You’ve just finished your workout: you’re exhausted, sweaty, sore, and most of all, HUNGRY! Because you are a health-conscious individual (you did just work out, after all), you need something nutritious that is not only going to satisfy your physiological needs but your taste cravings as well. Enter the post-workout protein shake: the ideal, convenient, and tasty beverage heralded by fitness enthusiasts for decades as the classic go-to for gains.
But we’re not just talking about the mundane protein-powder-in-a-shaker-bottle, either; we’re talking about a creamy, cold, smooth and refreshing beverage fresh out of the blender. The next thing to do is ask, “what you sippin’ on, bro?” Being that you can blend just about anything in a blender, protein shakes are a convenient vessel that can contain whatever ingredients and ratio of nutrients you desire, perfectly tailoring your personal shake to your specific needs. In this article, we will discuss some very important (and delicious) ingredients that can take your post-workout shake to the next level.
Considered the King of protein supplements, whey protein is a fast-digesting protein source containing all nine essential amino acids. Being that your body craves protein at the end of your workout due to the intra-workout muscle catabolism inflicted by resistance training, it’s a no-brainer to add whey protein to every one of your post-workout shakes. The quick influx of amino acids will spur muscle recovery, create a new stimulus for muscular growth, and prepare you for your next brutal workout to come. Whey protein can be found in nearly every sweet flavor imaginable (including unflavored as well), making your shakes versatile enough to make you look forward to a new delicious drink every time. Aim for 25-40 grams of whey protein post-workout, depending on your goals.
Why stop with just protein? Branch-Chain-Amino Acids (BCAAs) are the building blocks that compose complete proteins such as whey, and when consumed in the proper ratios (particularly a ratio of 2:1:1 of the aminos Leucine, Isoleucine, & Valine) can elicit an even greater stimulus for increases in muscle size and strength, not to mention substantial muscular recovery and prevented catabolism (muscle tissue breakdown) as well. And because they are composed of smaller particles than protein as a whole, BCAAs are instantly assimilated into the bloodstream and then the muscles upon consumption – talk about a quick fix! Consider adding 5-10 grams of a 2:1:1 ratio BCAA product to your post-workout shake.
Dextrose / Maltodextrin
For those really looking to get some quick carbohydrates in after a workout, dextrose or maltodextrin is the way to go. Due to the high glycemic index of these carbohydrates, they digest quickly and provide near-instant nourishment to your muscle glycogen stores, eliciting a quicker pathway to recovery. If you are aiming to gain weight, these sources can provide higher amounts of calories without leaving you full or bloated. Studies have shown that a maximum of 30 grams of either of these carbs is all that is needed to replenish your glycogen stores and stimulate muscle tissue growth, however the post-workout meal is the most import time to consume your largest carbohydrate-containing meal, so do not shy away from these sources if weight gain is your goal! As a bonus, these carbs will add a slightly sweeter kick to your smoothie. Depending on your caloric requirements, consider adding 30-80 grams of dextrose or maltodextrin to your post-workout shake.
Considered the super supplement amongst all fitness enthusiasts, creatine is a no-brainer when it comes to taking your protein shake to the next level. One of the most extensively studied supplements on the market, creatine (predominantly creatine monohydrate) is a molecule composed of the amino acids Glycine, Arginine, & Methionine, and has been proven to be a holistic powerhouse providing increased muscle power output, strength and size.
When taken post-workout, creatine will additionally replenish and saturate your muscles’ depleted ATP stores and provide more instantaneous recovery from muscular fatigue. When paired with fast-digesting carbohydrates and protein (such as dextrose or maltodextrin with whey), muscular creatine uptake has been shown to be even further increased when compared to taking it as a standalone supplement. For increased muscular recovery and lean muscle growth, add 5 grams of creatine monohydrate to your post-workout shake.
One of the most nourishing whole-food beverages in the world, dairy milk is a perfect combination of quick-digesting carbohydrates, fast- & slow-digesting proteins, vitamins, minerals, electrolytes, and (if desired) healthy saturated fats. Adding milk to your post-workout shake will provide a more sustained muscle-protein synthesis as a result of its 80% casein protein composition, leading to more gains in the long run.
The natural sugars will quickly replenish your depleted glycogen stores, and the medium-chain triglycerides found in dairy fat have been shown to promote the potential burning of bodyfat as metabolic fuel. As a bonus, the slower-digesting proteins found in milk can also transform your post-workout shake into a well-rounded meal replacement as well. Although not as rich in protein or carbohydrates, non-dairy milk alternatives such as soy, almond or coconut can be used in place of dairy milks for those who are lactose-intolerant. Add 8-16oz of skim, low-fat, or whole milk to your post-workout shake, depending on your caloric goals.
Heralded as the go-to fruit for endurance and strength athletes alike, the humble banana is a fantastic source of carbohydrates for post-workout recovery. In addition to the simple sugars found in the yellow fruit, bananas provide B-vitamins for energy, potassium to relieve muscle cramps, magnesium for healthy bone calcium levels, and tryptophan to enlighten your mood. Plus, bananas taste great, pair well with most protein powders (chocolate + banana, anyone?) and contribute a nice creamy texture to your shake. Blend a whole banana into your post-workout shake and reap the benefits. Peel your banana the night before and store it in the freezer – add and blend your frozen banana the next day for an even thicker and colder shake!
Available in a variety of colors and flavors, berries (including blueberries, strawberries and raspberries) are also a great addition to blend into protein shakes. These vibrant fruits contribute healthy doses of carbs, fiber, vitamins, and flavor. In addition, berries deliver a hefty dose of antioxidants, which play a key role in the reduction of the free radical by-products created by oxidative stress within your body during your workout. Give your body and mind the recovery they need with the power of berries! Add 0.5 – 1 cups of fresh or frozen berries (i.e. blueberries, strawberries or raspberries) to your post-workout shake.
If fruits aren’t really your thing, perhaps oatmeal is a preferable energy source. Not just for breakfast anymore, this hearty grain provides a dense source of calories, carbohydrates, fiber, vitamins, and even protein! The complex carbs found in oatmeal will keep your blood sugar levels stable and your satiety levels steady, leaving you properly refueled and ready to tackle the next task in your day. Just be sure to use instant- or rolled-oats in your shake and not use steel-cut oats (which are too granular and raw for use in a blender). For a hearty beverage, add ¼-1 cup of uncooked instant oatmeal to your post-workout shake.
If weight gain is your goal, you are going to need to cram in a surplus of calories above that which you burn on a daily basis – for some, this can be rather difficult. Fortunately, healthy fats provide dense calorie sources with little volume, allowing you to consume more without feeling boated and full. This is where nut butters come into play. Whether it be from almond, cashew, hazelnut, or the infamous peanut, nut butters provide not only healthy fats, but also fiber, protein, and vitamins as well. Plus, due to the savory stimulation of fat molecules on our taste buds, they will make your shakes taste amazing (need I say anything more than “chocolate + peanut butter”?)! Just be sure to buy a natural nut-butter brand that is void of unhealthy added sugars and hydrogenated oils. To increase the caloric value, consider adding 1–2 tablespoons of a natural nut butter to your post-workout shake.