How Much Protein You Should Eat Post-Workout + Best Protein Sources
Hungry post-workout? Given the calories burned, this will come as no surprise, but what you eat after exercising can affect how your muscles respond. While there's no one post-workout meal that will work for everyone, there is one particular macronutrient we should all be sure to eat after breaking a sweat: protein.
On a recent episode of the mindbodygreen podcast, functional medicine doctor Gabrielle Lyon, D.O., gives her opinion on how much protein you need post-workout and where to get it. Here's her perspective.
How much protein should you eat after a workout?
"If you are younger, the post-training window for protein doesn't really matter," Lyon explains. If you meet your overarching daily protein needs, you don't necessarily need to pack in a protein-heavy meal after your workout.
Translation: In Lyon's perspective, there's no need to pound a protein shake post-exercise in your 20s and 30s unless you want to.
For anyone older than that, however, protein post-workout becomes more important. "As you get older, the blood flow to the muscles increases post-training, and there's really good data1 to suggest that older muscle can respond like younger muscle post-training2 with the addition of dietary protein," Lyon says. Yes, you may be able to make your muscles act younger—which, in turn, may help you live longer, according to Lyon.
So how much protein should you aim for post-workout? "I would say 30 grams of protein post-training is a great strategy for nearly everybody," Lyon says. (Regardless of whether or not you just worked out, eating at least 30 grams of protein at a time is considered a good strategy for building muscle3.) And in general, eating within two hours of wrapping up your workout is considered an optimal refueling window to maximize muscle growth4.
If you'd like to take a more personalized approach to your daily protein goals, Lyon also offers this simple calculator:
- For muscle maintenance: Take your weight in pounds and multiply by 0.8 to get optimal protein intake in grams
- To build muscle: Take your weight in pounds and multiply by 1.0 to understand optimal protein intake in grams (Note that this is more than the current Recommended Dietary Allowance for protein, which some nutrition experts consider too modest for active adults5.)
Protein sources to try.
Of course, not all protein is created equal. Most protein sources are composed of different proportions of around 20 amino acids. These protein building blocks all have their own role to play in repairing body tissue, and leucine is considered one of the most important for muscle protein synthesis6. For this reason, consuming at least 3 grams of leucine is recommended post-workout.
You can opt for leucine-rich animal or plant protein sources to fill this quota. Here's a list of a few key players and how much protein they contain per serving, so you can build your next post-workout meal.
- Chicken breast: 59 grams
- Turkey breast: 25 grams
- Lean beef: 24 grams
- Whey protein powder: 17-30 grams
- Eggs: 6 grams each (with 0.6 gram of leucine)
- Pea protein powder: 25 grams
- Lentils: 18 grams
- Black beans: 15 grams
- Hemp seeds: 11 grams
- Oats: 10 grams
- Chickpeas: 10 grams
At the end of the day, everyone has different nutritional needs, and it's important to honor your own. And while there isn't one perfect food to consume post-workout, Lyon reminds us that focusing on protein can encourage better muscle response. For yummy ideas, look no further than this gut-health-doctor-approved protein smoothie and protein-packed caramelized onion frittata.
Hannah Frye is the Assistant Beauty Editor at mindbodygreen. She has a B.S. in journalism and a minor in women’s, gender, and queer studies from California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo. Hannah has written across lifestyle sections including health, wellness, sustainability, personal development, and more. She previously interned for Almost 30, a top-rated health and wellness podcast. In her current role, Hannah reports on the latest beauty trends, holistic skincare approaches, must-have makeup products, and inclusivity in the beauty industry. She currently lives in New York City.