Think about having a car with just an engine, sure the engine will go, but not too far without a transmission, drive train, etc. More simply, the body needs more than just protein to play important individual roles in proper recovery. It is well known that protein is recognized as the tissue builder in the body, but do not concentrate too heavily on one substance for its known attributes. The body also needs iron to have red blood cells carry adequate oxygen to tissues, phosphorus for energy transfer and storage, as well as many other micro- and macronutrients.
Protein is a very important food to consume while on an exercise regiment; however, most foods that we eat on a regular basis (post-exercise or not) contain sufficient protein. The key is to eat a heavier concentration of carbohydrates along with a good balance of most nutrients to promote optimal recovery.
Many research studies indicate that adequate amounts of carbohydrates are essential for proper recover. Muscle protein may have also been damaged during strenuous exercise regiments, so protein consumption may also be necessary. Although, how much protein is enough to aid in recovery, but not too much to hinder it? How much protein in excess would slow the digestive system from breaking down the food? Current research suggests that every 4 grams of carbohydrate should be consumed with 1 gram of protein.
Also characteristic to pre-exercise food, the post-exercise food should not be too heavy, but should provide enough energy to support recovery. Many foods from the fruits and breads food groups can satisfy this criteria, some examples are listed below.
Immediately after exercise, the body’s most important task is to re-fuel. 75-100 grams of carbohydrate will supply adequate energy until a larger amount of carbohydrate can be consumed later. See the table below for a reference of foods with 75-100 grams of carbohydrates.
Eating within 45 minutes after exercise seems to be the most widely agreed upon time frame from most research professionals. Protein synthesis can remain as high as 80% post-exercise for about 4 hours and will slowly fall back to zero after 24 hours. However, most Americans take in adequate protein to meet this need. As stated before, the key is to consume a larger amount of carbohydrates to aid in the proper uptake of protein.
For those that take more convincing, start with simple foods that are high carbohydrate without sacrificing protein. 2 cups of low fat chocolate milk is a great way to knock out about 50g of carbohydrates as well as taking in about 16g of protein. A few other examples are listed below on the right hand side of the table provided.