If you one of the millions of people who regularly drinks protein shakes, you’re probably already aware of some of the main benefits. But while the perks may be clear, what’s less straight forward to many is when to actually drink it if you want to see the best results.
On one side of you the argument, we have the pre-workout shake, which some argue is important for fueling your workout and on the other hand, we have the post-workout shake, which others suggest is essential to recovery.
So then which one is it – should you drink your protein shake before or after your workout? Well, in order to get down to the bottom of the debate we’re going over everything you need to know about the subject, from how much you should be consuming each day to exactly when the best time is take it in. But before get too far into the nitty gritty, let’s first talk a little bit more about why protein is so important when it comes to exercising.
Why Is Protein Important For Health and Fitness Enthusiasts?
Protein servers a number of important roles in the human body. On top of being integral to the structure of all of your body’s tissues, protein also plays a vital part in the synthesis of all different kinds of hormones, neurotransmitters, and enzymes.(1)
Though it has a number of different jobs in the human body, protein is probably best known for the role it plays in maintaining and rebuilding your muscle tissues. Your muscles are made up of proteins that are constantly going through a state of flux; some of these proteins regularly become broken down by physical activity like exercise.
In response, your body relies on a process known as muscle protein synthesis (MPS) to repair the damage. More specifically, your body uses protein from your diet – and particularly amino acids – to replace old, broken-down muscle proteins.(2)
It’s ultimately through the process of MPS that your body is able to maintain or even build new muscle tissues. However, without enough protein in your daily diet, your body won’t be able to effectively repair and replace all of the damaged muscle tissues which can ultimately lead to muscle loss over time.
How Much Protein is Necessary Each Day if You Work Out?
For the average adult, the standard recommended daily allowance (RDA) for protein is 0.36 grams per pound of body weight. So for example, if you weight 175 pounds it’s recommended that you consume at least 63 grams of protein each day.
The RDA for protein is the same for both males and females, however, because males tend to weight more on average, they need to consume more grams of protein per day compared to females in order to maintain muscle mass.
However, with that being said, most scientists generally agree that the RDA for protein is probably not enough when it comes to people who are physically active, such as those who workout.(3)(4)
That’s because physical activity breaks down muscle tissues, and the more active you are, the more muscle tissues your body is ultimately going to have to repair. In order for that to happen though, there needs to be plenty of protein coming in through your diet.
So how much protein should you be taking in each day if you workout?
In general, consuming at least 1 gram of protein per pound of body weight has been a tried and true practice in the bodybuilding community for many years. Even if your not necessarily interested in building muscle, research suggests that increasing your protein intake to 1+ g per pound of body weight can still lead to better health and fitness outcomes for everyone from athletes to people trying to lose weight.
Should you Have a Protein Shake Before or After Your Workout?
When it comes to hitting you daily protein goals, protein shakes can be an incredibly handy tool to have in your arsenal – it’s probably why whey protein is amongst the most popular dietary supplements in the world.
A single serving of whey can deliver over 25g of high-quality protein protein to your body quickly and effectively, helping to provide it with the sustenance it need to repair and rebuild.
However, while most health and fitness enthusiasts are generally aware of the benefits of drinking protein shakes, many still have questions about whether it’s better to have your shake before or after your workout.
With that being said, research findings have continued to demonstrate that when it comes to supporting the muscle building process, and the recovery process in general, the time at which you consume your protein shake may not matter all that much.(5)(6)
For example, one such 2017 study compared the effects of pre– and post-workout protein shakes on individuals following a regular resistance training program.(7)
Individuals were split up into one of two groups. The first group received a shake with 25g of protein prior to each exercises session, while group two received the same supplement but took it after each workout.
After 10 weeks of training 3 days a week, the researchers ultimately found that both groups saw almost identical results in muscle adaptations across all of the different measurements included in the study, leading the researchers to conclude that the timing in which you consume your protein shake is less important than consuming an adequate amount of protein each day.
