Can You Mix Pre-Workout With Protein Shakes? (Pros & Cons)

Benedict Ang, CPT, PN1-NC
Published by Benedict Ang, CPT, PN1-NC | Staff Writer & Senior Coach
Last updated: January 26, 2024
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Many of my clients who want to lose fat and gain muscle have asked me at least once if they can take a protein shake and pre-workout at the same time.

I talked with other fitness experts and spent days researching the benefits and drawbacks of combining them. I also used a protein shake and a pre-workout together for a few days to see how it would affect me.

Here's what I found out.

Quick Summary

  • You can mix pre-workout and protein shake as they enhance workout performance by boosting energy and aiding muscle repair.
  • Pre-workouts are best taken before exercise to boost energy and focus, while protein shakes can be consumed any time to effectively stimulate muscle protein synthesis.
  • According to a study in the National Library of Medicine increasing total daily protein intake, rather than focusing on timing, is more effective for muscle protein synthesis.
  • In my experience, carefully choosing the type of pre-workout and protein supplement, considering factors like caffeine content and protein source, is crucial for maximizing workout benefits and minimizing side effects.

Why Take Both Pre-Workout and Protein Powder?

A bottle filled with both pre-workout and protein powder

You should take both pre-workout and protein powder because they can have synergistic effects on your performance and workout results.

While an ergogenic drink can help boost your energy, focus, and strength, according to a PubMed article, a protein shake can aid in the repair of tissue fibers damaged during weight training [1] [2].

From my personal experience, combining pre-workout and protein powder has been a game-changer for my training sessions.

The pre-workout gives me that much-needed energy boost and sharpens my focus, while the protein shake plays a crucial role in repairing the muscle fibers I work so hard on during weight training.

I've noticed that since I started this combo, I've been able to lift heavier and push my workouts further, which has accelerated my progress towards my fitness goals.

Guidelines for Consuming Pre-Workout and Protein Shakes

A man drinking protein shake from a shaker bottle

During the weeks I used both supplements, I've learned a few tricks on how to get the most out of them. Let me share some guidelines that have helped me maximize my fitness gains and could do the same for you.

The Best Time to Take Them

According to a study published in the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition, ergogenic aids are intended to be taken before exercise [3].

It usually kicks in after 15 to 30 minutes, giving you a boost in energy levels and focus and making you more motivated even during a tough workout.

On the other hand, the best time to take pre-workout was thought to be most effective when taken during an anabolic window, or 30 minutes of exercise, to replenish the nutrients.

But, recent research published in the National Library of Medicine suggests that increasing total protein intake per day, regardless of the timing, can stimulate muscle protein synthesis more effectively [4].

Customizing Mixes for Specific Fitness Goals

For weight loss, focus on a pre-workout that contains ingredients like green tea extract or L-carnitine, which can aid in fat burning, combined with a lean protein source like pea or hemp protein. This combination can help in maintaining lean muscle mass while promoting fat loss.

For muscle gain, look for a pre-workout with creatine and BCAAs (Branched-Chain Amino Acids), which support muscle growth and recovery. Pair this with a fast-absorbing protein like whey isolate post-workout to aid in muscle repair and growth.

Pro tip: The timing here is crucial – I found consuming the protein shake post-workout maximized muscle protein synthesis.

For endurance training, your pre-workout should contain ingredients like beta-alanine and citrulline malate, which help in reducing fatigue and improving blood flow. Combine this with a protein that has a balanced release, like casein, to provide sustained energy and aid in recovery over longer periods.

Choosing the Type of Supplement

Pre-workouts frequently contain stimulants like caffeine. When choosing an ergogenic aid to take with protein powder, it can be helpful to use one that includes a small amount of caffeine to provide just the right amount of energy boost without the jittery effects.

"Keep in mind that having too much caffeine can have serious side effects."

- Kate Patton, Registered Dietician 

In terms of protein supplements, whey protein and casein protein powder are complete protein sources of essential amino acids, including branched-chain amino acids [5].

Therefore, drinking a whey protein shake may be a good way to help your muscles recover faster after a workout.

However, I usually advise my clients to take them separately and maybe opt for supplements that have mild or no side effects if they are beginners.

Does The Experience Level Matter?

A man making a pre-workout drink in the gym

Yes, experience level matters. A pre-workout protein shake is good for athletes with low dietary protein intake.

However, if you're just starting out on your fitness journey, you might find it more beneficial to use a pre-workout shake first, as it can help your body adapt to the physical demands of exercise.

On the other hand, experienced bodybuilders may be more likely to take both supplements at the same time.

The main reason for this is that they generally strive to improve their gym performance while also gaining lean muscles and improving their body weight.

Is There a Risk in Combining Them?

There should be no health risks associated with mixing pre-workout with protein drinks, especially for those who follow the guidelines for proper consumption.

However, those who misuse the products and are unaware of their sensitivity to ingredients may experience some side effects.

Common symptoms, which are associated primarily with certain pre-workout ingredients, include irregular heartbeat, high blood pressure, tingling, stomach issues, and nausea [6].

Impact on Digestive Health

Pre-workout formulas often contain stimulants like caffeine, amino acids like beta-alanine, and sometimes, digestive enzymes. On the other hand, protein shakes, depending on their source (whey, casein, soy, pea, etc.), have varying effects on digestion.

For individuals with sensitive stomachs or specific dietary conditions such as lactose intolerance or IBS, this mix can sometimes lead to discomfort. Common issues include bloating, gas, and even diarrhea.

This is often due to the body's response to certain ingredients found in pre-workouts, like artificial sweeteners or high caffeine levels, which can accelerate digestion and cause gastrointestinal distress.

Additionally, the high protein content, especially from sources like whey, can be hard to digest for some people.

FAQs

Is Whey Protein the Same as Pre-Workout?

No, whey protein is not the same as pre-workout. Whey proteins are muscle-building supplements containing essential amino acids that aid in post-workout muscle recovery. A pre-workout, on the other hand, aims to improve your exercise performance by providing your body with extra energy and stamina.

Should You Take Pre-Workout Before a Protein Shake?

You should take a pre-workout before a protein shake to maximize the ergogenic effects of the supplements. Consuming protein drinks after a workout is thought to increase the rate of protein absorption in the muscles, thereby accelerating your ability to gain lean muscle mass.


References:

  1. https://www.webmd.com/fitness-exercise/health-benefits-pre-workout-supplements
  2. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/24435468/
  3. https://jissn.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s12970-018-0247-6
  4. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3879660/
  5. https://www.usdairy.com/news-articles/whats-the-difference-between-casein-and-whey
  6. https://www.sciencedirect.com/topics/medicine-and-dentistry/ergogenic-aid
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