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Do You Need Protein Before or After Cardio?

Cardio Workout Scheduled? Here's When You Need to Eat Your Protein

While you don't need a ton of protein for a cardio workout, it's still important to get a small amount in. "Eating protein after your cardio workout is more helpful than eating it beforehand," said Lori Zanini, RD, CDE. The registered dietitian behind the Tone It Up nutrition plan told POPSUGAR that her suggestion for pre-workout protein is to keep it minimal, but that a little bit will "give your muscles amino acids: substrate to build your muscles up."

Before a cardio workout, it's important to keep your intake pretty low (according to Lori, only one to two ounces, totaling about 7-14 grams protein) because protein takes longer to digest than carbs, which can lead to digestive distress during a workout.

She emphasized that post-workout protein is important, though — even if you're not weight lifting or doing strength training. Ensuring you get enough protein "can reduce muscle damage during your workout, which means you recover faster," and also "can help maintain and increase your muscle size," thus boosting your metabolism.

"There's a recovery window of 30-45 minutes after exercise where your body metabolizes nutrients more efficiently, due to elevated heart rate and blood pressure," said Lori. "So your muscles can use protein more efficiently [in that window] for repair and rebuilding."

Lori suggested some of her favorite, protein-packed, post-cardio snacks:

  • Six ounces of Greek yogurt with one cup of raspberries: "The carbs in the raspberries will help replenish your muscle glycogen stores and enhance the transport of protein into cells, while the antioxidants can help repair your muscles post-workout. The Greek yogurt will provide 15-20 grams of protein to help stimulate muscle repair and growth."
  • Two hard-boiled eggs and a whole wheat pita with 1 tablespoon hummus: "Eggs provide a source of high-quality protein for your muscles to use to start the healing and rebuilding process post-workout. A pita and hummus will give you easily digestible carbohydrates to refill the muscle fuel that you used during your workout. The carbs also stimulate insulin release, a growth hormone that helps your body better utilize protein to rebuild your muscles."
  • One ounce of pistachios and one small apple: "Pistachios are a good source of plant protein and fiber, which can help promote a feeling of fullness. A one ounce serving (that's about 49 nuts!) offers six grams of plant protein and 3 grams of fiber. This is one of the easiest post-workout snacks because it doesn't require refrigeration, so you can keep in your gym bag or car.
  • Protein smoothie: "Eight ounces unsweetened almond milk, one banana, one tablespoon almond butter, and one scoop protein powder! This can be ready in minutes and is easy to take on the run. I love Tone It Up protein powder because it is organic, non-GMO, and plant based."
Image Source: POPSUGAR Photography / Lexi Lambros
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