15 Post-Workout Alternatives To Whey Protein

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Whey protein is the most popular post-workout supplement, but many of my nutrition clients don’t want to take supplements or can’t tolerate whey. So if you can’t take whey, or you’ve just simply run out of whey and haven’t stocked up again, what are some alternatives that you can take after working out?

A good post-workout whey protein alternative is one that is high in protein (0.1g/calorie) and low in fat. It should also digest faster than casein protein, as casein digests slowly (>4g/hr) and whey digests more quickly (~10g/hr).

Although whey protein is the top choice for many people after a workout, below I’ll cover other supplements you can take to replace whey, as well as some real-food alternatives.

Key Takeaways

  • Whey protein is beneficial after a workout, but it will not make or break your results. You can consume an adequate amount of protein from a different source if you prefer.
  • After working out, it’s more important to consume 0.14g of protein per lb of body weight and 0.4 to 0.6g of carbs per pound of body weight to maximize recovery and muscle growth rather than worrying about the type of protein.
  • With that said, certain protein powders and whole food sources are better than others when it comes to finding a suitable whey protein alternative (ultra-filtered milk, egg whites, chicken, shrimp).

Do You Actually Need a Whey Protein Alternative? 

Whey protein is considered the gold standard post-workout protein source because it absorbs the fastest. Therefore, it provides your body with amino acids to repair muscle damage and promote muscle growth at a faster rate.

However, you can still achieve adequate muscle recovery and growth with protein sources that absorb at a slower rate than whey. I recommend medium-digesting protein sources (which I’ll discuss below) over slow-digesting protein sources for the best whey protein alternatives.

However, if you like whey and don’t have any food sensitivities or allergies that would prevent you from taking it, stick with whey protein for your post-workout protein source.

What To Look For in a Post Workout Alternative to Whey Protein

what to look for in an alternative to whey protein

The 3 criteria for a whey protein alternative post-workout are:

  • Medium absorption rate
  • High protein
  • Complete protein
  • Low fat

1. Medium Absorption Rate

Whey protein is the only protein source that is considered fast-digesting (~10 grams per hour), so the next best options are medium-digesting proteins which digest at a rate of ~6-7 grams per hour.

2. High Protein

Another key criterion for a post-workout whey protein alternative is its protein content. Whey protein provides on average 25 grams of protein and 130 calories, which is approximately 0.2 grams of protein per calorie.

In general, foods can be considered “high-protein” if they have at least 0.1 grams of protein per calorie. Therefore, any food meeting this criterion (and the other criteria listed) could be considered a good whey protein alternative.

That said, the amount of protein each person needs post-workout is different. The Journal of Frontiers in Nutrition recommends:

“~0.31 g/kg of high-quality protein represents a suitable target to maximize protein synthesis during recovery from resistance exercise, regardless of sex, and quantity of active muscle mass”.

Journal of Frontiers In Nutrition

Based on this recommendation, someone who weighs 72kg (158.4lbs) should aim to consume approximately 22 grams of protein post-workout.

3. Complete Protein

A complete protein contains all 9 essential amino acids your body does not produce on its own. Consuming complete protein sources provides your body with all the amino acids it needs to use protein effectively for muscle growth and repair.

All animal-based proteins (meat, dairy, seafood) are complete proteins.

Sources that do not contain all essential amino acids are called “incomplete proteins.” The incomplete sources of protein are generally plant-based proteins such as grains, beans, and legumes. However, there are exceptions (i.e., soy products and quinoa).

Incomplete proteins can become complete if paired with other foods that contain the missing amino acids. For this reason, many plant-based protein powders use multiple protein sources. 

4. Low Fat

Whey protein alternatives also need to be low in fat because whey protein itself is low in fat. Even whey protein concentrate, the type of whey with the most fat, still has less than 5 grams per serving (usually 1 scoop or around 30g).

Having a low-fat protein source post-workout is beneficial because fat slows down the rate of digestion. Choosing a low-fat option can help speed up the rate at which amino acids are delivered to your muscles for recovery and growth.

A suitable alternative would be one that can provide 20 to 30 grams of protein with less than 5 grams of fat.

Is Casein a Good Whey Alternative Post Workout?

Casein can be used as an alternative to whey because it still provides the amino acids your body needs after a workout for muscle repair and growth. 

However, the amino acids in casein will be delivered at a much slower rate than whey or other whey alternatives, so muscle protein synthesis (a precursor for muscle growth) may be delayed.

