Does Protein Help Muscle Recovery? Pre & Post Workout Tips

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Are you looking to boost your muscle recovery after a tough workout? Wondering if protein is the answer to your post-workout woes? Look no further, as we explore the science behind muscle recovery and the role protein plays in this process.

In this Smart Guide, we’ll serve up some valuable tips on weaving protein into your pre and post-workout routine. 

Let’s dive in and discover how protein can supercharge your recovery and help you reach new heights in your fitness journey.

What is protein and why is it important?

Protein is a vital macronutrient that plays a big role in your body’s various functional and metabolic processes.

It’s a powerhouse that promotes growth and repairs damaged cells and tissues. Protein helps in muscle development as well as the recovery process after exercise.

Getting your daily dose of protein is vital for maintaining overall health and supporting functions like muscle recovery.

Protein's role in muscle growth and recovery

Consuming protein around your training sessions supports muscular repair and remodelling, which are vital for post-exercise strength as well as growth.

Good protein intake not only enhances recovery and boosts immune function, but it also contributes to the growth and maintenance of lean body mass. Interestingly, the ingestion of animal proteins is linked to gains in lean muscle mass.

SmartTip: Focusing on adequate protein intake and consistent resistance training is key to reaching your fitness goals, is better than honing in on precise protein timing around the workout.

Committing to an exercise routine as well as an eating plan that aids recovery around your training sessions is the best way to keep smashing those all-important fitness goals.

Amino acids and their functions

Amino acids are the basic building blocks of protein, with 20 different types combining to form proteins in the body. 

Nine of these amino acids are essential, meaning our body cannot produce them, and thus, they must be obtained through our diet. These amino acids play critical roles in…

  • Growing and repairing tissue
  • Making hormones
  • Breaking down food
  • Providing energy
  • Supporting healthy skin, hair, and nails

Dietary protein, which our body breaks down during digestion, provides the essential amino acids for maintaining our health.

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Pre- and Post-Workout Protein Intake

Consuming protein before and after workouts is crucial to support muscle repair, growth, and overall exercise performance

While protein intake around workouts is important, the actual requirement can vary based on individual factors such as the type and intensity of training.

A study by The International Society of Sports Nutrition (1) recommends consuming protein supplements within two hours after a workout for optimal muscle growth. 

Interestingly, the inclusion of carbohydrates with amino acids post-exercise does not consistently show benefits for enhancing muscle protein synthesis (a.k.a bigger gains)..

Spreading protein intake throughout the day

To ensure a steady supply of amino acids for muscle building throughout the day, it’s recommended to space protein intake evenly throughout the day. Each meal should roughly contain 0.4 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight. For optimal muscle growth and repair, you should aim to consume four to five portions of protein each day.

SmartTip: To prevent muscle loss, evenly distributing about 25 to 30 grams of protein across each meal of the day is the way to go.

How to use protein to boost pre and post-workout recovery: top tips

Using protein strategically in both pre and post-workout nutrition can contribute significantly to muscle recovery and overall performance.

Here's some SmartTips on how to optimise protein intake for these periods:


  • Timing: Eat a protein-rich meal or snack about one to two hours before your workout.
  • Protein sources: Choose lean protein sources like chicken, turkey, fish, eggs, or plant-based options like tofu or legumes.
  • Carbohydrates: Combine protein with complex carbohydrates (whole grains, sweet potatoes, or fruits) to provide a steady release of energy during your workout.
  • Hydration: Stay well-hydrated before exercise to support nutrient transport.


  • Timing: Consume protein within 30 minutes to an hour after your workout, as it’s when your muscles are most receptive to nutrient uptake.
  • Protein amount: Aim for 20 to 30 grams of protein in your post-workout meal or snack.
  • Protein shake: Consider a protein shake with whey or plant-based protein powder for a quick and convenient post-workout option.
  • Carbohydrates: Include carbohydrates (white rice, potatoes, or fruit) in your post-workout nutrition to replenish glycogen stores.
  • Hydration: Rehydrate with water or a sports drink containing electrolytes to replace fluids lost during exercise.

