Protein Shake Before or After a Workout?

woman lunging gym

If you work out then you have certainly seen people chugging protein shakes at the gym. Some of these individuals drink their shake and proceed to workout. On the other hand, I have seen people mix their shake immediately after their last set and chug it.

Ask anyone at the gym and they will give you a different answer on when you should drink your protein.

So what’s best?

Keep reading to find out.

Exercising means you need more protein

Before discussing when to drink your shake, we have to discuss how much and what protein to take. The recommended daily allowance is 0.36 grams per pound of bodyweight. So a 150 pound individual should be eating at least 54 grams of protein a day. This recommendation is the minimal amount we need to be eating to avoid deficiencies and maintain proper body function.

If you are exercising then your body needs significantly more protein. 54 grams of protein just won’t cut it. A good range is 0.75 grams to 1 gram per pound of bodyweight. Although it may seem like a lot to many, if you spread it throughout the day its possible.

Everyone is different so take into account the amount you exercise. If you like to train for two hours four or five times a week, then a gram per pound of bodyweight is more for you. Be realistic with yourself but at the same time know that a little extra protein can optimize results.

Next you must decide what protein to take. Almost everyone you see drinking protein shakes is drinking whey protein. The reason why whey is king is because of its bio-availability. Protein sources with a high bio-availability is desired because it means it will be absorbed and used more efficiently. Whey is also digested quickly, so it is usually the protein of choice. Other protein sources can be beneficial as well but the quick digesting nature of whey makes it the perfect choice. Casein protein, for example, is similar to whey except it digests much more slowly. Casein shakes are great as a night snack to keep your body in an anabolic state while you are sleeping.

Before or After a Workout

Now you know how much protein to ingest daily and which protein to take. So to the question at hand: Do I drink protein shakes before or after a workout?

After

Ask ten people at the gym when they drink their protein and about 7/10 will say after. The difference in their answers comes in the exact timing. Some say you have an hour to drink that shake while others say you have ten minutes. What these individuals are talking about is the anabolic window- the amount of time you have to drink your shake to put your body in an anabolic state. The window is essentially a time limit for you to put your body in an anabolic state or else you will be losing precious muscle.

The good news is that this is false. While it makes sense to want to repair you muscle as quickly as possible, research suggests the window is much wider than you think. In fact, muscle protein synthesis can remain elevated for up to 48 hours post-exercise (of course it tapers off). The first big spike or peak in this synthesis actually occurs around 3 hours post-exercise. But, the condition is that a pre-workout meal was ingested.

A pre-workout meal (about an hour before working out) gives your body amino acids and carbohydrates, priming it for a workout. If you don’t usually eat a pre-workout meal, or even snack, you should start doing so now. The protein you eat in this meal can stick around for hours, so even after you workout you will have some amino acids being utilized for repair. So if you ate before working out, you don’t have to drink a protein shake immediately after working out. Heck, it would probably be better if you ate real food an hour or two after working out.

The only real reason to drink a protein shake within an hour post-exercise is if your goal is to build muscle. Building muscle requires a high amount of protein and a calorie surplus, so that protein shake only helps. But if you working out to lean out and perhaps put on a little muscle as an additional benefit, then the timing of a post-workout shake doesn’t matter much. It will be up to you and your schedule.

So you might be saying, well is there a point for me to drink a protein shake? What about before a workout?

Before

As you may have realized, since the timing of the post-exercise shake doesn’t matter much, a post-workout shake really isn’t necessary. The whole point of protein shakes in general is to provide a quick source of protein. Therefore it might be better suited for you to drink the protein shake before a workout.

The idea of eating a meal before working out may not appeal to you, so a pre-workout shake can definitely substitute that. Protein shakes are high protein and low carb so they can be a great “snack” before a workout. Research suggests the amino acids from the shake will be digested quickly and used during and after the workout. As soon as you start tearing up your muscle you body has amino acids ready to go.

In a crunch, drinking protein before working out is perfect. Whether you workout in the morning or during lunch, drinking a shake can kickstart your metabolism and provide good nutrients for you body. There has been some research that says a pre-workout shake can actually lead to increased weight loss in the long run. While the research is mixed, by not eating for a couple hours after working out, you will definitely burn more calories.

Does it even matter?

There has also been research suggesting that the timing doesn’t matter at all. While we concluded that it might be better to drink your protein shake before a workout, research is saying we shouldn’t worry too much about protein shakes at all. Some studying have provided results saying despite not drinking any protein shakes, ingesting the same amount of protein daily will provide the same results.

To some researchers, the question should be “Do I need to drink a protein shake to meet my protein target today?” I think this is a question everyone should ask themselves. Whole food is always better than powder, so if you don’t need a shake that day, don’t drink it. However, the main factor that should bring people to drink protein shakes is their activity. Like mentioned earlier, if you are active and workout hard, then a protein shake would be a good idea. Some workout we absolutely destroy our muscles, so in this instance a protein shake might be needed.

In the end, be realistic with your goals and activity levels. Anyone can benefit from a protein shake, but only those who really need it. When you do decide to drink a protein shake, consider drinking it before you workout rather than after. As soon as muscly protein synthesis begins you will have amino acids ready to go. Our daily lives get in the way with timing too, so go with what works best for you.

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