For this reason, casein isn’t the best alternative to whey. But it is an option if it’s the difference between getting enough protein post-workout or not.

What Else Do You Need Post Workout? 

Although whey provides the protein required post-workout, it lacks another important nutrient responsible for energy replenishment and recovery. The other nutrient you’ll need post-workout that whey doesn’t provide is carbohydrates. 

Carbs are your body’s preferred energy source, which are stored in your muscles as glycogen (a more usable form of energy). 

When you work out, you deplete these energy stores. After your workout, you will need to replenish these energy stores by consuming an adequate amount of carbohydrates.

The USADA (US Anti-Doping Agency) recommends a carbohydrate intake of 1-1.2 grams of carbohydrate per kilogram of body weight (0.4 to 0.6g of carbs per lb) post-workout to replenish your energy stores and promote a faster recovery.

For example, if I weigh 72kg (158.4lbs), I should consume between 72 to 86 grams of carbs following my workout.

If the whey protein alternative you choose doesn’t contain enough carbohydrates to meet this criterion, add a low-fat carb source (i.e., fruit, honey, maple syrup) in the amounts needed to satisfy your carb requirements.

Post Workout Protein Powder Alternatives for Whey

There are many protein powder alternatives for those who don’t like or can’t have whey protein that can be consumed post-workout.

With all of the following protein powders, you will require an additional carb source. However, the number of carbs you need will be specific to you based on the guidelines above.

You could make your protein shake into a smoothie by adding fruit, use your protein shake instead of milk with low-fat cereal, or add your protein to a bowl of oatmeal to meet your carb requirements.

1. Egg White Protein

Egg white protein is a great alternative to whey because it’s a complete protein and is digested at a medium rate (~6-7 grams per hour).

Egg white protein is also lactose-free, dairy-free, and soy free for those with food sensitivities or allergies.

The best egg white protein I’ve found is Gaspari Nutrition’s Egg White Protein because it comes in different flavors, which I appreciate. Other egg white proteins can be hard to choke down.

Nutritional Breakdown Per Serving (1 scoop):

  • Calories: 110
  • Protein: 25g (0.2g/cal)
  • Fat: 0g
  • Carbs: 1g

2. Soy Protein

Soy protein powder is another great whey protein alternative post-workout for those sensitive to dairy. Soy protein is most similar to whey protein because they’re both complete proteins.

The best soy protein for the price is Bulk Supplement’s Soy Protein Isolate, which is 100% pure soy protein.

BulkSupplements Soy Protein Isolate

Nutritional Breakdown Per Serving (1 scoop):

  • Calories: 117
  • Protein: 27g (0.2g/cal)
  • Fat: 1g
  • Carbs: 1g

3. Pea Protein (With Added Sources)

Pea protein is one of the most popular plant-based protein powders. It is a good alternative to whey because it’s a medium-digesting protein (~6-7 grams per hour), but pea protein isn’t a complete protein on its own. 

Luckily, many plant-based protein manufacturers have taken this into consideration when manufacturing their products and added additional protein sources to form a complete protein. This makes some pea protein powders better than others as alternatives to whey.

Truvani Plant Based USDA Certified Organic Protein Powder, in particular, has added chia seeds (a complete protein) to improve the amino acid content of its pea protein. It also tastes great despite being free of gluten, dairy, soy, and artificial flavors.

Nutritional Breakdown Per Serving (1 scoop):

  • Calories: 130
  • Protein: 20g (0.2g/cal)
  • Fat: 3g
  • Carbs: 5g

Real Food Whey Protein Alternatives for Post-Workout

Real food whey protein alternatives for those who may not want to take supplements are:

1. Ultra-Filtered Milk

milk

Ultra-filtered milk is a great option to boost your protein intake post-workout without whey protein powder supplementation. Ultra-filtered milk contains nearly twice the protein of regular milk, and it is lactose-free.

My favorite way to consume ultra-filtered milk post-workout is by drinking Fairlife Nutrition Protein Shakes that have just as much protein as a protein shake containing protein powder.

If you have a hard time stomaching food after a workout, this is a great option for you to get your protein in without feeling nauseous.

I recommend pairing this with fruit like an apple or banana to reach your post-workout carb requirements.

Nutritional Break Per Serving (1 shake) Without Additional Carbs:

  • Calories: 150
  • Protein: 30g (0.2g/cal)
  • Fat: 2.5g
  • Carbs: 3g

2. Greek Yogurt

Greek Yogurt

Greek yogurt is another great whey protein alternative post-workout because it has a high whey protein content.

