Should You Have Protein Shakes After High-Intensity Cardio?

Exercising causes a depletion in vitamins and minerals as well as a breakdown of cells and tissues that require adequate nutrients to repair. If you participate in intense sports or workouts, nutrition will play a key role in your health and athletic performance. Protein shakes have the potential to help to refuel your body quickly and easily. Discuss your exercise regimen with your doctor or a qualified health-care practitioner to decide what protein powder provides you with the nutrition you need to maintain your performance level 2.

Exercise Physiology

During any type of exercise, you are placing physical stress on your body; you are forcing it to adapt to a stimulus. This adaptation allows you to increase your physical strength and endurance -- i.e., "get in shape." Cardiovascular exercise, like running or cycling, causes an increase in oxygen consumption and the metabolism of calories and glycogen, which is a precursor to sugar. According to the book "Running" by Jeff Galloway, exercising for 15 minutes or less burns glycogen stores 1. If you work out for 90 minutes or more you begin to burn fat stores. Your body is using vitamins, amino acids and other compounds to perform these processes; therefore, these nutrients need to be replaced to facilitate optimal growth and repair.


Protein is found in meats, fish, dairy, eggs, legumes and soy products. Your body makes protein from amino acids, some of which must be obtained through the food you eat. Protein is best known for its important role in building muscles. It is also needed, according to, for hair and skin growth, to support the immune system and to help carry oxygen in the blood. The amount of protein you need each day is dependent on your age and your activity level. states that the recommended protein intake for healthy adults is 0.8 g/kg of body weight or 0.36 g/lb of body weight; endurance athletes require 1.2 grams to 1.6 grams per kg of body weight.

Protein Shakes

Popular with weight lifters, protein shakes provide easily absorbed protein, vitamin and minerals in a powder form. Although shakes lack many benefits of a whole food meal, they are a simple way to achieve on-the-go nutrient replacement. Powders can be mixed with milk, water, yogurt, fruit and other foods to enhance the nutritional value of the drink. Whey protein mixes are easily digestible, as are rice protein powders. Hemp protein is another option, which provides you with omega fatty acids, amino acids, vitamins, minerals and protein.


While protein may be essential for building muscle, carbohydrates are equally important in an athlete's diet. Research is pointing toward a mix of carbohydrates and protein as an optimal post-workout meal. A review article featured in "Sports Medicine" discussed the attributes of carbohydrates and proteins during and after workouts. Carbs are an important part of post-exercise nutrition; the article states that they should be taken in as early as possible after exercising and throughout recovery to maximize the rate of muscle glycogen re-synthesis. The article states that adding protein to a carbohydrate supplement accelerated, in some circumstances, muscle glycogen re-synthesis.


In order to remain healthy, maintain or build muscle and prevent injury, proper nutrition both before and after a workout is extremely important. Because you may not feel like eating a full meal after an intense workout, protein or other health shakes are a viable alternative 2. Research the types of protein shakes available and buy a high quality product. Talk to your doctor, and choose one with a combination of carbohydrates and protein in order to optimize your recovery.