If you don’t have time to prepare a meal, drinks and shakes that are high in protein, carbohydrates or both can help keep you energized for workout routines and aid in muscle recovery. Optimal protein and carbohydrate ratios can vary based on your personal fitness goals and whether you’re having the drink before or after your workout. Many types of workout drinks are available containing different sources of protein and carbs, so it’s important to read nutrition labels and consider sensitivities to common ingredients such as milk protein, soy, eggs and artificial sweeteners.
Protein and Carb Sources
Liquid protein and carb workout drinks available in bottles or cans, and powdered forms that come in tubs or packets, typically list ingredients in order of greatest to least product content. Common protein sources include whey and casein milk proteins, soy and eggs. Common carbohydrate sources include sugar, sugar alcohols, fructose and potato starch. You can also create your own drinks at home with healthy choices such as protein powder, non-fat milk, yogurt, fresh fruit, fruit juices, oats, nut butters and ground flaxseed. When you make your own recipes you can control the calorie and sugar content and enjoy the added benefits associated with whole foods rich in vitamins and minerals that don’t contain preservatives.
Determining the individual serving size and nutrient content of your protein and carb workout drink will depend on your daily caloric needs and workout intensity levels. If your goal is to lose weight, you can choose a drink higher in protein and lower in carbs. If you want to maintain or gain weight, your drink can have a balance of protein and carbs. How long and hard you work out is another important factor to consider when deciding which type of pre- and post-workout drink to choose to keep you energized and replenish muscle glycogen stores.
Sports dietitian Heidi Skolnik and healthy lifestyle coach Nora Tobin explain that it’s especially beneficial to have a drink or meal containing protein and carbohydrates before working out to give you more energy and to promote muscle growth and repair. Working out on an empty stomach can signal the body to go into survival mode and draw protein from muscles, causing you to lose muscle mass, slow down your metabolism and make it harder to lose weight. After exercising, when muscles can be depleted of glycogen stores, drinking or eating something containing protein and carbs 30 minutes to an hour after your workout can refill energy stores, build and repair broken down muscles, and keep your metabolism revving.
Beyond fueling your body for workouts and speeding the muscle recovery process, drinks containing quality sources of proteins and carbs can help your body produce disease-fighting antioxidants, boost your immune function and facilitate weight loss, according to a University of Kentucky study published in the August 2009 issue of "Journal of the American Dietetic Association."
With so many types of protein and carb workout drinks on the market today, it's important to carefully read nutrition labels to avoid choosing one that can sabotage weight-loss goals or be a source of empty calories. If you're going to purchase a drink, choose a brand that’s low in sugar, fortified with vitamins, minerals and fiber, and doesn’t contain hydrogenated fats or palm oil.
- TriFuel.com: Carbs & Electrolytes: What Energy Drinks Are Really Made Of
- Shape.com: The Best Foods to Eat Before and After Your Workout
- OxygenMagazine.com: Shakes vs. Smoothies
- Bodybuiding.com: Ask The Macro Manager: Should I Drink Protein Before Or After A Workout?
- Bodybuilding.com: The Benefits of Protein Shakes
- Esciencenews.com: UK Study Finds Meal Replacements Aid Weight Loss
- OxygenMag.com: Protein powders: Which one is for you?
Bari Auerbach writes a fitness column and has won trophies in fitness shows. Since graduating from Florida International University in 1984 with a degree in communications, she has written for national clients; interviewed dignitaries and celebrities for magazines; and has covered topics including business, politics, fashion and food.