I recommend a fat-free greek yogurt (0%) rather than one made with whole milk to speed up the rate of digestion after a workout.

Choosing a flavored Greek yogurt rather than plain Greek yogurt is also beneficial. The sugars in flavored yogurt can count towards your post-workout carb requirements.

I would pair a flavored Greek yogurt with fruit or low-fat granola to boost the carb content based on your specific requirements.

Nutritional Breakdown Per Serving (3/4 Cup) Without Additional Carbs:

  • Calories: 140
  • Protein: 15g (0.1g/cal)
  • Fat: 0g
  • Carbs: 20g

3. Egg Whites

egg whites

Egg whites are another high-protein, low-fat, medium-digesting protein that can be used as a whey protein alternative post-workout. 

Egg whites digest at a slightly faster rate than whole eggs because they don’t contain any fat, which would slow down their rate of digestion.

My favorite way to consume egg whites post-workout is to mix them into my oatmeal. The oatmeal disguises the taste of the egg whites and provides a high-quality source of protein and carbs.

Nutritional Breakdown Per Serving (1 Cup Raw Egg Whites) Without Additional Carbs:

  • Calories: 125
  • Protein: 26g (0.2g/cal)
  • Fat: 0.4g
  • Carbs: 1.8g

4. Chicken Breast

Chicken Breast

Chicken breast is very low in fat and very high in protein, so it is a great alternative to whey that you can consume post-workout.

However, this only applies if you’re specifically using skinless chicken breasts and not chicken thighs. The skin and dark meat have more fat than chicken breast, reducing its rate of digestion.

You could eat chicken with rice, in a wrap, or in a pasta dish post-workout to help you consume enough protein and carbs for recovery.

Nutritional Breakdown Per Serving (100 g) Without Additional Carbs:

  • Calories: 165
  • Protein: 31g (0.2g/cal)
  • Fat: 3.6g
  • Carbs: 0g

5. Turkey Breast

Turkey Breast

Similar to chicken breast is turkey breast, which is also high in protein and low in fat. Turkey breast is a medium-digesting protein that digests slower than whey but faster than casein, making it a suitable alternative to whey for post-workout consumption.

I would pair turkey with potato, sweet potato, or squash, but that’s just my personal preference. You can pair it with any carb you enjoy.

Nutritional Breakdown Per Serving (100 g) Without Additional Carbs:

  • Calories: 147
  • Protein: 30g (0.2g/cal)
  • Fat: 2g
  • Carbs: 0g

6. Tuna (Fresh or Packed in Water)

Tuna fresh and canned in water

Tuna, either fresh or canned in water, is a great whey protein alternative. It meets the protein requirements for post-workout nutrition and is low enough in fat that it won’t slow down the absorption rate of key post-workout nutrients (protein and carbs).

The only downside of tuna is that it has a higher mercury content, which can lead to mercury poisoning if overconsumed. For this reason, it’s best to limit tuna consumption to 1-2x/week.

Tuna pairs best with bread to make a quick tuna sandwich or wrap. It’s also good when served with potatoes. Pairing tuna with your carb of choice in the right serving sizes will ensure you’re maximizing your post-workout nutrition.

Nutritional Breakdown Per Serving (100g of Skipjack Tuna) Without Additional Carbs:

  • Calories: 132
  • Protein: 28g (0.2g/cal)
  • Fat: 1.3g
  • Carbs: 0g

7. White Fish (Halibut, Cod, Tilapia, Haddock)

white fish

White fish like halibut, cod, tilapia, and haddock can all be used to replace whey protein following a workout. 

However, these fish are best consumed in moderation due to their mercury content. I recommend having them 1-2x/week after a workout but choosing other alternatives for the rest of the week.

White fish pairs well with rice or potatoes. You can also put it in tortilla wraps to make fish tacos.

Nutritional Breakdown Per Serving (100g) Without Additional Carbs (Averaged):

  • Calories: 109
  • Protein: 23g (0.2g/cal)
  • Fat: 2g
  • Carbs: 0g

8. Shrimp

Shrimp

Shrimp are an excellent source of protein with barely any fat, so it is very comparable to whey protein when consumed post-workout. Shrimp also has lower levels of mercury, so you can consume it more often than white fish or tuna (3-4x/week).

