Protein shake before or after a workout: A well-researched guide

Protein shake before or after a workout?

If you are unsure whether you should take a protein shake before or after a workout, then you are the right place.

No one can deny the fact that Protein is vital for muscle building and repair.  That’s why it lies at the core of every fitness regimen with different names at different times i.e shakes, supplements, meat as pre-workout shake, post workout shake, night supplement, and the list goes on.

However, the optimal time to have a protein shake is a hotly debated topic and you would hear a lot of these sorts of questions like…

When to eat my protein bars? When to take my whey protein?”. To sum up all these, they all boil down to this simple question: “What is the best time to drink protein? “

While some believe it’s best to drink a protein shake before a workout, whereas others argue for after a workout and both sides have their strings of arguments.

So, if you are really curious to know what is the optimal time your protein shake then missing out this post is not an option as in this post, I am going to settle this debate for once and all with evidence from recent research studies. 

Let’s go and find out whether you should take a protein shake before or after a workout.

Protein before or after workout: what does research studies say?

We can’t argue about the merits and demerits of taking protein before or after a workout on our own. Our arguments must be supported by actual research studies done in the field about the problem at hand.

Here are the research studies both ‘for’ and ‘against’ the timing of protein intake.

The myth of “Anabolic window”: Does it even matters? 

Does protein shake have anabolic window?

Many people believe that to maximize their results from the gym, they must consume their protein shake within the next 30 minutes of their workouts.

This short period of time i.e 30 minute window is known as “Anabolic window”, which according to them acts as the best time for protein to be effectively utilized for muscle growth and repair

Research studies supporting Anabolic window

The following research studies support the view that anabolic window is a factual thing and you should take our protein within that window time frame

 

Research study 1 – The research reported in a December 2012 issue of the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition also supported the results that consuming protein after resistance training can indeed increase the rate of muscle synthesis in both older and younger adults.

 Research study 2 – Another study published in Sports Medicine in May 2014 found that consuming protein before a workout helps the creation of new muscle, and helps the skeletal muscles to adapt and grow for extended periods of exercise. I

n other words, pre-workout protein can actually help build new muscle and prevents the muscles you’re using from getting fatigued at the same time

Research study 3 – Pre-workout protein may help in the burning of your calories.

A study published in the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition in November 2018 reported that people who consumed protein before a 30-minute moderate-intensity treadmill workout burned more calories and more fat during the workout as compared to people who either took carbs or didn’t eat anything at all.

Moreover, the study went on to say that the type of protein matters, too. Researchers discovered that the casein protein increased calorie-burn and fat-burn more significantly than whey protein isolate.. 

Research Studies against Anabolic window

However, there are studies that reject the idea of the anabolic window in totality and prove that total daily protein intake is more important than just before or after a workout

 Research study 1 – A study has compared the effects of consuming protein either before or after a workout on muscle strength and size.

The researchers divided 21 men into two separate groups, both of which received a protein shake containing 25 grams of protein.

One group received it immediately before their workout, while the other group received it immediately after. Everyone completed a total-body workout three times per week for 10 regular weeks.

The Results?

Interestingly, the study found no significant differences in muscle strength or size between the groups. These results suggest a very basic thing that consuming protein around workout is important i.e it doesn’t matter if it’s before or after training.

Therefore, you can choose which time you prefer or is most convenient for you.

Research study 2 – Another study published in the_ International Journal of Sports Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism_ in December 2012 tested the effect of consuming whey protein before and after exercise and reached the conclusion that neither timing had a significant effect on muscle mass or strength.

In fact, pre-workout has been linked to many of the digestion issues.

Pre-workout can cause gastrointestinal distress during workouts

 
Your body is very good at making adjustments to meet your ongoing needs and prioritize what it is supposed to do. 

Because of this, when you’re exercising, your body focuses on supplying blood and oxygen to the organs and muscles that really need it at the time i.e your working muscles — decreasing blood flow and nutrients to any areas aren’t.

Similarly, When you exercise, your body recognizes that these digestive organs aren’t the current priority for blood flow and nutrients.

So, It naturally decreases the amount of blood sent to the splanchnic circulatory system and increases the amount of blood to your heart, muscles and brain. As a consequence, your digestion shuts down temporarily. 

However, if you have a pre-workout protein shake, the food in your digestive tract signals the body to increase blood flow to the splanchnic circulatory system, and your digestive system and exercising muscles end up competing for blood.  

As a result, you may experience uncomfortable gastrointestinal symptoms, like

  • gas,
  • bloating,
  • abdominal cramps or
  • nausea.

Final verdict: Protein shake before or after a workout?

Protein shake before or after workout?

