Tired muscles scream for protein to help them beef up, so make the most of the sludge in your shaker.
1 RIP AND BURN
You’ve done a weights session and your arms are screaming. “Lifting weights causes tiny rips in your muscles, priming them for growth,” says Christian Finn, a UK-based sports scientist and founder of www.thefactsaboutfitness.com. In the 30 minutes after your workout, muscles are in an optimum state for growth and they need amino acids to fuel them. Enter the protein shake.
2 MEASURE FOR MEASURE
Breaking down and absorbing this dense surge of protein and carbs is a tough job. It’s your kidneys that take the strain. OD-ing on protein shakes won’t damage them, but it won’t build extra muscle too. “Excessive protein will just be stored as fat – or excreted by your kidneys – and not be used to build muscle,” says UK-based sports dietitian Becky Stevenson. You only need 1g of protein for every 0.5kg of body weight every day. This gives you all the essential amino acids required to help your muscles repair and grow.
3 SOUND THE TRUMPET
Whoops. Was that the dog again? One side effect of protein shakes, if you hadn’t noticed, is that they can cause flatulence. “One theory is that the glucose in protein shakes feeds bacteria in the gut, resulting in fermentation,” says Stevenson. “Another less entertaining side effect is dehydration. Water is needed to digest concentrated liquid and your body is using fluid to digest rather than rehydrate.”
4 CARB LOADING
It’s not just protein surging through your blood to your muscles – read the label and you’ll see the shake also has carbs. Don’t panic, because these are muscle-building friends. “Carbs are vital fuel for muscle building. If you don’t have enough carbs, your body will eat into the muscle you already have for fuel,” says Stevenson. “Muscle building is not just about protein.”
5 GREED IS GOOD
About an hour after your workout, the rebuilding work fuelled by your shake begins to slow down – so keep it firing by following up with a meal of protein and carbohydrates. “Your body keeps turning protein into muscle for at least 24 hours after your workout, so try to eat every two to three hours,” says Finn. Stevenson adds: “When combined with a structured training and nutrition plan, the boost from your shake will see you start to add lean muscle within six to eight weeks.”
6 NEED FOR SPEED
“Most protein shakes are made of either whey or soya,” says Stevenson. “Both have been partially ‘pre-digested’ during the manufacturing process, so they’re easily and rapidly absorbed by the body.” But a word of warning to dairy lovers: The untreated proteins in milk move through you slower than a wounded snail, so always mix your powder with plenty of water.