Shrimp pairs well with carbs like rice in a stir-fry, pasta with a low-fat sauce, or tortillas to make shrimp tacos.

Nutritional Breakdown Per Serving (100g) Without Additional Carbs:

  • Calories: 99
  • Protein: 24g (0.2g/cal)
  • Fat: 0.3g
  • Carbs: 0.2g

9. Low-Fat Cottage Cheese

cottage cheese

The last whey protein alternative is cottage cheese. It is last on the list simply because it naturally contains a higher amount of casein, the slowest digesting protein. However, it also naturally contains whey, so it is still a suitable alternative to whey protein.

Cottage cheese pairs well with fruit or low-fat granola for a post-workout protein and carb combo. 

This combo is perfect if you work out in the evening. You would get the best of both worlds when it comes to the rate of protein digestion from whey (best post-workout) and casein (best overnight).

Nutritional Breakdown Per Serving (1 Cup 1% Milkfat) Without Additional Carbs:

  • Calories: 163
  • Protein: 28g (0.2g/cal)
  • Fat: 2g
  • Carbs: 6g

Post-Workout Alternatives To Whey: Honorable Mentions

1. Eggs

Eggs

Although slightly slower-digesting than egg whites, eggs still qualify as a medium-digesting protein, making them a suitable option for a whey protein alternative after working out.

However, the downside to choosing eggs as an alternative is that 1 large egg has 6 grams of protein and 5 grams of fat, and you will need more than 6 grams of protein post-workout.

A more appropriate target would be between 20 to 30 grams of protein post-workout, but then you’d also get around 17 to 25 grams of fat, which would drastically reduce the rate of digestion.

Eggs post-workout is better than no protein at all, but it’s not the best whey protein alternative. However, you can combine 1-2 whole eggs with liquid egg whites or another protein source like chicken breast to get the protein you need without too much extra fat.

Nutritional Breakdown Per Serving (100g) Without Additional Carbs:

  • Calories: 143
  • Protein: 13g (0.1g/cal)
  • Fat: 9g
  • Carbs: 0.7g

2. Tofu

Tofu

A plant-based alternative to whey is tofu, which provides a decent amount of medium-digesting protein and is a complete protein (many plant-based proteins are not). 

The only downside to tofu is that to consume enough to get at least 20 to 30 grams of protein, you’d also get 7 to 11 grams of fat, which is too high to be considered a good whey protein alternative. 

That said, tofu is the best option for those who are plant-based and don’t want to take protein powder. If you want to boost the protein content, you can consume it alongside a pea protein shake or combine it with a protein-rich carb source like quinoa, which will also aid post-workout recovery.

Nutritional Breakdown Per Serving (100g of Firm Tofu) Without Additional Carbs:

  • Calories: 85
  • Protein: 11g (0.1g/cal)
  • Fat: 4g
  • Carbs: 1g

3. Edamame

Edamame

Edamame, another soy product (like tofu), is also a complete protein and a suitable whey protein alternative for plant-based people.

However, similar to tofu, you would have to consume more fat than ideal to reach a protein target of at least 20 to 30 grams after a workout.

Nutritional Breakdown Per Serving (100g Prepared From Frozen) Without Additional Carbs:

  • Calories: 121
  • Protein: 12g (0.1g/cal)
  • Fat: 5g
  • Carbs: 9g

Frequently Asked Questions

Is Whey Protein Necessary After a Workout? 

No, you do not need to consume whey protein after a workout to recover and build muscle as long as you consume an adequate amount of protein from a different source. However, whey protein is faster digesting than any other protein source, which speeds up recovery and reduces post-workout nausea.

Can You Skip a Protein Shake After Workout? 

Yes, you can skip a protein shake post-workout as long as you consume some form of protein after your workout. You could easily replace a protein shake with a meal containing whole food sources of protein (like egg whites or chicken breast) and carbs (like fruit) and still promote recovery and muscle growth.

What Should You Eat Immediately After a Workout?

Within 2 hours of working out, you should consume protein and carbohydrates to repair muscle damage and replenish your energy stores. The amount of protein and carbs each person needs will differ, but I recommend at least 10 grams of protein and 20 grams of carbs after a workout.

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About The Author

Amanda Parker
Amanda Parker

Amanda Parker is an author, nutrition coach, and Certified Naturopath.  She works with bodybuilders, Olympic weightlifters, and powerlifters to increase performance through nutrition and lifestyle coaching.