Protein is essential for building bigger and stronger muscles, but the timing of your intake depends on your own nutritional needs.
Dedication to proper nutrition before and after your workouts is key to helping you move well and making them effective. If your plan for doing so includes a protein shake, the question naturally becomes...
Should you drink a protein shake before or after your workout?
The truth is, there isn't a right or wrong answer.
"It really depends on your goals and when you ate your last meal prior to working out," says Marie Spano, M.S., R.D., C.S.C.S., consulting sports nutritionist for the Atlanta Braves and lead author of Nutrition for Sport, Exercise, and Health. "If you want to maximally build muscle, you should have a protein-rich meal (or shake) every three to five hours throughout the day."
A 2014 study in The Journal of Nutrition shows that muscle protein synthesis (the process of using protein to build muscle) increases when you consume a moderate amount of protein—around 30 grams per meal—throughout the day versus eating the recommended daily amount (0.8 to 1.0 grams per kilogram of body weight) at once, like at dinner. So whether you work out in the morning or evening, it's best practice to evenly spread out your protein intake, and you can do it with a shake if it's more convenient for you.
That's because it's not so much about the timing of your protein consumption, but the total amount of protein consumed daily, says Mona Cabrera, M.S., R.D. "If you prefer your protein shake before your workout versus after, that will be just as beneficial to you. If you are trying to gain muscle and strength, drinking your protein shake before or after your workout doesn't matter like it was once believed," she says.
In fact, a 2017 study in PeerJ tested the effects of pre- and post-workout protein intake on hypertrophy (increase in muscle size), strength, and body composition. It found that both pre- and post-workout protein consumption produced similar effects.
If You Want to Drink a Protein Shake Before Your Workout
- If you haven't eaten in three or four hours, drinking a protein shake before a workout is a great way to ramp up the muscle-building process.
- Protein can also help curb hunger if you're starting to feel a little rumble in your tummy before your sweat sesh.
- If you prefer high energy before workout, a caffeinated protein shake before your workout can help you increase fat-oxidation process during workout.
- The only real concern to consider with drinking a protein shake before a workout is if you have a sensitive stomach and can't digest protein powder well.
- A highly isolated protein powder might work better for you if you're prone to gut issues and want to drink a shake or smoothie before your workout.
If You Want to Drink a Protein Shake After Your Workout
- The faster you consume protein after your workout, the faster you'll begin the muscle recovery process. The protein will repair and rebuild muscle tissues that were broken down during your workout.
- Protein shakes are also a good choice for a quick post-workout snack because they are easier to digest than a full-blown meal, which you may not have an appetite for (or time to make) after exercising,
- There aren't any cons to enjoying a protein shake after your workout, and doing so will kick off your recovery sooner rather than later. Sometimes athletes get a protein shake right away because they may forget to eat or not get hungry for several hours.