The research on whether protein intake around your workouts is important for maximizing gains is mixed; Some research has even questioned the necessity of consuming protein around your workout altogether.

From the above, it is clear that few studies suggest it’s beneficial, while others suggest it as ineffective. These opposing results pushed researchers to analyze the findings of all 23 studies on the effects of consuming protein around exercise and can you guess what they found out? 

They found that total protein intake was the strongest predictor of muscle strength and size, regardless of whether people consumed it closer to their exercise or not.

The Bottom line

 Daily total protein intake is more important than taking pre-workout or post workout.

What is the best time to drink your protein?

What is the best time to drink your protein shake?

People often question when the best time to take their protein.

A simple answer to this question is. “It all comes down to your health and fitness goals. The particular time to consume your daily protein dose hinges on whether you want to lose weight, build muscle or preserve muscle”.

So, below I briefly explain the best time to take protein based on your specific goals.

Goal 1: Boosting exercise performance and recovery

protein shake for boosting performance and recovery

Do professional athletes often wonder what is the optimal time for them to take protein for enhanced performance and recovery? The answer may surprise you if you are an athlete. 

For endurance training, combining protein with a source of good carbs during and after exercise may be more helpful than just consuming protein alone in boosting performance and recovery and reducing muscle soreness.

Research evidence: 

A study of 11 cyclists found that taking a protein and carb beverage together while you are training improved recovery and reduced muscle soreness, compared to a placebo. 

As for resistance training, protein alone can help improve both performance and recovery, whether you consume it with carbs or not.

For most people, eating enough protein is more important than figuring out the best time for protein intake. However, athletes partaking in resistance training can benefit from taking protein either immediately before or after a workout.

The Bottom line: Best time to take protein for boosting exercise performance & Recovery is immediately before or after a workout.

Goal 2: Best time to take protein for Losing Weight

Best time to drink protein shake for losing weight

While protein is unquestionably vital for muscle recovery and growth, it has proven to be one of the most important nutrients for fat loss too.

The Logic: Because eating a high-protein diet can help enhance your metabolism thus reducing your appetite. How it is done? Let’s find out.

Essentially, protein helps curb your appetite in two related ways.

  1. by reducing levels of the hunger hormone ghrelin
  2. At the same time, by increasing levels of appetite-reducing hormones like glucagon-like peptide-1 (GLP-1), peptide YY (PYY) and cholecystokinin (CCK) 

This means consuming a protein-rich snack between meals may ultimately lead you to eat fewer calories later in the day which serves as a strong base for your weight loss.

Research evidence:

One study found that people who ate high-protein snacks like yogurt etc during the afternoon ate 100 fewer calories at dinner as compared to those who are high carbs items like crackers or chocolate as an afternoon snack.

The yogurt, crackers, and chocolate were all rationed to give the same number of calories.

The bottom line: Eating plenty of protein-rich foods throughout the day can reward you with immense benefits of weight loss

Goal 3: Best time to take protein for Building Muscle 

Best time to drink protein shake for building muscles

There is no denying the fact that Protein is important for building muscle.

The process is simple: In order to build muscle and strength, you need to consume more protein than your body breaks down naturally during resistance training or weight lifting

However, the best time to consume protein for optimal muscle growth is a controversial topic. Fitness enthusiasts often recommend to take it within the time frame known as the “anabolic window” and said to be the perfect time for getting the most out of nutrients like protein.

However, as explained above, recent research has shown that this window is much larger than previously thought or not true at all.

According to the International Society of Sports Nutrition, consuming protein at any time up to two to three hours after your workout is best for putting muscle mass.

The bottom line: For the average person, resistance exercise and consuming sufficient protein is more important than finding out the perfect timing for protein intake

Goal 4: Best time to take protein for preventing Muscle Loss 

Best time to drink protein shake for preventing muscle loss

As you grow older, maintaining and preserving muscle mass becomes your top priority.

According to Research, people lose roughly 4–8% of their muscle mass each decade after once they pass the 30 year age bracket. What’s more serious about this muscle loss is that it is a major source of higher risk of fractures and shortening of life spans around the world. 

Keeping that in view, Scientists recommend spreading protein intake evenly across the day to help prevent muscle loss with age. This means taking in roughly 25–30 grams of lean protein per meal.

Research suggests that most Americans eat around three times more protein at dinner than breakfast. To balance out their protein intake, they can consume more protein at breakfast.

The Bottom line: To prevent muscle loss, try to eat about 25-30 gm of lean protein in each of your mealtime.

Q: Should You Take Protein At night?

Should you drink protein at night?

While daily protein intake is vital for your muscle growth, taking it before you go to bed can prove particularly useful for both elderly people looking to conserve their muscles and young people looking to build muscle and strength.

