However, what most of us do not always remember is that fitness improvement does not happen during the activity itself but rather during the recovery period after exercising. And this is where proteins come in.
Whatever your fitness goals are, you are not going to meet them unless you exercise intensely. This is what stimulates your body to prepare for another bout of even tougher exercise. But in addition to the hard training, you also need to be prepared to rest. Because when you give your body the chance to recover, it actually adapts to a fitness level that is slightly higher than before exercising (see Figure 1). Then, over a period of weeks and months, you become better and stronger, and your performance improves.
Figure 1. Recovery after exercise can improve fitness levels
On the other hand, if you skip the rest periods in between exercise sessions or if you do not pay enough attention to your diet and nutritional needs, your performance might actually decrease over time, despite your good training plan and intense exercise.
Why rest is so important
Rest periods are essential because muscles often get slightly damaged during exercise. The time in between exercise sessions is when muscles can repair, and this is where protein comes in. Muscles are made of proteins and the building blocks of these muscle proteins are called amino acids. That is why eating protein-rich foods after exercising can provide the necessary amino acids to build up muscle and repair any muscle damage.
There are nine so-called essential amino acids, which you can only get from food sources. If a food source contains all nine, it is known as a high-quality, complete protein. Whey protein is a great example as it contains one of the highest levels of these nine essential amino acids. In addition, whey protein is also digested rapidly so you can enjoy a fast uptake of essential amino acids in the blood. This means that with whey protein, you do not need to worry about whether you are getting enough of the different amino acid types.
Muscle protein synthesis
Eating protein after exercising also works as a signal to start the process of muscle protein synthesis. This is a naturally occurring process in which protein is produced to repair muscle damage caused by intense exercise. You can basically think of it as the build-up of new muscle tissue. The amino acid leucine plays an important role in this. When you consume protein that contains the right amount of leucine, such as whey protein, the body starts building up muscle tissue using all the essential amino acids as building blocks. This repair work on any damaged muscle tissue is also part of the recovery period.
3 reasons to take whey protein after exercising
- It contains all nine essential amino acids
- It it quickly digested by the body for a rapid uptake of protein
- It contains the right amount of leucine to repair any muscle tissue damage
How much protein is enough protein?
So how much protein do you need to get the full benefits? This depends on your age, weight and level of fitness. Find out about what you actually need with our protein calculator. Although everyone has different protein needs, there are some general points to bear in mind. The main one is that it is important to consume protein over the course of a day to rebuild your muscles and this is particularly important after exercising. And remember that protein cannot be stored by the body, so it needs to be consumed on a regular basis for the best benefits.
Most people will find that a protein intake of ~1.4 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight per day is sufficient when you are exercising. Ideally, this should be spread out over the course of the day, for example with 20-40 grams of high-quality protein every 3 to 4 hours.
Remember protein if you are over 50!
In your fifties, you need to pay particular attention to your protein intake. After the milestone age of 50, muscle loss becomes a natural part of the ageing process. This process can be counteracted to a certain degree by exercising and making sure you meet your protein needs.
Whatever your age or fitness interests, making sure you get enough protein in your diet is easier than you might think. Whey protein is available in powder form, both in sweet and neutral-tasting variants, which makes it easy to add to many different dishes, both sweet and savoury. In our recipe section, you can find a wide range of quick and easy recipes that will appeal to all tastes, from soups to ice-cream and smoothies.
 Asker Jeukendrup, Performance Manager Nutrition in the Dutch High Performance Team, René Kleinsmit, Product Group Manager, FrieslandCampina DMV, “Benefits of dairy proteins in run-up to the 2018 Olympic Winter Games”, FrieslandCampina DMV online webinar 17th November 2017.
 Pennings (2011) https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/21367943/
 Morton et al 2017, A systematic review, meta-analysis and meta-regression of the effect of protein supplementation on resistance training-induced gains in muscle mass and strength in healthy adults, British Journal of Sports Medicine, https://bjsm.bmj.com/content/52/6/376