Complete vs. incomplete proteins

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The topic of complete and incomplete proteins often stumps health enthusiasts. Complete proteins contain all nine essential amino acids, whereas incomplete proteins are missing one or more of these essential acids. For your reference, these foods are considered complete proteins…

  • Beef
  • Poultry
  • Fish
  • Eggs
  • Dairy
  • Soy
  • Quinoa
  • Fatty fish

On the other hand, plant-based proteins like legumes, nuts, seeds, and whole grains are generally incomplete. 

But, by eating a variety of incomplete proteins, you can get your daily fill of essential amino acids.

Animal vs. Plant Proteins

The debate between animal and plant proteins is ongoing. While animal proteins are rich in vital nutrients such as vitamin B12 and heme iron, plant-based proteins come with added benefits as they are rich in vitamins and minerals. Plant-based diets are associated with…

  • Lower body weight
  • Lower cholesterol levels
  • Decreased risk of heart disease, stroke, cancer, and type 2 diabetes compared to diets rich in animal protein

Ideally, a balanced and healthy diet should cover both animal and plant-based foods to ensure you’re getting a diverse range of nutrients.

Combining protein sources

For vegetarians and vegans, the trick to getting all the essential amino acids is to combine different protein sources. 

This is because plant-based foods are typically incomplete proteins, lacking some essential amino acids. 

Certain plant proteins such as soy, quinoa, and hemp seed contain all essential amino acids and can serve as complete proteins on their own. 

Combinations like legumes with grains, or nuts with seeds, can provide all essential amino acids.

Fortunately, there’s no need to consume these complementary proteins in a single meal. By eating a variety of proteins throughout your daily meals, you can meet all of your protein-powered needs.

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Daily protein requirements explained

When it comes to protein intake, the ‘one size fits all’ approach does not work. For healthy adults, the recommended dietary allowance (RDA) for protein is a minimum of 0.8 grams per kilogram of body weight per day. This amount helps to support overall health and muscle maintenance. 

But, if you indulge in intense training, you’ll need to up your intake to between 1.2 to 1.7 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight.

For your daily caloric needs, protein should make up about 10% to 35%, equating to approximately 0.36 grams of protein per pound of body weight for healthy adults.

How to calculate your protein needs…

Wondering how to determine your specific protein needs? Here’s how:

  1. Convert your body weight in pounds to kilograms
  2. Depending on your activity level and goals, multiply your weight in kilograms by the appropriate protein amount, which ranges from 0.8 to 1.8 grams per kilogram of body weight. If you’re more active or looking to build muscle, you could potentially benefit from up to two grams per kilogram 
  3. If you prefer a quicker method, you can use a protein calculator for estimation

Adjusting protein Intake for specific goals

The protein requirements of different people vary depending on their specific needs. Here are some general guidelines (3)...

  • Endurance and strength-trained athletes should consume between 1.2 and two grams of protein per kilogram of body weight for muscle recovery. Highly trained individuals may benefit from consuming more than 3 grams per kilogram
  • Protein powders can be a convenient way to meet these protein requirements without excessive intake of other macronutrients

High-quality protein sources

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To reach your protein intake goals, it’s important to include high-quality protein sources in your diet

Both animal and plant-based proteins have their unique benefits, and a combination of both is recommended for a balanced intake.

Some high-quality animal-based protein foods, which are essential components of a high-protein diet, include…

  • Lean meats
  • Poultry
  • Seafood
  • Eggs
  • Nuts

These proteins are rich in essential amino acids and support muscle recovery. On the plant side, legumes and whole grains offer nutrient-dense protein options.

Dairy products like Greek yoghurt and cottage cheese offer a high-protein content alongside probiotics and calcium, which are beneficial for overall health.

Top animal-based protein sources

Animal proteins offer a rich source of vital nutrients such as vitamin B12 and heme iron, which the body absorbs more efficiently than non-heme iron from plant-based foods. 

Lean protein sources like chicken breast, turkey, lean beef cuts like sirloin or tenderloin, and pork loin are valuable for their high protein content and essential nutrient density, including iron and zinc.

Best plant-based protein options

When it comes to plant-based protein sources, you have plenty of choices. Some tasty, protein-powered options include…

  • Tofu
  • Tempeh
  • Edamame
  • Nutritional yeast
  • Spirulina
  • Amaranth
  • Quinoa
  • Seitan
  • Mycoprotein
  • Lentils
  • Beans
  • Soy milk

So, whether you’re following a vegetarian or vegan diet, or just trying to include more plant-based foods in your diet, these foods have got you covered.

