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Should You Take Protein Powder Before or After a Workout?

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

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.

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

Ideally, you need protein in your system hours before a workout to increase the level of the essential amino acids (building blocks of protein) that will kickstart a process called MPS.

Muscle protein synthesis (MPS) includes releasing protein to repair muscle damage and build muscle mass.

Having a high amount of essential amino acids in your body also prevents excessive post-workout muscle breakdown — reducing the muscle soreness you would feel the next day after intense training, such as resistance exercise.

What’s more, these amino acids boost your exercise performance as it fuels your muscles' energy needs, so you get super pumped for your training.

Curb Appetite

Protein is known to help you feel fuller for longer, so if you feel a little rumble in your stomach before your sweat sesh, consuming a protein shake may be a good idea to avoid overeating.

Convenience

Another good reason to drink a protein shake before working out is for convenience's sake.

If you rush off to work early in the morning and don't have time to prepare your meal, protein shakes can be a good alternative.

Making a protein shake requires little to no preparation, which helps save you time and energy.

Also, fast-absorbing protein sources, like a whey protein shake, provide you with amino acids readily available for your body within hours compared to eating a beefsteak.

Simply put, drinking a protein shake helps you meet the total protein intake your body needs for the day.

Disadvantages

man holding up a tumbler and a thumbs up

Feeling Too Heavy

The only concern with having a pre-workout shake is having a sensitive stomach or trouble digesting protein powder.

This makes you feel heavy or may cause an upset stomach, resulting in a decrease in your performance.

If this is the case, drink a protein shake after working out instead.

If you’re having gut issues, hydrolyzed protein powders may be a better option for you as they contain pre-digested amino acids, helping your body absorb protein easier.

Consuming Protein After Workout

Benefits

man without a shirt showing his arm muscles

Speeds Up Muscle Repair and Recovery

Performing resistance and endurance training puts a lot of stress on your muscle tissues, resulting in micro-tears in the muscle fibers.

What your body needs is high-quality protein, providing the amino acids to repair the damaged muscle fibers and make them stronger.

The sooner you drink a protein shake, the sooner you can start the recovery process.

"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

Besides water and sports drinks, a protein shake can also be a great post-workout beverage, especially when mixing large amounts of water or milk with your protein powder to help replenish the fluids lost during perspiration.

Anyone aiming to lose weight and improve body composition would benefit from drinking protein shakes because they are low in calories.

They also contain around 20-30 grams of protein per portion, which helps with muscle gain.

Disadvantages

woman with shrugged shoulder

There are no known disadvantages to enjoying a protein shake after the sweat sesh.

Athletes and gym folks are advised to take protein powders after working out because it's when their body needs the amino acids the most to support muscle recovery.

But the kind of protein powder you use also plays a crucial role in muscle building and repair. Experts suggest having protein coming from milk like casein protein or whey protein supplement.

Whey protein powder may be your best option because of its very high bioavailability of around 90 to 100 percent.

It means whey protein powder can be absorbed efficiently and used by the body for building muscle, so you’re getting more bang for your buck.

Drinking Protein Shake Depending on Your Fitness Goal

Here are the optimal times to consume your protein shake, depending on your fitness goals.

Muscle Growth

shirtless man using dumbbells while showing off his back muscles

Research 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].

This means that evenly spreading your protein intake throughout the day is a more effective strategy for muscle growth.

And drinking protein shakes can make this more convenient for you and provide you with the complete protein source you need.

But, you also need to get enough calories and the right balance of nutrients when it comes to bulking up. This means consuming carbohydrates from whole grains, beans, fruits and vegetables, and eating fats from nuts, seeds, fish, olive oil, and avocado.

Prevent Muscle Loss

female pinching her arm fat

We gradually start to lose muscle at age 30, which leads to increased weakness, risk of fractures and falls, and decreased mobility.

So, it’s crucial to preserve muscle mass early on.

Besides being physically active, taking protein supplements is also an excellent way to slow down the loss of muscle that comes with age.

Experts suggest spreading protein intake throughout the entire day, that is, eating around 25–30 grams of protein each meal, to increase protein synthesis and maintain muscle mass [2].

Lose Weight

woman woman wrapping herself with measuring tape

Protein provides tons of benefits for those aiming to lose weight.

Protein helps curb your appetite as it reduces the hunger hormone ghrelin and makes you feel fuller for longer, helping you consume fewer calories.

What's more, protein also increases your metabolism so that you can burn more calories round the clock.

Recent research suggests that those who consume protein-rich snacks in between meals consume fewer calories later in the day [3].

If you're aiming for fat loss, consuming protein hours before working out is optimal to suppress your appetite and provide you with enough nutrition for your sweat sesh.

Drinking protein shake as a quick snack after a workout may also work to your advantage and keep you from binge-snacking or overeating.

Exercise Recovery and Performance

shirtless man sitting down smiling with his thumbs up

Exercise, especially strength training exercises, increases MPS. And it is after a grueling workout that your body is in a condition where it transports amino acids quickly, making fast-absorbing protein extremely necessary.

So, consuming dietary protein after a workout is the best time to optimize the repair and recovery of your muscles.

The quicker your body recovers, the sooner you can get back to working out.

Research also found that combining protein supplementation with carb sources may also help you recover quickly and effectively [4].

Consuming carbohydrates is like refilling your car with gas when it runs low  — you need to replenish your glycogen stores (source of energy) that were consumed during the exercise, accelerating your recovery.

How Much Protein Should You Have Every Day?

glass of water, spoonful of powder, and some pills

Based on the Dietary Reference Intake report for macronutrients, the average sedentary adult should have a total daily protein intake of 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight or 0.36 grams per pound.

For the average sedentary male, that is about 56 grams of protein each day, and for the average woman, that is about 46 grams of protein each day. But if you exercise regularly or do tougher workouts, you will need more protein, so you should set your overall protein intake higher than the average person.

One study shows that for those who want to increase their muscle size and muscle strength, the ideal protein intake is 1.6 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight [5].

If you aim to lose fat and build lean muscle, the ideal is a calorie deficit (burning more calories than you consume) and a high-protein diet.

It is backed by a study that shows that when combined with HIIT and resistance training, a higher protein consumption of 2.4 grams of protein for every kilogram of body weight was more effective in increasing fat loss and maintaining lean body mass than a lower protein consumption of 1.2 grams for every kilogram of body weight [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.

The Verdict - Pre-Workout or Post-Workout Protein?

In terms of the best time to drink a protein shake, the answer is completely up to you — your preference, schedule, and fitness goals.

If you want to kickstart protein synthesis during your workout, curb your appetite, or don’t want to train fasted in the morning, a pre-workout protein shake should work for you.

If you want to speed up muscle recovery, replenish lost fluids, and have a low-calorie snack after a grueling gym session, take protein after your workout.

Also, make sure you’re getting the right amount of protein for your diet and consuming a well-balanced diet of carbs and fats so you can achieve your fitness goals in no time.

So, are you going for a pre-workout or post-workout protein shake? Make your decision, and be one step closer to achieving your goals.


References:

  1. https://academic.oup.com/jn/article/144/6/876/4589937
  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://academic.oup.com/ajcn/article/103/3/738/4564609

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