Research evidence:

Scientists conducted a detailed review of studies and reached the conclusion that taking protein before bed is an effective strategy to promote muscle building and help them adapt to exercise 

The logic:? This is because protein consumed before bed is effectively digested and absorbed, and is easily available for muscle recovery for the whole night. 

Therefore, Scientists from that study recommended consuming at least 30-40 grams of protein before going to bed to maximize muscle growth and repair through the night.

Similarly, In another study that involved 16 healthy elderly men, 8 they consumed protein(casein) before bed, while the other 8 consumed a placebo. 

The Result:? The study concluded that people who consumed protein(casein) before bed saw a considerable improvement in their muscle growth, equally in both young and elderly people.

The Bottom line: The best protein to take at night is casein protein since it is digested slowly it ensures a steady supply of protein to your body throughout the night. 

Please Note: you need not always look for casein in supplements instead you get the benefits from real whole foods. Dairy products like cottage cheese and Greek yogurt are the best choices for they are high in casein content.

Some Best sources of protein

Some best protein sources

Protein is a crucial nutrient. There are numerous benefits to adding protein-rich foods to your diet, from weight loss to increasing massive muscle mass.

However, some people may find healthy protein sources to be too costly. While it is true that some sources of protein are expensive but you don’t need to worry as there are many affordable alternatives that won’t cost your pocket heavily.

Here are 12 of the best, healthy yet cheap protein sources. 

  • Eggs
  • Canned Tuna
  • Plain Greek yogurt
  • Sunflower seeds
  • Whey protein
  • Lentils
  • Oats 
  • Milk
  • Canned salmon
  • Ground Turkey
  • Cottage Cheese
  • Sardines

Popular protein myths debunked by research studies

protein myths debunked by research studies

Whether you should take protein before or after a workout is not the only controversy that surrounds the intake of protein. Rather there are lot of protein myths that haunt a lot of people’s minds. Let’s discuss them and find out if they have any research evidence support.

Debunking Myth 1: Too much protein is bad for you

Protein myth 1: Too much protein is bad for for you

There is a common myth that consuming too much protein is bad for your overall health. They strongly buy the idea that consuming too much protein can damage the kidneys and liver and cause osteoporosis,  a condition of bones in which they become hollow and porous.

What does the research evidence say?

However, these misconceptions are largely not supported by evidence.

Rather, the fact of the matter is otherwise: A number of recent studies show you can safely consume plenty of protein without developing the risk of any of these harmful side effects.

For example; A comprehensive analysis of about 70 studies resulted in the conclusion that healthy adults actually never need to worry about how much protein they eat.

Rather, Most of the adults can safely benefit from consuming about 0.8-1 grams of protein per pound of their body weight.

However, there is a caveat; people who want to prevent muscle loss like adults are advised to stay on the lower end of that scale, while those having other goals i.e losing weight or growing muscle can stay at the upper end of the scale without any health worries.

Debunking myth 2: All protein sources are the same

protein myth 2: All protein sources are the same

You want to know the truth…

Basically, protein is the building block of amino acids of about 20. Human bodies can only produce 11 non-essential amino acids, the remaining 9 types of essential amino acids need to be taken from outside sources.

Hence, not all sources of protein are equal. There are either “complete” proteins or “incomplete” proteins. 

“Complete protein” sources contain all the essential amino acids of a total of 20 amino acids( some essential; some nonessential) and their best sources are fish, meat, dairy, eggs, soy, quinoa. Other “incomplete” proteins aren’t devoid of this all amino acids nutrition; they simply don’t provide all the amino acids you need.

 So, in order to get all the amino acids you need, you have to have a variety of incomplete protein sources available at your table. So, All protein sources are not the same and have different kinds of protein content in them.

Debunking Myth 3: You don’t get enough protein, especially if you’re vegan or vegetarian.

protein myth 3: vegan people can't enough protein

For vegans and vegetarians, incomplete proteins are the main source of proteins. But Some might argue that only eating incomplete proteins is not enough because don’t have crucial nine essential amino acids.

Again, not true. The reality of the matter is: it’s all about a balanced diet even if you are vegetarian and are living on plant-based foods.

If you take a balanced diet and take a variety of incomplete protein sources, you will end up making it a complete protein which simply means you are getting all nine essential amino acids.

It’s also a common myth that you must eat incomplete proteins together at a meal to make them a complete protein and get their nutritional benefit. 

Yes, rice and beans together at the dining table would make up a delicious and satisfying meal, but as long as enough incomplete protein is consumed through the day ( since the body doesn’t actually store amino acids longer than a day), they can be effectively combined and used as a complete protein. 

