You may be surprised to know that vegetarian athletes can easily meet recommended protein recommendations for athletes of 1.2-1.8g/kg/bw protein per day. As a 24.5 year lacto-ovo vegetarian, I have acquired several go-to protein sources in my diet, like cottage cheese, yogurt, milk, tofu, tempeh, beans, lentils, nuts, seeds, grains and whey protein.
As a heavy proponent of real food in the daily diet, my food choices become much more functional before, during and after workouts and thus, I see the purpose of food (and engineered products) differently when it's used to support a training session.
As an example, whey protein is often consumed post workout, specifically when I have an intense or long workout (or two workouts close together). There is a tremendous amount of scientific research on whey protein, in relation to athletes, the elderly, menopause, weight management, preventing muscle loss in trauma patients and burn victims and assisting in performance gains.
Seeing that protein supports muscle and tissue growth, assists in immune system health, helps with tissue structure and supporting enzymatic reactions and fosters health endocrine functioning, without sufficient protein in the diet, your health can become compromised with added training stress.
Athletes should aim for 1.2-1.8 grams of protein per kg of body weight per day.
As an example, if you weigh 130 lbs (59kg), this equals 71-106g of protein per day.
To break this down, give yourself around 20-30g of protein per each meal which leaves you extra protein to consume during snack times and after workouts. Protein at meal time can help with satiety.
A few take-away messages on daily protein consumption:
- If you are intentionally trying to lose weight or you need to gain lean muscle mass, you will want to focus on the higher end of your individual protein needs to preserve lean muscle mass.
- On higher volume and higher intensity workout days (including double workout days), your daily protein needs should be on the higher end to optimize training-induced muscle adaptations.
- Post workout, don't miss a prime opportunity to recover with protein.
- Every athlete should recognize his/her own post workout preferences, based on appetite, convenience and type of workout. Recovery nutrition should not be skipped or an after thought but instead, it should be easy to find, prep and consume for any given workout.
- Increased fatigue
- Struggles with increasing lean muscle mass
- Struggles with decreasing body fat
- Delayed recovery
- Immune system depression
- Low motivation and energy
- Increase or delayed muscle soreness
- Inadequate replenishment of carbohydrate stores
- Poor training adaptations - increasing the risk for injury, sickness and overtraining
For the purpose of this blog, discussing maximizing recovery, when insulin is spiked post workout, anabolism (growth) is promoted. Low insulin and low blood sugar secretes catabolic hormones, which is completely opposite of what an athlete wants to achieve in the post workout period.
Here are some practical post workout snack suggestions to eat (as tolerated) within 60 minutes post workout after intense or long workouts when you need a snack before a meal.
- 25g protein powder + 8 ounce
water + 1 banana
- 8 ounce low fat chocolate
milk + 10-15g whey protein powder
- 8 ounce OJ + 2 egg whites
- 1 serving applesauce + 15g protein powder + 4 ounce
milk/4 ounce water
- 25g whey protein + 8 ounce
water + 6-10 saltine crackers + honey
- 25g whey protein + 1/2 cup cherries
- 1 serving Greek yogurt + 1
- 8 ounce milk + 10g whey
protein + 1 slice bread + 1 tbsp nut butter
- 1 slice bread + 2-3 slice
deli meat + 1 egg
- 3/4 cup cottage cheese + 2-4
As it relates to muscle growth and recovery, the mTOR protein is key to muscle building and rejuvination. In response to loading the muscles with training stress, when mTOR is activated, protein synthesis is stimulated, which helps muscles heal and rebuild. mTOR is highly sensitive to leucine, found in whey protein. One 20g serving of whey protein isolate contains 3 grams of leucine. Other leucine containing foods include egg whites, fish, chicken and beef.
Why not real food after all workouts?
Many athletes ask me about a "favorite protein powder" or have questions as to the "best" protein powder. With so many protein powders on the market, here are some of my criteria when searching for a quality protein powder.
1) Serving size - 1 scoop
2) Protein content per scoop - 20-30 grams
3) Calories per scoop - 80-150
4) First ingredient - whey protein isolate
5) Ingredient list - short! natural flavors, no artificial flavors or colorings, no added sweeteners, minimal to no added sugar
6) Quality manufacture, reputable company
7) Use your best judgement - is it a quality product manufactured with quality ingredients
Brands I often recommend: Solgar whey to go (vanilla), KLEAN, Blue Bonnet, Vega, Sun Warrior, Hammer Whey, INFINIT raw.
I would be happy to review your protein powder to see if it is something that I would recommend to athletes.
As for Clif Recovery protein (yummo) and other combined recovery drinks with carbohydrates, sugar, sodium and protein......
Ideally, I would recommend this type of recovery product when energy needs are very high and it can be difficult to consume adequate protein and carbohydrates in the diet (ex. after a very long workout or with two intense workouts within a few hours). Or for athletes who continually fail to meet energy needs throughout the day and need a higher calorie sugar/carb/protein recovery drink. Typically, we use Clif Recovery powder as our go-to recovery drink (mixed with water) at our camps and I will often recommend to my endurance athletes after their long workouts in peak training. Seeing that many athletes lack an appetite after hot and intense/long workouts and crave fluids, it seems to be a very tolerable protein powder with a delicious taste. I typically add a little extra whey protein, cherries and water to my clif recovery drink (all in the blender).
Well, there you have it. EVERYTHING you need to know about recovery nutrition and protein powder. Well, maybe not everything but hopefully enough to help you nail your recovery nutrition post workout.