In other words, as long as you’re hitting your daily protein goal each day, the time at which you consume your protein – including your shake – is really a matter of personal preference. Here are some things to consider when deciding whether a pre– or post-workout shake is right for you.
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Pros and Cons of Pre-Workout Shake
Consuming a protein shake before your workout can be an easy an effective way to give yourself an energy boost. Taking in a fast-digesting protein like whey can help to deliver your body a quick supply of calories that can come in handy when your trying to power through a challenging workout.
At the end of the day, having that extra supply of energy can potentially make the difference between having an awesome workout and a mediocre one.
On top of giving you an energy boosting having a pre-workout shake can also help to increase your level of satiety, which in turn, can improve your workout performance – dealing with hunger throughout your workout can be distracting and certainly hinder you ability to perform at your best.
The only potential downside to pre-workout shakes is that some people do report experiencing digestive issues like feeling bloated and nauseous during their workout, which can make performing at your best more difficult.
Pros and Cons of Post-Workout Shake
While we've concluded that when you drink your shake isn’t as important as how much protein you consume each day, having a post-workout shake can still be beneficial.
In order to make repairs to all the muscle tissues that were damaged during your workout your body needs a fresh supply of protein (and carbs) and while it might not be necessary immediately after your session, you are going to need plenty of protein in the hours and days after your workout in order to see the kind of positive adaptations you’re after.
A post-workout shake can be a quick and effective way to get the ball rolling in terms of supplying your body with the nutrients it needs to repair and rebuild.
Should You Drink Protein Shakes on Rest Days?
While drinking your protein shake before or after your workout may come down to a matter of preference, as we’ve already discussed, the most important thing when it comes to seeing the progress you’re after is consuming enough protein each and every day – and that includes rests days.
Even on rest days, your body is still reacting to the damage that’s been done in the gym and it relies on a steady supply of protein coming in through your diet to make repairs.
That’s why consuming enough protein even on rest days is essential when it comes to supporting your muscles and their recovery. Consuming a protein shake or 2 on your rest days can be a simple way to make hitting your daily protein goals that much easier.
When it comes to the best time to consume a protein shake, both pre– and post-workout supplementation can be equally effective and it’s ultimately a matter of preference. Instead, what’s more important than timing is the amount of protein you consume each day.
In order to support muscle recovery and growth, you’ll need to be consuming an adequate amount of protein each and every day, including rest days. While the RDA for protein is 0.36g per pound of body weight, research suggests that health and fitness enthusiast should shoot for somewhere closer to 1g of protein per pound of body weight for the best results.
- “Protein – Which is Best?” Hoffman, J.R. Journal of Sports Science and Medicine. Sep. 2004.
- “Contemporary Issues in Protein Requirements and Consumption for Resistance Trained Athletes” Wilson, J., Wilson, G.J. Journal of International Society of Sports Nutrition. Jun. 2006.
- “A Critical Examination of Dietary Protein Requirements, Benefits, and Excesses in Athletes” Phillips, S.M., Moore, D.R., Tang, J.E. International Journal of Sport Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism. 2007.
- “Protein Recommendations for Weight Loss in Elite Athletes: A Focus on Body Composition and Performance ” Hector, A.J., Phillips, S.M. International Journal of Sport Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism. Mar. 2018.
- “Protein timing and its effects on muscular hypertrophy and strength in individuals engaged in weight-training ” Stark, M., Lukaszuk, J., Prawitz, A., Salacinski, A. Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition. Dec. 2012.
- “The effect of protein timing on muscle strength and hypertrophy: a meta-analysis” Schoenfeld, B.J., Aragon, A.A., Krueger, J.W. Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition. Dec. 2013.
- “Pre- versus post-exercise protein intake has similar effects on muscular adaptations” Schoenfeld, Schoenfeld, B.J., Aragon, A.A., Wilborn, C., Urbina, S.L., Hayward, S.E., Krieger, J. PeerJ. Aug. 2017.