High-protein snack ideas

Adding high-protein snacks (2) into your diet can be a game-changer. Here are some options…

  • Roasted chickpeas
  • Pumpkin seeds
  • Edamame beans
  • Turkey roll-ups
  • Canned tuna
  • Celery sticks with peanut butter

If you have a sweet tooth, you can go for…

  • Greek yoghourt parfaits, layered with granola and berries
  • Chia pudding made with high-protein milk alternatives
  • Energy bites made from a mix of nut butter, oats, and seeds

The power of protein powders and supplements

Protein powders and supplements can be a handy tool to meet increased dietary protein requirements. 

These powders are sourced from various ingredients, including eggs, milk like casein or whey, and plants such as soybeans, peas, and hemp—with some powders combining multiple protein sources.

Choosing a protein Powder

When choosing a protein powder, it’s necessary to consider its alignment with the larger dietary context and personal fitness objectives such as weight loss, building muscle mass, or serving as a meal replacement. 

Additional ingredients in protein powders—like sweeteners, flavourings, and fillers—play a significant role in taste and nutritional value. 

Some factors to consider when choosing a protein powder include…

  • Dietary goals (weight loss, muscle building, meal replacement)
  • Taste preferences
  • Nutritional value
  • Additional ingredients (sweeteners, flavourings, fillers)
  • Purity and quality (third-party testing)

By considering these factors, you can make an informed choice and pick a protein powder that suits your specific needs and goals.

Who should use protein supplements?

For athletes needing timely and sufficient protein for muscle recovery and adaptation to exercise, protein supplements can serve as a convenient option. 

Individuals with high protein requirements or who are exceptionally busy may also find protein supplements useful to meet their dietary needs. These supplements are helpful for:

  • Muscle growth or maintenance
  • Providing high-quality protein
  • Aiding in muscle protein synthesis
  • Recovery post-exercise

People with reduced appetite, special nutrient needs for athletic performance, illness, or dietary changes may use protein supplements to fulfil their requirements. Athletes training in a fasted state may benefit from protein supplements.

SmartFact: A typical protein dosage is 20 to 40 grams per day, or one to two scoops, with a suggested upper limit of around 80 grams per day to make sure you get your daily fill of macronutrients for 
SmartTip: Read our essential guide on the body-boosting benefits of taking protein and creatine to level up your exercise performance.

Top tips for adding more protein into your diet

If you’re looking to increase your protein intake, a few simple tips can make a big difference. Here are some SmartTips to help you reach your protein goals…

  • Add protein-rich options like Greek yoghourt, chicken breast, salmon fillet, peanuts, beans, and tofu in each meal
  • Aim for a target of 100 to 150g of protein per day
  • Estimate appropriate protein servings for meal portions using hand size as a guide

Final thoughts…

Understanding protein’s role in the body, knowing your individual protein needs, and incorporating high-quality protein sources into your diet is key to maximising muscle growth and recovery. 

Whether it’s choosing the right protein supplement, adding high-protein snacks into your diet, or planning your meals—remember the importance of balance. 

No one source can provide all the nutrients your body needs, and diversity in your diet is as important as the quantity of protein. 

So, keep exploring, keep experimenting, and let protein work its magic on your health and fitness journey.

Level up your workouts the Smart way

Make your muscle recovery period seamless with The Recovery Kit, which will get your body back to its incredible best after exercising.

The bundle offers the perfect combination of our top products for the post-activity recovery process.

Speed up your recovery process with our whey protein for muscle repair—replenishing electrolytes hydration powder to replenish you—and gummies for joint health. 

Just what you need to keep you sharp, and recharged after a good workout.


Which food has the highest protein?

The food with the highest protein content is lean beef, with 22g of protein per 3-ounce serving (93% lean ground beef). Chicken, salmon, eggs, and other options also contain high levels of protein.

How can I recover my muscles fast?

To recover your muscles fast, prioritise rest, drink plenty of water, eat protein-rich foods, and incorporate light movement to promote blood flow. 

Plus, consider techniques like massage, compression garments, and hot and cold therapies for muscle recovery.


Smart Protein is committed to sourcing only the best and scientifically-based research in our articles.



3.British Heart Foundation

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