Can’t afford $100 for a tub of the latest protein powder? As a Sports Dietitian I’m here to say it’s ok to say no whey! I’ve got five proven ways you can optimise your recovery and muscle growth without blowing your budget. Did I mention it also means you can spend more money on other cool sporty things like workout clothes and new trainers?

  1. Slow and steady wins the race.

What many people don’t know is that most of us will easily get enough protein over the day to meet our needs – even if we are pumping it up at the gym. Rather than focussing on the amount, the latest research shows that you can get the most bang for your strengthened buck if you work on spreading your protein intake out over the day. This means eating protein-rich snacks and main meals, rather than simply relying on that juicy steak at dinner or a protein shake after a workout. Our amazing bodies are constantly making and breaking down protein every minute of every day, so I make sure I add protein sources at each meal for best effect. Yoghurt at breakfast, meat or beans at lunch and dinner, plus snacks like milky coffees, nuts and cheese mean I’m drip-feeding my body with protein throughout the day. This gives my body ample opportunity to repair and recover all day long.

  1. Drop down and give me 10, or 20.

Research shows we only need about 10 – 20g of protein within one hour after a session to maximise our recovery and quickly replace and build new muscle. Any more than around 20g and the benefits tend to level out. Here are just a few of my favourite recovery options to achieve the perfect amount of protein without blowing my bank account. And don’t forget, a few carbs help give additional muscle-making benefits:

  • A tub of Chobani yoghurt (14g protein per tub)
  • 60g almonds or a large handful (11.8g protein)
  • Up&Go (Energize has 17.3g protein or the regular has 8.3g protein). Coffee flavoured is my favourite!
  • Homemade smoothie with 300mL milk, banana and honey (10.8g protein). I have also been known to add other things to this basic smoothie like oats, chia seeds, skim milk powder (for extra protein), blueberries, LSA mix, baby spinach. . . the list is endless.

  1. But first, food.

Those buzz words ‘amino acid’ or ‘whey protein’ dominate gym conversations these days. But they are often associated with protein shakes and powders. Although it’s not as trendy, those essential amino acids are found in whole foods, not just supplements. For example, dairy foods and drinks, eggs, and a special combination of vegetable proteins have all the essential amino acids you need to bulk up. And, they are just as effective in helping you achieve gains at the gym. Just like training, it’s important to get your foundations right first, and this also applies to supplement use. In fact, I’ve heard of elite sporting teams having a standard rule that ‘food always comes before supplements’.

Holly’s bottom line.

For most people (including me), our regular diets with a few simple tweaks can give us the protein we need to make awesome gains at the gym. Just remember to:

  • Choose good-quality protein (dairy, meats, eggs and a mix of vegetable proteins)
  • Spread your protein intake out evenly over the day (including snacks)
  • Refuel with a good protein + carb snack (or main meal) 1 hour post workout. Aim for around 20g protein in total.

But don’t forget, diet is only one part of the equation when it comes to muscle building. The right training load and genetics are also key factors. I tend to have a tall and lanky build, so I’m never going to look like a female version of Arny. But you know what? That’s OK by me!

What’s your favourite high protein snack after a gym workout?