Studies have concluded that consuming whey protein, a high quality protein that contains all the amino acids the body requires to produce more muscle tissue, is one of the best ways to build and maintain muscle after exercise. Whey protein contains BCAAs or branched-chain amino acids, including leucine, which is credited with helping to regulate muscle protein synthesis. I recently discussed the fact that consuming skim milk versus a soy protein beverage was advantageous if again, you wanted to optimize muscle protein synthesis.
In fact, depending on your choice of exercise, duration of exercise and weight and muscular growth goals, you need to choose the correct pre-workout and post-workout meal or snack and also decide if during exercise you need more than just water for optimal performance. Experts often find that people turn to sugary beverages for fuel during exercise, when water would have sufficed. People frequently exercise on an empty stomach, which can lead to early burn out during exercise or symptoms like dizziness and fainting. And if your goal is to lose weight, then you want to burn fat and preserve or add muscle mass to your frame. So choice of post workout foods should be very specific.
The new study specifically suggests using a protein shake that contains whey protein, rather than casein protein, to aid with muscle recovery and muscle growth. Apparently whey protein digests more quickly than casein protein but there's a caveat. You should have one "dose" of a protein shake pretty quickly after your exercise, rather than a few small snacks containing the whey protein. When administered in small feedings over time, the whey protein then becomes similar to casein in its behavior and impact, with the body digesting it more slowly and with it providing less of the benefits as seen in the study. So what makes the whey protein so special?
Whey protein is high in leucine and drinking a substantial protein shake with whey as an ingredient means fast availability of the leucine and other amino acids as they are broken down. A protein shake with about 25 grams of whey protein, in the context of a balanced, calorie-controlled diet would help to replenish and promote muscle growth. But remember that "good for you" doesn't mean over do it. A good formula for your daily needs of protein, if you are a moderate to advanced endurance and resistance athlete, is: 0.5 - 0.6 grams of protein per pound of body weight/day. So if you weigh about 150 pounds, you would need 75 grams to 90 grams of protein daily. Not all of it needs to be whey protein. White meats, nuts, seeds and legumes, eggs and fish are other good sources.