By Jennifer Copley (Last Updated 4 January 2017)
Despite the pervasive myth that bodybuilders require massive amounts of protein, research has shown that advanced strength trainers use only slightly more protein than those who don’t strength train (the exception to this rule is novice weight trainers, who use substantially more). There is no need to megadose on protein – just eat a little more than the general recommendations for your size and gender.
The pre-workout meal should include a moderate amount of protein and be high in carbohydrates for fuel and low in fat and fiber, which can slow your digestion, causing stomach upsets during intense workouts.
For maximum muscle gain, after your workout you should consume protein to facilitate muscle building and repair (reliable sources recommend around 20 grams post-workout). You should also consume carbohydrates to replenish your energy stores after a workout. Good snacks that provide both protein and carbohydrates include:
- a tuna sandwich or other lean meat on whole wheat bread
- oatmeal with milk
- pasta (ideally whole wheat) with a lean meat sauce
- yogurt with fruit
- a burrito filled with lean meat or beans (or beans on their own)
- a peanut butter sandwich on whole wheat bread
- an omelette with vegetables and whole wheat toast
- a potato stuffed with cottage cheese and broccoli
- a soup or stew with potatoes, lean meat, and/or legumes
- brown rice with lean meat
- a sweet potato with lean meat
- a whey protein shake or yogurt smoothie with fruit
As for the timing, it doesn’t need to be exact. While many sources recommend consuming protein within an hour of your workout, the findings of a recent meta-analysis conducted by Schoenfeld et al. (2013) suggest that although adequate protein intake matters, timing doesn’t affect muscle development, so it’s fine (and more effective) to spread your protein intake over the day rather than gorging on protein right after a workout.
Note: If your diet is too low in carbohydrates, which are the body’s preferred fuel source, it will turn to protein to meet its energy requirements, which can result in a loss of lean muscle, particularly for those who also do cardio exercise (and especially for endurance athletes). While cutting down on processed carbohydrates (junk food) is a good idea, very low-carb diets will be detrimental to strength and fitness for most people because they provide insufficient fuel for cardio exercise and reduce strength training performance (Leveritt et al., 1999).
- American Council on Exercise. (2016). 7 Smart Post-Workout Snacks and How to Know When You Really Need One. AceFitness.org.
- Chai, C. (2016). Fuel your body: Your guide to what to eat before and after a workout. Global News, March 22.
- Eberle, S. G. (2013). Endurance Sports Nutrition, 3E. Human Kinetics.
- Hutchinson, A., PhD. (2011). Which Comes First, Cardio or Weights? Fitness Myths, Training Truths, and Other Surprising Discoveries from the Science of Exercise. HarperCollins.
- Leveritt, M., & Abernethy, P. J. (1999). Effects of Carbohydrate Restriction on Strength Performance. The Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research, 13(1), 52-57.
- Schoenfeld, B. J., Aragon, A. A., & Krieger, J. W. (2013). The effect of protein timing on muscle strength and hypertrophy: a meta-analysis. Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition, 10(1), 1.
- The Mayo Clinic. (2014). Eating and exercise: 5 tips to maximize your workouts. MayoClinic.org.
- Zelman, K.M, MPH, RD, LD. , Reviewed by Brunilda Nazario, MD. (2013). What to eat before, during, and after exercise. WebMD.com.