What type of protein is best for triathlon recovery?

We look at the differences between whey, soy and others on the market, and whether shakes or bars are best

Images: Remy Whiting

What are the differences between the different types of protein contained in recovery nutrition products and which would you recommend? We look at the difference between whey, soy and others on the market, and whether it is better to consume it in a bar or a shake.


Recovery products can contain many different types of protein, including whole milk, whey, casein, soy protein and even pea protein.

>>> Triathlon nutrition – our ultimate guide to fuelling

Within the first 30 minutes or so after exercise your muscles are particularly receptive to protein and carbohydrate feeding – the so-called ‘window of opportunity’.

For this reason, proteins that can be rapidly broken down to their constituent amino acids and assimilated by recovering muscles are considered preferable to slower-releasing proteins. By consuming rapidly-assimilated proteins, you can supply recovering muscles with amino acids within this window of opportunity.

Of the commonly included proteins in recovery drinks, whey is the most rapidly digested and assimilated, and is therefore the best option in the immediate period after training.

Whey is also very rich in one particular amino acid called leucine, which has been shown to promote muscle growth and recovery after exercise. Slower-releasing proteins do have their place in recovery however.

Because they break down more slowly, they provide a source of amino acids over a longer period of time. So, for example, when retiring at night, a slow-releasing protein drink high in casein is preferable to something like whey.

In theory, recovery drinks and bars can provide the same benefits. The problem with many bars, however, is that they contain varying degrees of added fat in order to make them more palatable.

Fat slows down gastric emptying, which in turn slows down the rate at which amino acids are available to recovering muscles. For this reason, a fat-free recovery drink is preferable to a bar immediately after exercise.


(Images: Remy Whiting)

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