If you've been wondering whether you should drink a protein shake after your cardio workout, then you're not alone. This has got to be one of the most common supplementation questions out there! After all, a protein shake is there to build muscle, right? And cardio isn't effective for muscle growth...right?
Well actually, no, these assumptions are actually quite incorrect. This could lead to the presumption that a protein shake is not necessary following a cardio workout. (You may wish to read an article I published entitled "Cardio & Bodybuilding - Good for Muscle Growth?")
Another misconception is that because cardio is highly effective for weight loss, a protein shake could limit the "fat burning effect" by increasing the number of calories you consume.
Let's take a step back and look at what cardio is - a form of exercise. Exercise is a means of placing physical stress on your body. You "stress" your body in order to force it to adapt to the stimulus.
In the case of an intense cardio workout, you are forcing your fitness level to increase once the cardio session has concluded. Your body will improve its fitness so it can handle this physical stress more effectively, in case it is subject to this form of exercise again in the near future. This "overcompensation" is how you train your body to become the shape that you wish it to be.
Considering that the major physiological changes happen after your intense workout has concluded (fat loss, fitness enhancement, muscle development etc.), it is therefore important to provide your body with the essential nutrients to facilitate these changes. Just like a house builder requires materials to build a house (bricks, wood, concrete etc.), your body requires nutrients to maximise the many changes that take place upon the conclusion of your workout.
Following the conclusion of your intense workout, your body is dire need of nutrients. It's like a sponge and will soak up nutrients to assist in the recovery process. A protein shake is a unique tool that can provide your body with some fact acting nutrients to support this recuperation process. Two key ingredients include:
- Fast-absorbing, high quality proteins (eg. Whey Protein Isolate, as found in many quality protein powders)
- High GI carbohydrates (eg. Dextrose)
Other supplements such as vitamin c/e (antioxidants), l-glutamine (immune support), free-form BCAA's (branched chain amino acids) may also be of use in your protein shake after an intense cardio workout.
So in summary, following an intense cardio workout, you should drink a protein shake comprised of effective supplements - for nearly all goals. Not supplementing may very well inhibit your recovery, thus reducing your results. Further, you will also place your body at a heightened risk of becoming run down with a lowered immune response.
A low-intensity cardio workout however is another story. If you are performing a low-intensity session, then a protein shake may not be necessary. This is because the degree of "stress" placed on your body from exercise is minimal.