row2k Features
Coach Kaehler
Protein Supplements and Post Training Recovery
February 17, 2011
Bob Kaehler

Do you take dietary protein supplements to enhance your training recovery? While much research has been done to examine how different whole food supplements affect muscle protein balance -- muscle protein synthesis (MPS) vs. muscle protein breakdown (MPB) -- after sessions of resistance training, one conclusion is clear. The overall success of any resistance training program is impacted by not only what you eat, but when you eat it. Muscle building and the loss of fat occur after your training is done, and by applying proper, well-informed nutritional choices, you can maximize your training efforts.

Choosing the best post- training protein supplement can be confusing. Current research shows that whey protein is superior to other whole proteins for post-workout recovery (MPS vs. MBS). Whey is a by-product of the cheese making process. If you have allergies to dairy protein, consult your physician before using it. Whey protein comes in two forms: whey isolate and whey concentrate. Whey isolate is the purest form and contains 90% or more of protein and very little (if any) fat and lactose. Whey concentrate, on the other hand, has anywhere from 29% to 89% protein depending upon the product. As the protein level in a whey product decreases, the amount of lactose and/or fat usually increases. If you purchase whey concentrate, look for at least a 70% protein level.

Researchers have also examined other common food proteins that are used for post-training recovery including egg, soy, and skim and whole milk. Egg and soy proteins also help increase muscle protein balance, though they do not achieve the same MPS levels as whey when used in post-training recovery.

If whey protein’s not for you, consider milk or soy straight out of the carton as a convenient and effective post-recovery drink. Research shows, however, that each option affects the body’s post-training recovery a little differently. Scientists examined the three beverages -- skim (fat-free) milk, fat-free soy milk and a carbohydrate control beverage – to determine how each affected maximum strength, muscle fiber size (type I & II), and body composition following resistance training. Participants in the study consumed their beverages immediately after exercise, and again one hour later. While the results showed no differences in maximum strength between the groups, researchers did observe that the milk group had significantly greater increases in type II muscle fiber area and lean body mass, over the soy and control groups. Results also indicated a significantly greater decrease in the fat mass of the milk group when compared to the soy and control groups. While all the above proteins increase muscle protein balance (MPS vs MBS), whey protein, and specifically whey isolate protein, emerges as the superstar of the group as it achieves the highest levels of MPS.

Other key factors in the overall success of your training program include the timing of your recovery drink and what you combine with it. Recent studies indicate that both pre and post-training whole protein supplements produce the best muscle protein balance (MPS vs. MBS) when combined with carbohydrates. Interestingly, muscle protein balance was not affected when whey protein was taken either one-hour before or one-hour after training. The same results were not observed however with the other proteins. Specifically, amino acids (broken down whole proteins) must be taken before (60 minutes or less) training for best results.

Carbohydrate drinks are another popular post-training supplement. Again, the same rule applies here regarding the combination of protein and carbohydrates in recovery drinks. Studies once again show that protein-carbo based beverages produce significantly greater increases in total boy mass, fat-free mass and muscle strength, than drinks based only on carbohydrates.

To maximize your training recovery, the guidelines for recovery drinks are simple. Combine whole protein supplements with a carbohydrate for best results. Alternatively, if you decide to use amino acids instead of whole proteins (whey, egg, soy, or milk), take them 60 minutes before you train. If you use whey protein, you can ingest it 60 minutes before or after training with no effect on your muscle protein balance. Of all the sources of whole food protein, whey isolate is the purest and most effective in producing the best muscle protein balance. While optimal amounts of whole food and whey protein levels have yet to be clearly identified by research, some general recommendations have been proposed. For strength and power athletes consume 2 parts carbohydrates to 1 part protein, where protein intake constitutes 0.25-0.50 grams/per kg body weight. For endurance athletes, a 4:1 ratio is suggested. For those who include strength training in their training program, use a 2:1 ratio on your resistance training days, and a 4:1 ratio on your endurance/rowing training days. You can repeat this beverage intake for up to six hours after training to enhance your recovery.

Organic Recommendations
When selecting whey products, consider whey protein from grass-fed cattle. Nearly all whey protein products are a processed, isolated or a concentrated by-product of grain and soy-fed cows pumped full of hormones and antibiotics. Whey that is made from grass-fed, organic-raised cattle is exceptional for repairing tissue, building muscle, and supporting your immune system. Grass-fed cattle also produce whey that is glutamine-rich and high in Branch Chain Amino Acids and fat burning CLA.


  • Tim N. Ziegenfuss, PhD, Jamie A. Landis,MD,PhD,CISSN and Robert A. Lemieux. Protein for Sports-New Data and New Recommendations. Strength and Conditioning Journal 32 65-70, 2011
  • Hartman JW, Tang JE, Wilkinson SB, Tarnopolsky MA, Lawrence RL, Fullerton AV, and Phillips SM. Consumption of fat-free milk after resistance exercise promotes greater lean mass accretion than does consumption of soy or carbohydrate in young, novice, male weightlifters. Am J Clin Nutr 86: 373-381,2007.
  • Jay R. Hoffman, PhD,FACSM,FNSCA. Protein Intake: Effect of Timing. Strength and Conditioning Journal 29:6 26-34, 2007
  • Kyle Brown, CSCS - Post Workout Recovery Nutrition: It’s Not What You Digest But What You Absorb That Counts. NSCA’s Performance Training Journal. 8:6 6-7, 2009

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    Log in to comment
    Coach Kaehler
    02/24/2011  7:02:15 AM
    Thank you for the questions and observations. The issue of how much protein a female athlete should use is a good question. While most studies are done with male athletes on this subject, I think it is safe to say that the results of these studies could be applied to male of female athlete. What aprears to be true from research is that anything above 20g of complete protein taken in right after a training session does not increase MPS. The remaining protein, above 20g, s then converted into glycogen which helps with restoring your muscle energy after a training session.

    While this article was written about protein intake right after one training session and the levels indicated reflected that, the figures below are good basic figures for intake for an entire 24 hour day. I personally believe that for athletes who train more than 8 -10 hours per week need more than the levels listed below. I shoot for 2g/kg for elite athletes. Because the body cannot utilize more than about 20 g per meal, more meals are needed throughout the day to get these levels into the blood stream. Timing is critical for getting protein into the blood stream and the sooner you can get it in the better (60 minutes or less). While research helps quite a bit with these questions many things about this process are still not completely understood.

    Train Smart and Be Balanced! Coach Kaehler

    02/18/2011  10:22:23 AM
    Since all of the above studies were done using male athletes, do you have any different recommendations for female rowers? This was a hot issue last summer (e.g.,,  but I haven't heard anything about it since.

    02/17/2011  1:47:35 PM
    A good topic to bring up! Protein is often forgotten by endurance athletes, and is essential! However, I would like to clarify the recommendations for protein intake is 1.0- 1.6 grams of PRO/kg of body weight/day (  Additionally, it has been shown that consuming a 4:1 ratio (Carbs to protein) is most effective IMMEDIATELY post exercise, waiting 60 minutes will reduce the glycogen repletion and undermines the recovery process!

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