Does Protein Help With Muscle Recovery?
OK, you’ve got your bag of protein, your scoop and a shaker.
You are probably wondering what is the big deal and how could protein shakes be such a big business. What sort of amazing stuff does it actually do?
Why do we drink it in the first place?
Protein for your muscles is the same thing as a patch for your old jeans 🙂 If we broke our muscles into the smallest components possible, we would find two proteins called Actin and Myosin. The movement of them two causes bigger muscle fibres to contract and pull on bones. But If we push ourselves beyond our comfort zone, the fibres suffer from microscopic tears. Don’t worry, this is exactly what we want!!!
But we also want the tears to heal, right? Our body is, of course, a marvelous piece of natural engineering. It can fix these little rips easilly enough but we need protein in our diet in order for it to do so.
You might remember that Actin and Myosin are proteins so in order to fix them properly we need protein chains to fill in the tears and repair the damage. Which is exactly what a protein shake does. Now we want to time this repair effectively.
When to shake it up?
Studies show that ingesting 20g – 40g of protein within one hour after exercise maximises the bodies ability to recover.
Your average shake will contain around 20g – 25g of protein which makes it ideal for an immediate and quick consumption just after workout.
The liquid nature means that they are also easy to digest as opposed to normal food. I am definitely not trying to say that you should stop eating and just live on protein shakes. It is necessary to have a balanced diet due to the fact that it delivers a wide variety of Micronutrients (Vitamins and Minerals) and a vast ratio of Macronutrients (Carbohydrates, Proteins, Fat and Fibre).
The fact that you can bring a shake to the gym gives you an amazing advantage to deliver the proteins needed for repair to your muscles immediately after the tears have been formed. And this is not important just because we want the muscles to grow, we also don’t want to be in pain for 3 days after the gym session.
Known as Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness. I am sure everyone has experienced some version of this. The soreness usually develops within 3 days of exercise. It is that excruciating pain of your muscles screaming for help 🙂 Ever had a problem to get up from a toilet after a hevay leg day? 🙂 Or struggled to reach a top shelf in the kitchen after a proper upper body workout? Not always fun, I know. Especially when it hinders you from any type of movement for the rest of the week.
It is suggested to train every major muscle group twice a week but with DOMS kicking in, you have no chance.
I am not going to mention clinical studies, I am going to mention my own experience.
I have two important rituals to battle this annoying issue.
- Protein shake within 1 hour after I finish my workout
- Thorough stretching!!!!
Protein helps your diet get cleaner!
The fact that we are so busy in our lives means that we storm out of the gym and rush off to work, school or whatever our duties are and probably don’t eat for the next few hours (if we do, we probably just pick up a sandwich, crisps or a chocolate bar somewhere).
Our body needs to repair itself. That can’t be done with comfort food so a protein shake after a workout instead of a store-bought quick snack is 100% better option.
Protein Shake has all the necessary components to help the body recover and it also makes you fuller for longer due to the fact that protein is absorbed slower than carbohydrates and due to the amount of fibre they contain (fibre is a component that is broken down the slowest and some parts are not digested at all contributing to a good bowel function).
Stretching is the key!
It took me years of pain to realise I have been skipping out one important component = Stretching.
I still use protein after a workout. It is a lot easier that to rush home and try to cook a protein rich meal. Your body needs it, that cannot be denied.
During the lockdown I found out I had loads of time for myself. Gyms closed, a heavy session was not possible so I started to run (my least favourite activity by the way). My muscles, especially calves, were in bits however and it took me a long time to recover and go out again. I wanted to be pain free because those runs were my only chance to get fresh air and some sunshine when the lockdown was really strict.
I was also a little bit stressed whether I will be able to keep my job so I started Yoga again (I have been on and off for the past 5 years).
I developed a ritual. Get up, have a nice breakfast loaded with Carbs (cereal, porridge), have a coffee and go for a run. I do anything up to 5k, depends how I feel that day, and come back home. Have a big glass of water and do 30 mins of Yoga focused on Flexibility.
Down Dog App being absolutely amazing and definitely the best Yoga Subscription App out there. It generates a random sequence of poses according to what you want to focus on so your practice is never the same. It was worth every penny.
All of a sudden I realised I can go for a run every single day! There was no pain whatsoever. So when the gyms opened I decided to give this strategy a proper test. I gave myself an incredibly heavy leg day session with 10 exercises consisting of 4sets/10 reps each. Now, that would normally leave me in bits for the rest of the week.
I did my session and used a few flexibility stretches from my Yoga App for 10 – 15 mins. I try to hold the poses as long as I could at the point of a mild discomfort (at least 20 seconds, preferably 30), headed home and had a protein shake.
I couldn’t believe the difference. I felt next to no pain at all the next day. I could get out of bed and function properly throughout a day. Now, my body has always been quite late with DOMS. They often don’t show up until 2-3 days later so I took it easy. I didn’t go for a run, didn’t go to the gym, I just did a little 30 min Flexibility Yoga before bed.
I am not going to lie. I am not going to say that the pain never came. I did feel a bit stiff and maybe even a little bit of pain when moved a certain way but It definitely did not stop me from going out for another run. If anything, movement helps with a little stiffness.
The DOMS always come 🙂 but you can control how much they affect you. Feeling a little tension is fine but you shouldn’t be knocked out for 3 days..
Long Story Short
Invest in a protein shake that you like, have it as a little reward right after your workout. It definitely helps to flood your body with all sort of good stuff that you need after stressing your body with a hard exercise.
Don’t neglect stretching (is 10-15 mins extra in the gym such a big deal?), it is not only good for reducing DOMS but it also prevents injuries. I know, we are always told this and stretching is usually really boring. But it doesn’t have to be the stretches that we were all taught in a PE class. Internet is a wonderful tool full of information and you can find something that suits YOU!!!!!
Maybe I wil put together a little worksheet to follow. Let me know in the comments 🙂