Total Shape is a reader-supported site. Purchases made through links may earn a commission. Learn more.

When Is the Best Time To Drink a Protein Shake for Optimal Effect?

Isaac Robertson
Published by Isaac Robertson
Fact checked by Donald Christman, BHSc FACT CHECKED
Last updated: September 8, 2021

Athletes will always plan their protein intake to a post-workout timing, which is certainly one of the most crucial times.

But most of my clients are very surprised to hear that there are other great times to start taking whey protein powders to boost health and fitness results.

But before you just randomly pick different times of the day, let me show you the information we got from a nutritionist.

There are plenty of surprises, and you’ll be able to make much better diet plans with this guide we’ve made for you.

Is There A General Best Time To Take Protein Powder?

Protein powder in a shot glass, and a glass filled with water, and a spoon

OK, so generally speaking, the time your body will need the most amount of protein intake is when building muscle tissue.

This process is fueled by something called protein synthesis, where individual cells take amino acids and use them as building blocks for new tissue.

But this also happens when there is damage to muscle fibers from a tough weight lifting routine.

So for pretty much all athletes reading this, a post-workout protein shake is generally going to be a good approach. It certainly beats having to consume post-exercise meals of a few chicken breasts.

But other options would dictate different timing.

Let’s take a closer look.

Why Is Timing Your Protein Intake So Important?

man outdoors looking at his watch and holding a tumbler

Here’s the thing, a typical protein shake, whether it’s whey or soy protein, is already partially broken down and in liquid form.

Compare that to a couple of eggs or some lean meat that your stomach first has to break down before absorbing the macro and micronutrients.

When you consume protein shakes, the amino acid content is almost immediately ready to be absorbed into your system, and in some cases, you can see a boost within 30 minutes.

As a result, you want to make sure that your body gets that boost at a time when it has the maximum effect for a specific outcome.

Related: What's The Proper Way to Use Protein Powder?

Finding The Best Time For Your Goals

blue weighing scale with a measuring tape around it

There can be some significant differences in your timing requirements when you have different goals for your diet and exercise plans.

Here’s how to approach it.

1. Weight Loss

Research shows that high-protein diets may significantly contribute to losing body weight, especially in the form of stored fat [1].

Sounds great, right?

Now, this still requires that you exercise and stick to a net negative calorie intake, but adding one or two protein shakes to your daily meal plans could provide quite a significant boost.

From a timing perspective, I would suggest the following.

Mix up a protein supplement late morning or early afternoon, assuming that you’ll be doing some exercise within about 4 hours of drinking your shake.

It should help fill you up for longer, stabilize your blood sugar, and force your body into burning off more fat.

“A Johns Hopkins University study found that a diet in which roughly a quarter of the calories (about 60 percent more than the recommended 10 to 15 percent) come from lean protein sources reduced blood pressure, LDL ("bad") cholesterol levels, and triglycerides better than a traditional higher-carb diet.” - Selene Yeager, Writer at WomensHealthMag.com.

2. Muscle Building

woman showing her back while flexing her arms

Whether you’re a bodybuilder in a bulking phase or just someone who’d like to tone up a bit for beach season, muscle growth is going to be heavily dependent on the nutrients you make available.

Some nutrients, like vitamins and minerals, you’ll need to take in throughout the day.

But to effectively build muscle, you need enough protein supply for the entire repair, rebuilding, and recovery process.

Recent research suggests that along with a post-workout boost, you should consider a general high-protein diet to achieve maximum effect.

It’s interesting guidance from the International Society for Sports Nutrition and something we’ve been advising all clients [2].

Essentially, that means having a shake after training and boosting your overall protein intake for the entire day after training as well.

3. Prevent Muscle Loss

This advice is important for two groups of people.

One group is made up of bodybuilders going through a cutting phase to lose fat who will inevitably also lose some lean body mass. It’s impossible to avoid, but there are ways to reduce the impact on your body composition.

In a typical cutting phase, you’ll aim for a calorie deficit for a few days, and if you aim for more protein than carbs in your food, you should be able to limit the impact on muscles.

The other group is made up of elderly people, where natural aging results in an increased loss.

Boosting protein intake through supplements has been shown to help that aging effect on muscles.

4. Physical Performance Boost

man working out in a gym

Research suggests that increased protein consumption over several months doesn’t just impact the muscle recovery phase.

One study, in particular, looked at the effects on muscle strength when using a protein supplement as a form of pre-workout drink [3].

And the results were quite surprising.

Initially, there doesn’t seem to be a significant difference in performance, but after several weeks of regular supplementation, both highly trained and untrained people responded positively from a muscle strength point of view.

So, you could either make sure that your meal plan includes plenty of protein a few hours before heading to the gym, or you simply mix up a pre-workout shake.

5. Balancing Diet Macros

Any dietitian will tell you that you should aim to get the majority of your dietary protein from your food.

And if you have a dietitian on constant standby and a trained chef to translate your protein needs into your daily meals, then you probably won't need a huge amount of supplements.

But for most people, that’s not reality.

And for bodybuilders who may need to get through 4,000 to 5,000 calories a day, balancing macros and consuming protein in a predefined amount is difficult.

A more convenient way is a few scoops of powder that provide a complete protein source with the ideal amino acid profile for your muscles.

What are the best protein powders out there:

What Happens To Protein When You Take It After A Workout?

woman about to drink during a workout

One thing I want to revisit here is the most common situation where you have a protein shake after a workout.

It’s where most athletes will look for the benefits of tissue repair and that fancy-sounding term called muscle protein synthesis.

You’ll often hear people say it, but not many of them actually understand what it means.

Time to make you look like an expert.

After water, protein makes up the largest amount of the mass in muscle tissue. And because our muscles have to constantly repair minor and major damage, nature has perfected a process that transforms essential and non-essential amino acids into new muscle fibers.

On the opposite side of this building process is something called muscle degradation. This happens naturally as cells age. And as we get older, this process speeds up a bit.

For healthy people, the ideal situation is to maintain a balance between the building and degradation. But athletes usually want the building process to have the upper hand.

Should You Take Protein Supplements Before Going To Bed?

pills scattered and a spoon with powder on the floor

Let’s say you’ve completed a whole body workout and gone for a run, and you expect a long muscle recovery.

Most of that repair will happen during the night, and people often jump on the idea of taking an additional casein protein shake just before bed.

Unfortunately, that may lead to some bloating and an uncomfortable night's sleep.

I would generally recommend taking some plant proteins like rice and pea protein an hour before bed or first thing the next morning.

And I would limit it to about 15 grams of protein per evening shake, which should still be enough for muscle repair.

FAQs

When Should You Start Using Protein Powder?

You should start to consume protein powder from the moment you start a diet and fitness routine. Higher protein consumption will help both with fat loss and faster recovery times after training.

What Happens if You Drink Protein Shakes without Working Out?

Nothing much will happen if you drink a protein shake without working out. Your body needs both protein and exercise to burn fat and bulk up lean mass.

Have Picked Up Ideas For New Protein Timing?

Look, whether you plan to take soy, whey, or egg protein, it’s important to understand that there are good reasons to plan the timing before and after a workout.

You can try to eat more protein-rich foods, but it’s often easier with a supplement to help with weight loss, muscle repair, and performance.

Try out some of our tips, and let us know how they worked for you.


References:

  1. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5644969/
  2. https://jissn.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/1550-2783-10-53
  3. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/25169440/

About the author

You may also like

Write a Reply or Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *