Protein Shake Before or After a Workout (The Answer)

James Cunningham, BSc, CPT
Published by James Cunningham, BSc, CPT | Staff Writer & Senior Coach
Last updated: November 29, 2023
FACT CHECKED by Dr. Kristy Dayanan, BS, MD
Our content is meticulously researched and reviewed by an expert team of fact checkers and medical professionals. They ensure accuracy, relevance, and timeliness using the latest reputable sources, which are cited within the text and listed at the end of the article. Before publication and upon significant updates, we confirm factual accuracy, committed to providing readers with well-informed content. Learn more.

You might be taking the right amount of protein for your workout needs.

However, if you're not properly timing your protein consumption, chances are you’re not reaping its maximum benefits and not using it correctly to achieve your fitness goals.

So, when’s the best time to drink a protein shake — before or after a workout?

I did a lot of searching on what experts and researchers say about protein powders - let's dive in and settle the matter once and for all.

Quick Summary

  • The optimal timing for a protein shake, whether before or after a workout, depends on individual fitness goals, schedules, and preferences.
  • Consuming protein before a workout can kickstart muscle protein synthesis, curb appetite, and provide fast-absorbing amino acids, while post-workout protein aids in muscle repair and recovery.
  • The ideal protein intake for increasing muscle size and strength is around 1.6 grams per kilogram of body weight.
  • Personally, I find that balancing protein intake with my workout routine significantly enhances my fitness results, be it for muscle growth, recovery, or weight management.

When is the Best Time to Consume Protein?

The best time to consume protein depends on your fitness goals, schedule, and even preference.

So, there isn't a right or wrong answer for this, and you can either go for a pre-workout protein shake or post-workout protein shake to help you build muscle mass.

However, both ways of consuming protein shakes have potential advantages and disadvantages.

Consuming Protein Before Workout

Benefits

woman holding up a tumbler and a thumbs up
  • Kickstart protein synthesis. It triggers muscle protein synthesis, fuels muscle energy (MPS), repairs muscle damage, and builds mass while reducing post-workout muscle breakdown and soreness. Consuming protein before a workout can enhance excess post-exercise oxygen consumption (EPOC), leading to increased calorie burn post-training.
  • Curb Appetite. Protein keeps you full longer and can prevent overeating.
  • Convenience. Protein shakes are a quick, easy alternative to cooking and offer fast-absorbing amino acids, unlike slower food sources like beef.

Disadvantages

man holding up a tumbler and a thumbs up

Feeling Too Heavy

If you have a sensitive stomach or trouble digesting protein powder, pre-workout shakes might make you feel heavy or upset your stomach, affecting your performance. In this case, opt for a post-workout shake instead.

For gut issues, try hydrolyzed protein powders with pre-digested amino acids, lactose-free options (whey protein isolate), or plant-based proteins for easier absorption.

Consuming Protein After Workout

Benefits

man without a shirt showing his arm muscles
  • Speeds up muscle repair and recovery. High-quality protein shakes supply amino acids for repairing and strengthening muscle micro-tears induced by training, kickstarting recovery.

"The best time to consume protein is half an hour to two hours after working out. Protein shakes are also a great choice because your body can easily digest it, so protein is readily available for muscle repair and recovery."

— Marie A. Spano, MS, RD, CSCS, CSSD, Leading Sports Nutritionist for the Atlanta Braves

  • Replenish lost fluids. Protein shakes, mixed with plenty of water or milk, help restore fluids lost through sweat.

Disadvantages

woman with shrugged shoulder

There aren't significant disadvantages to post-workout protein shakes.

They're highly recommended for athletes and gym-goers for muscle recovery. However, the type of protein powder matters. Casein or whey protein, derived from milk, are preferred for their muscle-building benefits.

Whey protein, in particular, is excellent due to its high bioavailability (90–100%), meaning it's efficiently absorbed and used by the body for muscle building, offering great value.

Drinking Protein Shake Depending on Your Fitness Goal

Based on my experience both as a coach and a fitness enthusiast, here are the best times to have your protein shake, tailored to your specific fitness goals.

Muscle Growth

shirtless man using dumbbells while showing off his back muscles

Research published in the Journal of Nutrition shows that muscle protein synthesis is higher when consuming protein in moderate amounts (30 grams per meal) throughout the day compared to eating the recommended daily protein intake at once (0.8 grams per kilogram of one's body weight) [1].

Protein shakes can be a convenient way to achieve this, providing the complete protein you need. However, exercise caution and don't hastily purchase protein powders as they are not regulated by the FDA, especially those labeled as 'proprietary blends,'

We've spent months analyzing and testing most of the protein powders on the market to guide you and save time.

Remember, muscle growth also requires enough calories and a balanced diet, including carbohydrates from whole grains, beans, fruits, and vegetables, and healthy fats from sources like nuts, seeds, fish, olive oil, and avocados.

Prevent Muscle Loss

female pinching her arm fat

In my years of coaching, I've seen that, starting around age 30, muscle loss becomes a real concern, leading to weakness and increased injury risks. That's why it's critical to focus on muscle preservation early on.

Being physically active is vital, and taking protein supplements can also help slow age-related muscle loss.

A study in the Current Opinion in Clinical Nutrition and Metabolic Care recommends distributing protein intake evenly throughout the day, aiming for 25–30 grams of protein per meal, to enhance protein synthesis and maintain muscle mass [2].

Lose Weight

woman woman wrapping herself with measuring tape

From my experience, protein is a game-changer for weight loss. It effectively controls hunger by lowering ghrelin levels and increasing fullness, which helps reduce overall calorie intake.

