I've been drinking a post-workout protein shake almost daily on and off for the better part of 10 years now and for probably seven of those years I did it religiously.
I still remember begging my mom for a monthly supply of protein powder after reading about the importance of post-workout nutrition and it's impact on my gainz in an issue of muscle and fitness.
And lucky for me I got that protein powder.
Although I clearly remember her buying the most disgusting and cheap protein powder ever for the first two months just to see if I'd use it consistently.
That was such a thing my mom would do.
I eventually graduated to higher quality and better tasting protein powder and as I started earning money myself I started buying my own protein powder.
For most of those ten years I felt that my post workout shake was as essential to my progress as was the actual training session. Maybe more so even because I believed it was the pairing of the training session WITH the post workout shake that produced my gainz.
This wasn't really out of the ordinary though.
Like I said I learned about the supposed significance of a post workout shake from a large mainstream health and fitness publication. I mean I wasn't the only dude who read that issue with the desire to get bigger and stronger.
Actually a lot of this advice about a post workout shake was based on at that time recent research showing significant benefits of following a resistance training session with a carbohydrate and protein rich post workout shake specifically within 20 to 30 minutes following the workout.
This research gave wise to the concept of the Anabolic Window and eventually culminated in the publication of arguably one of the most influential nutrition books of the last decade Nutrient Timing by Dr. John Ivy, a professor at the University of Texas and one of the researchers at the center of this Anabolic Window research.
Regardless of what we know know Nutrient Timing was a big deal at the time of it's publication and became a go to reference for almost everyone who was giving out advice on the best way to maximize #gainz in performance and physique.
This led to the perpetuation of arguably the biggest myth about proper nutrition in the fitness industry in the last decade resulting in confusion, misinformation, and a bunch of broke adolescent dudes spending way to much money on ineffective and unnecessary supplements.
And in my opinion much of the growth of the supplement industry can be attributed to the publication of that book and the research cited in it.
Don't get me wrong I'm sure that for the most part the research and the book where well intentioned and meant to help people, but as in many other cases the excitement surrounding new research and the desire to turn it into something practical led to the extrapolation of results turned into concrete fact and unquestionable guidelines about how best to approach post workout nutrition regardless of the inherent limitations of the research.
I'm in no way looking down on anyone here. I was right in the thick of all this with everyone. I was rushing to my gym bag after the last set of training sessions to hurry up and mix my shake and drink before missing out on my gainz like this poor bastard.
Lucky for us though there were some really smart dudes who were observing this trend in the fitness world and who started poking around into the actual research being used to support this advice.
They did the work that many didn't care enough to do and where thus misleading tons of people and wasting lots of their own hard earned money.
After taking a close look at the collective literature of the whole on this topic they came to find that the body of evidence just really didn't support the popular nutrient timing wisdom being prescribed.
It appeared that while some studies show short term increases in muscle protein synthesis when a resistance training session was followed by a carbohydrate and protein rich shake the rest of the majority of the evidence showed no significant benefits from such a practice and particularly no significant difference in outcomes when consuming the shake two hours after the training session as compared to 20 or 30 minutes after the training session.
In other words the concept of an Anabolic Window and the necessity of a post workout shake was some what bunk or at the very least it was clear that it wasn't in fact necessary.
I can speak to this as well anecdotally as someone who went from partaking in this practice rather religiously to quitting it cold turkey and not seeing much of a difference in my performance or results.
This investigation of the research behind nutrient timing and the Anabolic Window culminated in published review on the topic in 2013 which once and for all put an end to the fear mongering that had been widely spread about the necessity and importance of a post workout shake.
The review is open access and can be read here.
It really needs to be read in it's entirety to truly understand the practical implications and because to break it down into a nice sound bite summary would be an injustice to the work done by Brad Schoenfeld and Alan Aragon.
It's safe to say though that a post workout shake with a perfect ratio of carbs and protein isn't necessary to have an effective training session.
It is much more important to focus on overall dietary needs and overall daily protein intake consistently than to be concerned with having the right amount of protein and/or carbs at the right times.
However as a true bro at heart I'm not going to say that the practice of a post workout shake doesn't offer ANY benefit or that you should immediately do away with it.
It's just not as essential as we all thought.
That being said if you enjoy having a post workout shake by all means continue with it.
In fact it's very possible it does help with your recovery.
It might help you get your adequate daily protein intake.
It may help you from overeating at certain meals.
It may reinforce your behavior of lifting weights regularly.
There is a chance their are benefits to it and secondary gains to the practice.
We just shouldn't be attached to the "why" we all thought was behind it.
So is your post workout shake a waste?
That is completely up to you bro.
If you do it out of a compulsive obsession I'd say yes.
If you spend ungodly amounts of money trying to optimize the nutrition surrounding your training session yet eat like shit on the weekends then I'd say yes again.
But if you enjoy the shake, use it to aid your attainment of your daily nutritional needs, and feel a benefit then by all means no.
Happy moving and heavy lifting!
Practical, Purposeful, Effective Training