By now we should all be familiar with the debunked magical recovery ratio for post-workout shakes and meals. We’ve all been told for years that anywhere from 2:1 to 4:1 carbs to protein is ideal for building muscle after a workout but this doesn’t seem to be true, based on science at least. Even protein alone seems to stimulate muscle growth and strength development just as well as a combination of carbs and protein. Since preaching that bit of truth over the last few years, I’ve gotten an interesting and related question that I wasn’t sure how to answer: What is the best recovery drink if I have multiple workouts in a day, or even over the span of a few hours?
Two-a-days are common for Breaking Muscle readers. Maybe you do a Brazilian jiu jitsu workout and then begin a CrossFit workout an hour or two later. It is very possible that what is good for muscle building isn’t the same as what’s good for replenishing energy as fast as possible for a second workout. If I were pressed, I’d have guessed that a fast-acting carb was best, and protein if you could get it.
While there has been some scant research on the topic, there have never been real-world, practical results done comparing different macronutrient (protein, carbs, and lipids) contents of drinks on performance after total-body exercise. You know, the sort of thing that actually interests us. Well, in a recent study in the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition, science finally weighed in on the topic.
The researchers performing this study looked at two beverages that contained the same amount of calories, but had different nutrient levels. One was your typical carb-based sports drink with electrolytes, containing 68 grams of sugar. According to the label, and as the researcher acknowledged, this added up to 260 calories, which doesn’t add up if you do the math. The other drink was a protein-based drink that also contained some fat and some carbohydrates. The protein-to-carb ratio was 4:1. Since looking at ratios might make us cross-eyed, let me point out that this ratio is the opposite of the standard recommendations. This one had four times the amount of protein as carbohydrate, rather than the other way around. Some of that carbohydrate was fiber, so it doesn’t stimulate insulin either.
The participants consumed the drinks immediately after working out and were tested two hours later for agility, endurance, and power. While there was no significant effect for each individual test, there was a trend indicating a boost in performance in favor of the high-protein drink. Even better, when taking the results as a whole, the protein drink performed significantly better.
So there you have it. Protein drinks aren’t just good for muscle building, but they seem to be better for recovering in between workouts too, especially if your second workout has varied physical demands.
1. Shannan Lynch, “The differential effects of a complex protein drink versus isocaloric carbohydrate drink on performance indices following high-intensity resistance training: a two arm crossover design,” Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition 2013, 10:31.
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