Is a protein drink actually better than a carbohydrate drink after doing cardio exercise?

A study has an interesting conclusion.

After cardio exercise, you definitely should put some nutrients into your body. There’s been ongoing controversy, however, over which macronutrient works better for muscle recovery.

There are three macronutrients: protein, carbohydrates and fats. As far as maximizing the effects of cardio (as well as strength training) exercise, it really does make a difference as far as macronutrient consumption.

The study says that protein is the winner.

The study also showed that maximizing the effects of cardio workouts can be observed after only six weeks of training, with only 20 grams of protein.

  • The 16 study participants were at least age 37.
  • The cardio they performed was on a treadmill three times a week, 45 minutes at a time.
  • After each cardio workout, one group of participants consumed a carbohydrate drink.
  • The other group had a protein drink.

A process called heavy water labeling was used to measure metabolic pathways ‘” a determinant in the creation of new structures within muscle tissue.

The process enabled the scientists to examine muscle samples at the completion of the six weeks to see how much of the tissue was new ‘” such as new membranes and new DNA.

Conclusion of the Study

“If you want to age gracefully, this study shows that proteins taken after exercise keep your muscles strong and fit,” explains Gerald Weissmann, MD, in the paper (the full 2011 report is in the online FASEB) .

According to these study results, the drink should be protein, rather than a protein-carbohydrate combination.

“I always tell people: Carbohydrates before a workout and protein for after,” says Shana Spence, MS, RDN, CDN, a registered dietitian nutritionist based in New York, who was not involved with the study.

“We need carbohydrates for energy. That’s why you always hear about marathoners eating tons of pasta before a race.

“When we exercise, our muscles break down from the impact. Eating protein enables anabolism or ‘building up’ of muscle.”

The “building up of muscle” is a phrase often heard in the bodybuilding world.

But even after aerobic exercise, the muscles need recovery — and protein is better for that recovery than is a bowl of rice or meatless lasagna.

shana spenceShana Spence of The Nutrition Tea is committed to providing trending information and nutrition facts covering a wide range including nutrition for heart disease and diabetes, pediatric nutrition and healthful lifestyles.
Lorra Garrick has been covering medical, fitness and cybersecurity topics for many years, having written thousands of articles for print magazines and websites, including as a ghostwriter. She’s also a former ACE-certified personal trainer.