So, you need not worry about all your protein content even if you are a religious follower of a vegan and vegetarian diet

Debunking myth 4:  The more protein you eat, the better.

protein myth 4: The more protein you eat the better for you

For an average 2,000 calorie diet, the recommended daily amount of protein is about 50 grams. If you’re eating a well-balanced diet, you actually could easily be consuming up to double that amount.

While you may think that’s a good thing, it’s not necessarily.

 Your body can really only take in and utilize about 25 to 30 grams of protein at one time, which is a little more than the amount of protein in one chicken thigh. So eating a super high-protein meal doesn’t actually mean your body is going to use all of that protein.

Additionally, the extra protein you consume can be converted into glucose through a chemical process called “gluconeogenesis” which occurs when you are not supplying enough carbs to your body.

And extra protein you consumed in the morning is converted into glucose or carbohydrate which can harm your weight loss efforts since extra glucose is stored as glycogen in your fat muscles. Thus excessive proteins are bad for your weight loss efforts too.

Debunking Myth 5: You need extra protein to build muscle.

protein myth: You need extra protein to build muscles

Fitness aspirants often hear this. There’s a mentality that in order to build and sustain muscle size, a large amount of protein in the diet is a must.

While, it is true that active athletes, fitness enthusiasts, and active individuals require higher than average protein requirements but that is primarily because they have to keep their body functioning healthy by doing a lot of physical activity which in turn causes those extra calories of energy to burn very quickly.

Normal people who are aspiring to grow their big muscles need an average amount of protein intake but if they engage (and they engage in heavy workouts or weightlifting ) in other cardio like activities, that will require an added source of good calories like proteins.

Also, if you’re boosting your calories with a balanced diet to meet these higher requirements, you’re automatically meeting your higher protein needs.

In short, you just need to follow a balanced diet to give you muscle growth a good push, not necessarily just consume extra proteins.

Other Must-reads: 

  1. How to make a natural pre-workout at home?
  2. How to make a post-workout at home?
  3. Some serious pre-workouts side effects that you can’t ignore

FAQs

Q1: Is it better to eat protein before or after a workout?

Answer: As explained above, eating protein before or after a workout is irrelevant as suggested by a number of studies. Rather your daily intake of protein is important.

Q2: When should I drink a protein shake after workouts?

Answer: The answer to this question is that taking a protein shake before or after workouts have mixed results. Therefore, you should be more concerned about your total protein intake instead of figuring out the perfect time to drink your protein after workouts.

Q3: Can whey protein be taken before a workout?

Answer: No, it should be taken after a workout.
 Since whey protein is a highly bioavailable protein that boasts fast absorption rates. This makes it an ideal protein for post-workout recovery. Therefore, whey protein shouldn’t be taken before a workout.

Just after you finish a workout, the blood flow to skeletal muscles is stimulated, and the act of working out “opens up” muscles to function a bit like a sponge – they’re primed and ready to absorb nutrients.

By consuming a fast-absorbing protein like whey protein immediately after your workout, you’re supplying your muscles with the amino acids they need to repair and grow, precisely when they benefit the most.

The sooner you can consume whey protein following your workout, the better. Generally speaking, you have up to a two-hour window (the “anabolic window”) post-workout to consume a protein-carbohydrate meal.

Q: What is the Best post workout protein?

Whey protein. Whey protein is a highly bioavailable protein that boasts fast absorption rates which makes it ideal for post workout recovery.

Moreover, other than whey protein, following are some of the best post workout kitchen protein resources.

1. Animal- or plant-based protein powder
2. Eggs
3. Greek yogurt
4. Cottage cheese
5. Salmon
6. Chicken
7. Protein bar
8. Tuna

Q: What is the best time to drink protein?


Answer: The best time to drink protein is a controversial topic. Moreover, recent research evidence also has mixed results.

So, you should be more concerned about your total protein intake instead of figuring out the perfect time to drink your protein after workouts.

Q: When to take whey protein?

Post workout.

Answer: Since Whey protein is a highly bioavailable protein that boasts fast absorption rates making it an ideal for post workout recovery.

Q: How much protein after a workout?


Answer: About 0.4 – 0.5 gm of protein per body weight (gm/kg) which translates into 20-40 gm of total protein consumption after a typical workout.

Q: When to eat protein bars?


Answer: The best time to eat protein bars is a controversial topic. Moreover, recent research evidence also has mixed results.

So, you should be more concerned about your total protein intake instead of figuring out the perfect time to eat your protein bars

References

1. “Should You Have a Protein Shake Before or After Your Workout?” by Healthline

2.  “The five most common myths about protein” by TheKitchn.com

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