Additionally, protein boosts your metabolism, allowing you to burn calories more effectively throughout the day.

Research from the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition has found that consuming protein-rich snacks between meals can lead to eating fewer calories later on [3].

For those targeting fat loss, consuming protein a few hours before a workout can suppress appetite and provide necessary nutrition. A protein shake post-workout can also be beneficial, preventing overeating and helping to manage snacking habits.

Exercise Recovery and Performance

shirtless man sitting down smiling with his thumbs up

Exercise, particularly strength training, boosts muscle protein synthesis (MPS). After a strenuous workout, your body is primed to transport amino acids rapidly, making fast-absorbing protein crucial.

Therefore, consuming dietary protein post-workout is the optimal time for muscle repair and recovery, allowing you to return to exercising sooner.

A review in the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition suggests that combining protein with carbohydrates can enhance recovery [4].

Like refueling a car, consuming carbohydrates after exercise replenishes glycogen stores used up during the activity, speeding up recovery.

How Much Protein Should You Have Every Day?

glass of water, spoonful of powder, and some pills

In my professional experience, aligning with the Dietary Reference Intake guidelines, a sedentary adult typically needs 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight each day. This equates to roughly 56 grams for an average male and 46 grams for a female.

However, those who are more active or engage in intense workouts require more protein.

Research from the British Journal of Sports Medicine indicates that to increase muscle size and strength, the ideal protein intake is 1.6 grams per kilogram of body weight [5].

For fat loss and lean muscle building, a calorie deficit combined with a high-protein diet is effective.

This approach is supported by a study in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, which found that a higher protein intake of 2.4 grams per kilogram, along with HIIT and resistance training, was more successful in promoting fat loss and preserving lean body mass compared to a lower protein intake of 1.2 grams per kilogram [6].

FAQs

How Long Before a Workout Should I Drink Protein Shake?

You should drink a protein shake as soon as you can after a workout in order to start the recovery process immediately. Protein uptake is faster after you workout, meaning your body delivers amino acids faster to the muscles.

What Happens if I Don't Eat Protein After A Workout?

If you don't eat protein after a workout, you may suffer from muscle weakness and slow muscle recovery. Protein should be on the top of your list of nutrients to consume after a workout.

Drinking a post-workout protein shake or consuming protein in a different way supports muscle recovery.

Does Protein Make You Gain Weight?

Yes, protein can cause weight gain if you take more protein than your body needs, resulting in an excess calorie intake every day. Extra protein is also stored as body fat.

What Happens if I Lift Weights but Don't Eat Protein?

If you lift weights or do strength training but don’t eat enough protein, you will gain fat and won’t grow muscle. Exercising without adequate protein can lead to losing muscle and decreasing fitness.

Protein provides the essential amino acids for muscle building after doing weight training.

Will Your Muscles Grow Without Protein?

Your muscles may or may not grow without protein. Though protein alone won’t make your muscles grow (so you have to pay attention to other nutrient requirements such as carbs), they play a large role in getting you shredded.

This is because our muscles are made up of protein, and consuming enough protein can help you gain muscle mass.


References:

  1. https://jn.nutrition.org/
  2. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/19057193/
  3. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/24670946/
  4. https://jissn.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s12970-017-0177-8
  5. https://bjsm.bmj.com/content/52/6/376
  6. https://ajcn.nutrition.org/
Was this article helpful?
YesNo

About The Author

James Cunningham, BSc, CPT
Staff Writer & Senior Coach
James Cunningham, BSc, CPT holds a BSc degree in Sport & Exercise Science from University of Hertfordshire. He's a Health & Performance Coach from London that brings a unique blend of academic knowledge of health supplements and practical exercise experience to the table for his readers.
Learn more about our editorial policy
Dr. Kristy June Dayanan, BS, MD is an author with a BS degree from University of the Philippines and an MD from University of Perpetual Help System. Her ability to simplify medical science complexities and dietary supplement jargon for the average reader makes her a valued medical fact checker and reviewer.
Learn more about our editorial policy
Dr. Harshi Dhingra, MBBS, MD is a published peer-reviewed author and renowned physician from India with over a decade of experience. With her MBBS from Bharati Vidyapeeth and an MD from Rajiv Gandhi University, she actively ensures the accuracy of online dietary supplement and medical information by reviewing and fact-checking health publications.
Learn more about our editorial policy

You May Also Like

Water pouring from a shower
By Lisa Lorraine Taylor, BSc, CPT 15 hours ago
Should You Take a Cold or Hot Shower After a Workout?
difference between pre workout and creatine
By Dr. Harshi Dhingra, MBBS, MD 15 hours ago
Creatine on Empty an Stomach: Good Idea? (Expert Insights)
drinking fat burners on an empty stomach
By Lisa Lorraine Taylor, BSc, CPT 15 hours ago
Should You Take Fat Burners on Empty Stomach? Pros & Cons
3D rendered pre-workout pills on a table
By Benedict Ang, CPT, PN1-NC 15 hours ago
Should You Take Pre-Workout On An Empty Stomach?
A water bottle, supplements and measuring tape
By James Cunningham, BSc, CPT 15 hours ago
BCAA: Before Or After Workout? We've Got the Answer
drinking from tumbler
By James Cunningham, BSc, CPT 2 days ago
Personalized Protein Powder Review (2024 Upd.) By Herbalife

Write a Reply or Comment

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

Our scoring system is the result of objective testing data and subjective expert analysis by a team of fitness coaches and medical experts. Our scoring factors are weighted based on importance. For more information, see our product review guidelines.