Should you be taking your protein shake before or after your workout? This is a great debate in health and fitness circles.
Though you often hear people say that you should always drink a protein shake soon after working out, others argue that taking protein before you workout helps to better improve performance and recovery.
So which one is it? The bottom line is that it really doesn't matter. Timing is less important than a lot of people think, and there's a lot of leeway where you'll still get the full benefits for muscle repair and recovery.
Keep reading and we'll explain all you need to know.
Sufficient Daily Protein Intake: The Most Important Factor
When it comes to protein, getting enough is the most important thing to consider.
If you are lifting weights and you aren’t meeting your protein needs, you won’t be able to successfully build muscle or strength. This is why many gym-goers opt for protein shakes in the first place.
If you aren’t sure if you are getting enough protein to meet your needs, you’re not alone. Many people don’t know how to calculate their protein needs, let alone which foods are good sources of protein.
According to the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM), a person looking to increase muscle mass with physical activity should aim to consume 1.2-1.7 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight (0.5-0.8 grams per pound) .
Dietary protein can come from a variety of sources but the highest protein content can be found in animal products such as meat, fish, poultry, eggs, and dairy. Protein can also be found in some vegetarian sources such as tofu, tempeh, and edamame.
Benefits of Drinking Protein Shakes
Although it’s best to try to consume your protein from dietary sources, there are many benefits to consuming protein supplements, such as shakes.
Not only are they convenient and portable for those on the go, they also help you meet your protein goals and provide quick digesting protein to support muscle recovery after a tough workout.
Let's dig deeper into the benefits of protein powder shakes.
Convenience for Busy People
You can’t beat the convenience of a protein shake. Although there are some portable protein sources out there, such as greek yogurt, cottage cheese, beef jerky, and hard boiled eggs, these don’t work for everyone and may not have enough protein to help you meet your goals.
Protein shakes can be taken on the go, or made in a flash at home or work for a quick pre or post-workout snack with minimal effort.
Helps Daily Protein Intake
One of the biggest perks of protein shakes is they are an easy way to meet your daily protein goals. Protein powders allow you to get anywhere from 20-40 grams of protein per serving, in a drink that takes a minute or so to consume.
This is a whole lot easier than consuming a large chicken breast or alternative cut of meat that might provide similar protein content.
For someone who already struggles with getting adequate protein, these shakes can be a lifesaver. Whether you don’t like a lot of protein foods or you have a hard time eating a large amount of protein, shakes can cut the stress and help you more efficiently meet your needs.
Quick Digestion for Improved Recovery and Repletion
Our body digests liquids faster than solids, so consuming a protein shake versus a whole protein food takes less time to absorb. Add that to the fact that most protein shakes are made with whey protein powder, a fast-acting protein, your body gets what it needs a lot quicker .
When Should You Drink a Protein Shake? Does it Matter?
Back to the most asked question when it comes to protein shakes, when should we be consuming them? The answer is, it depends.
It was previously thought that consuming protein shortly after a workout, during the “anabolic window”. This window is believed to be a period of time where your body absorbs and processes protein most rapidly.
Though there is truth to the concept of the anabolic window, newer research suggests that the timing of this anabolic window is a lot larger than we realized.
For example, it was once recommended to consume protein within 30 minutes of a workout to take advantage of the anabolic window. If you missed this window, it was thought that you wouldn’t get as much out of your protein intake or your workout.
The idea that that anabolic window only lasts 30 minutes has now been largely disproven, meaning there's a lot more room to get in protein post-workout and still get the same benefits.
Is it Better to Drink a Protein Shake Before or After a Workout?
Now we are learning that this anabolic window is a lot larger, and what's more, it also leaves room for protein intake either before or after exercise. Although there is still not a general consensus on the exact time of this anabolic window, research agrees that protein intake either shortly before or shortly after a strenuous workout provides the same benefits [3, 4, 5].
Therefore, it all comes down to personal preference. Some people prefer to work out on an empty stomach and do better with post-workout shakes. However, some may feel better taking pre-workout protein, and using this as fuel for their upcoming activity.
Either way, as long as you are getting the protein in somewhere close to your workout you are likely meeting that anabolic window.
How Long Before a Workout to Drink Protein Shake
If you prefer to pre-fuel your workout with protein before hitting the gym, plan to get it in within 30 minutes to 1 hour of your workout. Choose a protein shake that is easy to digest, such as whey protein to avoid any discomfort during your workout. It may also be beneficial for performance to pair your protein shake with a quick-digesting carbohydrate for energy, such as bananas, oats, etc.
How Quickly After a Workout to Take Protein for Best Results
After a good strength training session, your body requires protein to rebuild and repair what was broken down. This is why many professionals argue that consuming protein after exercise might allow your body to better utilize that protein.
Researchers agree that protein shakes, or any high-quality protein source, should be consumed within a short window following exercise, ideally about 1 hour post-workout .
When to Drink a Whey Protein Shake for Weight Loss?
If you’re taking whey protein for weight loss, the same rules apply.
Consuming a protein shake within 1 hour of completing your workout can help to ensure your body gets enough protein to fuel muscle recovery and repair damaged muscle tissue. An added benefit is that protein also helps keep you feeling full and satisfied for longer.
Post-workout protein will help protect lean muscle mass you currently have as well as what you are trying to build from being lost during the weight loss process. Your body will then break down fat instead .
How Much Protein Do I Need Before and After a Workout
Protein intake is best split up into meals and snacks throughout the day to ensure you are getting adequate amounts to support muscle growth. This can be split up into 20-40 grams per meal and/or 10-15 grams per snack depending on your protein requirements.
Studies suggest consuming anywhere between 20-40 grams of protein shortly before or following a workout will maximize recovery. This is why most protein shakes and powders typically contain at least 20 grams of protein per serving [7, 8].
What to Mix With Whey Protein for Exercise Performance and Recovery?
Although protein is essential for muscle growth and recovery, adding a carbohydrate source to your whey protein supplement can help boost both performance and recovery.
During a workout, your body is utilizing glucose for energy, depleting your glycogen stores. Once you complete your workout, just like with protein, your body needs to replete what was lost.
It’s also believed that consuming carbs and protein after a workout can help to boost both glycogen and protein synthesis. This is especially important in endurance athletes .
What About Drinking a Protein Shake Before Bed?
Although it may sound a little odd, some studies suggest consuming a protein shake before bed might help boost muscle growth.
While we are asleep, our muscles use this time to repair and grow. There is a spike in human growth hormone (HGH) during this time, a hormone secreted by our pituitary gland that boosts lean body mass and metabolism [10, 11].
It’s believed that consuming a protein shake right before bed when HGH spikes helps to provide essential amino acids that support the process of muscle protein synthesis and thus help boost muscle growth [12, 13].
Although researchers agree that it’s best to consume protein close to your workout, whether you decide to do it shortly before or shortly after may not make much of a difference. In fact, it’s more important that you are consuming adequate protein to support muscle growth throughout the day.
A person looking to increase muscle mass with physical activity should aim to consume 1.2-1.7 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight and shakes can make it easy and convenient to meet these goals.
It’s recommended to consume between 20-40 grams of protein during your anabolic window (the timing your body absorbs protein rapidly and effectively to build muscle) which is 1 hour before to 1 hour after exercise.
Mixing your whey protein with quick-digesting carbs can help to boost performance and recovery. There may also be benefits for muscle growth from consuming a protein shake shortly before bed.