Protein After a Workout: How much can you absorb?
For many years in the fitness world it has been said that we need to consume more protein after a workout. And by consuming X amount from this or that source, it’s supposed to be the ‘BEST’ for muscle recovery and growth. But if we really want to get the most out of every mouthful, there are a few factors that need to be considered when consuming protein
First off, what is protein? Simply put, it’s a macronutrient (or “macro”) made up of 20 amino acids which are essential for building muscles—among a few other things. So what affects our absorption of protein after a workout?
The digestive process begins in the mouth, even before eating begins. The anticipation of eating stimulates the mouth to produce saliva.
The digestive system then carries out three primary processes: chewing food, moving food through the digestive tract (peristalsis), and finally digestive enzymes secreted from the pancreas into the small intestine break down food into smaller molecules so that nutrients can be absorbed through the intestinal lining.
2. Stomach Acid
If you eat while rushed, stressed, or simply just not being present and thinking about the food you’re about to consume, your body won’t get the signal in time to start secreting saliva. Saliva is essential since it carries the enzyme amylase into the mouth as the first step in digestion.
Next, if the body doesn’t have time to prepare for the food coming into it, there is no signal telling your stomach to secrete HCL (stomach acid). This is particularly important as HCL is the precursor to pepsinogen, the enzyme needed to break down protein into amino acids to be absorbed by the body.
*Important to note: HCL is always somewhat present in the stomach but there are several factors that can reduce or hinder production:
- Liquids taken with meals or too close to meal time (puts out digestive fire)
- Not chewing food properly (chew your liquids and drink your solids)
- High sugar intake (includes natural fruit)
- Zinc deficiency (eat your pumpkin seeds, kids)
- Use of antibiotics and some prescription drugs
3. Combining with Protein
When macros such as protein, fat and/or carbohydrates are combined in a meal they can either slow or quicken the digestive process.
For instance when protein is combined with fat or a fiber, everything gets slowed down—including absorption. But when protein is mixed with a simple carbohydrate, it can quicken the digestive process. To that end, what you combine with your post-workout protein can actually change how quickly you recover.
So in a post-workout shake it would be best to mix a quick-absorbing protein like whey or hemp with some fresh fruit to ensure that it goes into the system as quickly as possible. Another great post-workout protein option would be a bowl of Greek yogurt with fresh fruit.
4. Protein Sources and Absorption Rate
Not all protein is created equal! For example some protein sources are not pure protein, such as legumes which consist of protein and carbs. This will again affect absorption and slow things down.
How Much Protein?
Here are common protein sources and how long each takes to digest and absorb:
Whey protein isolate = 8-10g/per hour
Casein (dairy protein) = 6.1g/per hour
Hemp protein = 5.2g/per hour
Soy protein isolate = 3.9g/per hour
Whole cooked egg = 3g/per hour
Across the board all studies seem to agree that 1.3g-10g of protein can be absorbed per hour.
So if you consume a 50g whey protein isolate shake post-workout it will actually take 5 hours to be absorbed, right? WRONG! Food generally only stays in the intestine for absorption for 1.5hrs SO you will only absorb 15g, maybe 20g, of that 50g-protein shake.
Don’t despair about this point, there is a solution! Taking the digestive enzyme pepsin before you eat can greatly increase protein absorption. In one study participants were asked to consume 50g of whey protein post-workout. When their blood serum levels were tested for amino acids, it was discovered after the 4-hour mark the amino acid levels were only 30% of what was actually consumed. The study was redone with the addition of 2.5g of pepsin taken with the whey protein shake and levels were at 110% at the 4-hour mark. This is crazy!
When eating protein after a workout, maximize your absorption rate by:
- Eating while relaxed; be sure to manage stress levels, as when the body is stressed, digestion shuts off.
- Chewing every mouthful thoroughly
- Dividing up protein intake over 4-6 meals/day for the best absorption
- Taking a digestive enzyme with each protein rich meal
- Being aware of what you mix with your protein, it may either slow or speed up digestion
Try my favourite protein smoothie recipe for your post-workout protein:
Max’s Recovery Shake
– 1 scoop vanilla Ergogenic‘s protein powder
– 1/2 banana
– 1/2 cup ice
– 1 cup almond milk
– 1 tsp fresh turmeric
– 1 tsp fresh ginger
– 1/2 tsp cinnamon
Blend well for 30 seconds and enjoy!