drinking protein shake What's next after pumping iron at the gym? Hydrate? Of course! Shower? Please do. But before reaching for that sugary sports drink, maybe think about downing a post work-out protein drink instead.

A new study suggests drinking protein-focused rather than carbohydrate-heavy drinks after aerobic activity can maximize the effects of exercise and increase training efficacy, at least in older people Long-term synthesis rates of skeletal muscle DNA and protein are higher during aerobic training in older humans than in sedentary young subjects but are not altered by protein supplementation. Robinson, M.M, Turner, S.M., Hellerstein, M.K., Hamilton, K.L., Miller, B.F. Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology 2011; 25(9): 3240-9.. The study recruited participants who were given protein drinks after 45 minute exercise sessions for six weeks. Using ultra-sensitive mass spectrometry methods (try saying that 10 times fast), researchers examined how much muscle growth occurred in people who drank protein drinks after exercise over those who didn’t. The verdict? Drinking protein drinks after endurance exercise induced muscle growth Long-term synthesis rates of skeletal muscle DNA and protein are higher during aerobic training in older humans than in sedentary young subjects but are not altered by protein supplementation. Robinson, MM., Turner, SM., Hellerstein, MK. Department of Health and Exercise Science, Colorado State University, Fort Collins, Colorado, USA. The Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology Journal 2011 May 25. [Epub ahead of print]..

Protein Shaken, Not Stirred - Analysis

It’s no rocket science to understand that a good balance of exercise and nutrition can go a long way. However, knowing when and what to consume when exercising can also be extremely important to help reach those fitness goals. For example, a study illustrates that consuming a drink rich in amino acids (the building blocks of proteins) can help decrease fatigue, maintain exercise performance, and hasten the muscle recovery process. Effects of an amino acid carbohydrate drink on exercise performance after consecutive-day exercise bouts. Skillen, RA., Testa, M., Applegate, EA., et al. International Journal of Sport Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism 2008 Oct;18(5):473-92. Another study focusing on the consumption of milk protein post-resistance exercise shows that people who drink protein-rich drinks after exercise experience greater gains in whole body lean mass and larger muscle fibers.

So, for those who want to pack on the muscle a little faster or just get in shape, protein drinks may very well have a place as part of a daily routine. Of course, some research suggests post-workout protein isn't especially helpful Should protein be included in CHO-based sports supplements? Betts, J.A., Stevenson, E. Human Physiology Research Group, Department for Health, University of Bath, United Kingdom. Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise 2011;43(7):1244-50.. And, according to a Consumer Reports study, excessive consumption of protein can potentially be dangerous, especially because of potential exposure to heavy metals. "Early Show" consumer correspondent Susan Koeppen even suggests overconsumption can lead to dehydration, digestive problems, and complications for people with kidney problems.

Ultimately, having a protein drink after a workout seems to be beneficial for muscle growth. Unless today's sustenance comes entirely from a big tub of protein powder, protein drinks may be the best post-gym option.

The Takeaway

Grabbing a protein drink after a work-out sesh can help build stronger muscles, increase training efficacy, and speed up muscle recovery time.

Updated November 2011