The science of muscle recovery

Gayatri Chona

Hitting the gym or putting in a home workout sesh using a YouTube video to guide you is just half the battle. What’s as important is what comes right after. The food and drink you consume post can actually make all the difference when it comes to restoring energy, building muscle and burning fat.

An important component of this post-workout recovery nutrition is protein. Research shows that consuming protein close to physical activity can stimulate muscle recovery. When you eat protein after exercise, it gives your muscles the amino acids necessary to repair and rebuild, and get you ready for your next workout.

High-quality food sources of protein include dairy, fish, meat, eggs, and soy. But sometimes we might not be able to get these natural sources of protein in adequate amounts at the right time. That’s where nutrition bars come to the rescue. But don’t just go around picking the next nutrition bar you see. 

Because Indian diets largely revolve around grains and cereals, chances are, you too aren’t meeting your daily protein requirement as is. According to studies, 80 per cent of Indian diets are protein deficient whereas 90 per cent of the Indian population isn’t aware of their daily protein requirements. Ideally, you should be having approximately 1g of protein per kilo of your body weight. But if you’re into heavy workouts, these needs can increase too. Nutrition bars that explicitly promise a good percentage of protein can help you meet these goals in ways that are more sustainable. Other nutrition bars might have energy as their main offering (with high-energy ingredients) or promises of a bunch of good-for-you ingredients. Pick one that works for you based on your needs.

So, can I just pick up a nutrition bar? Nuh-uh. If it’s the protein element you’re chasing after your workout because your diet might not get you enough of it, then go for those labelled as protein bars.

Watch out for those that might actually be sugar-loaded candies masquerading as healthy food. A good protein bar will be packed with a decent serving of protein (at least 10g), will be devoid of artificial or shady additives such as flavourings, sweeteners, and preservatives, and full of fibre. Look out for ones filled with ingredients like nuts or superfoods. They help you feel fuller for longer, and make the most of each bite.

Research shows that eating a little protein before your workout helps but eating something right after (best combined with a carbohydrate) is a great idea too. Chomping on a protein bar within a 30-minute window is likely to help both replenish energy stores and rebuild muscle. 

But do I need one even if I don’t gym intensely? Honestly, it’s a fallacy to think that protein or nutrition bars are only for the gym bros. We all need protein — they’re the building blocks of our body. What differs, however, is how much protein you need. A nutrition bar is not and should not step in for your meals, at least not often. That said, it’s great to have one handy when the snack attack comes raging.