time and money and spending extensive amounts od time to run my own qualitative research, I came to conclusion that around 75-130g protein per day for a healthy person is the average. This I discovered on my own and then I also discovered that someone else who is more skilled than me regarding nutrition- whom it appeared to be Brad Pilon- came to the same conclusion.
You can also check the reference papers at examine.com's "Whey Protein Page" and try to understand how it works.
I strongly advice everyone in this thread to read "THIS" by Brad Pilon. He also has written the most unbiased view and advice as one can receive regarding this issue.
Also, if you are worried about your recovery, you should make sure you also nurture yourself with the right amount of macronutrients (refered as macros). Macros are the another anality of muscle nutrition in the world that also has a lot of polemics. But nevertheless, I wanted to point that you should not forget about your fat intake.
If you want to know more about how it does work, please read Will Brink's Body Building Revealed which to many is as a must to have in your bookcase.