Rest days are an essential component for recovery and muscle growth (as well as fat loss!). They give your body a chance to repair and rebuild those hard-worked muscles. Another important piece of the puzzle for getting results is nutrition, and when it comes to repairing those hard-worked muscles, protein is king.
Protein supplies your muscles with the “building blocks” (essential amino acids) it needs to repair, recover, and grow stronger. While it is possible to consume enough dietary protein from “whole foods”, protein shakes offer a convenient, cost-effective, and delicious option to help you meet your protein goals for the day while staying on track with your fitness and physique goals.
Most often, protein shakes are consumed following a tough workout as they are easy to fix and digest quickly, both of which help kickstart muscle recovery faster.
On a “rest day”, though, you don’t have a tough workout. So, does that mean you should skip your protein shake on recovery days?
Today, we’ll discuss why consuming enough protein is important everyday, not just on training days as well as how to maximize protein intake for muscle growth and recovery.
What is Protein and Why is It Important?
Protein is one of the three macronutrients (with carbohydrates and fat being the other two). Macronutrients are substances that provide the body’s major sources of energy and nutrition and are required for its survival. The primary function of protein is to supply amino acids -- building blocks the body uses to repair damaged tissue (muscle tissue, blood vessels, skin), creates new cells and structures, support immune function, synthesis hormones, create neurotransmitters, and support enzymatic reactions.
Without adequate protein, the body would not be able to repair damaged cells as well as support several other life-sustaining functions. Protein
How Much Protein Do I Need Per Day?
Unlike carbohydrates and fat, the body doesn’t have a way to hold vast quantities of disposable amino acids. It’s true that your muscles are made of amino acids, but consistently not consuming enough protein will lead to muscle wasting (catabolism), as well as many other adverse effects on the body.
As such, it is critical that you consume enough protein each day -- even on rest days.
How much protein you need per day depends on a variety of factors, including:
- Body composition (amount of muscle mass vs fat mass)
- Level of physical activity
- Athletic/physique goals (fat loss, maintenance, muscle gain, etc.).
- Health (e.g. are you healthy, ill, injured, etc.)
Sedentary to moderately active individuals require at least 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight per day (~0.36 grams of protein per pound of bodyweight). Serious gym rats, fitness enthusiasts, and physique athletes require at least 1.6-2.2 grams of protein per kilogram per day (between 0.7-1 gram of protein per pound of bodyweight per day). Older adults also have higher protein requirements as the body’s ability to efficiently use dietary protein is reduced as is the anabolic potential.[2,3]
A general rule of thumb for those looking to build muscle and lose fat is to consume 1 gram of protein per pound of bodyweight.
If you’re not sure how much protein to consume, the 1UP Fitness App is here to help. In the app, we provide customized nutrition and macronutrient targets to meet your preferences and goals.
3 Reasons Why Drinking Protein Shakes on Rest Days is Beneficial
Protein Helps Repair & Build Lean Muscle
Resistance training is essential to gaining strength, building lean muscle, and protecting muscle from breakdown during periods of dieting. Intense workouts deplete muscles, create microtears in muscle fibers, both of which increase the body’s need for protein.
While your workout may only last an hour or two, repair, recovery, and growth takes place over multiple hours (and even days). This means that even if you’re only training hard 3-4 days per week, your body is still trying to recover on rest days.
Protein shakes provide the body with a source of high-quality protein that is cost-effective and easy to fix.
Protein Reduces DOMS
Anyone who has ever participated in a tough workout has come face-to-face with the ugly and uncomfortable reality that is delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS). In severe cases, DOMS can be downright miserable, so much so that even rolling out of bed or trying to sit down makes you wince and utter several four-letter words under your breath.
Consuming enough protein each day can help accelerate the body’s recovery from a tough workout, and protein shakes can help you hit your protein requirements each day.
Protein Helps Protect Lean Muscle and Support Fat Loss
Losing body fat (without losing lean muscle) is a combination of three things:
- A calorie deficit (dieting)
- Resistance training
- Sufficient protein intake
Without these things in place, your results will be severely compromised.
A calorie deficit (energy in < energy out) is critical to weight loss, and anytime you’re in a calorie deficit, the body will look for energy (calories) anywhere and everywhere it can…including lean muscle tissue. Resistance training provides a robust stimulus (reminder) to your body that it needs to hold onto whatever muscle it currently has, and consuming enough protein provides the raw materials your muscles need to sustain themselves.
Since calories are also at a premium during dieting, you will need to be selective with the foods you eat. Instead of getting the 80/20 or 85/15 ground beef, you’ll likely opt for 90/10 or 93/7. Another option is to have a scoop or two of protein powder. Whey isolate and egg protein are especially valuable in dieting scenarios and transformation challenges as they contain minimal amounts of fat and carbs while supplying high-quality, bioavailable protein for your body.
Protein also helps increase feelings of fullness, due to protein being the most satiating macronutrient, and it is also the most thermogenic macronutrient (meaning that your body has to expend a higher amount of energy to break down protein than either carbs or fat).
Should You Drink Protein Shakes on Rest Days?
The short answer is yes…with a few caveats.
It is possible to consume enough dietary protein each day from “whole foods” (e.g. cooked chicken breast, grilled steak, broiled fish, etc.), which means that drinking protein shakes isn’t a “must.”
However, as we stated above, protein shakes offer many benefits (in addition to helping you meet your protein needs). They’re easy to fix, require little-to-no clean up, digest easily, won’t leave you feeling overly bloated or stuffed, and are more budget-friendly than other sources of protein.
Ultimately, whether or not you drink protein shakes on rest days is up to you, but they offer a wide range of benefits, and can help you reach your goals no matter if it’s body recomposition, fat loss, muscle gain, or athletic performance!
The only question left to ponder is…what flavor of protein powder will you buy?
- Wolfe RR, Cifelli AM, Kostas G, Kim IY. Optimizing Protein Intake in Adults: Interpretation and Application of the Recommended Dietary Allowance Compared with the Acceptable Macronutrient Distribution Range. Adv Nutr. 2017 Mar 15;8(2):266-275. doi: 10.3945/an.116.013821. PMID: 28298271; PMCID: PMC5347101.
- Morton RW, Murphy KT, McKellar SR, Schoenfeld BJ, Henselmans M, Helms E, Aragon AA, Devries MC, Banfield L, Krieger JW, Phillips SM. 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. Br J Sports Med. 2018 Mar;52(6):376-384. doi: 10.1136/bjsports-2017-097608. Epub 2017 Jul 11. Erratum in: Br J Sports Med. 2020 Oct;54(19):e7. PMID: 28698222; PMCID: PMC5867436.
- Jäger, R., Kerksick, C.M., Campbell, B.I. et al. International Society of Sports Nutrition Position Stand: protein and exercise. J Int Soc Sports Nutr 14, 20 (2017). https://doi.org/10.1186/s12970-017-0177-8
- Veldhorst M, Smeets A, Soenen S, Hochstenbach-Waelen A, Hursel R, Diepvens K, Lejeune M, Luscombe-Marsh N, Westerterp-Plantenga M. Protein-induced satiety: effects and mechanisms of different proteins. Physiol Behav. 2008 May 23;94(2):300-7. doi: 10.1016/j.physbeh.2008.01.003. Epub 2008 Jan 12. PMID: 18282589.
- Calcagno, M., Kahleova, H., Alwarith, J., Burgess, N. N., Flores, R. A., Busta, M. L., & Barnard, N. D. (2019). The Thermic Effect of Food: A Review. Journal of the American College of Nutrition, 1–5. doi:10.1080/07315724.2018.1552544