Lots of people like to take protein alongside their workouts.
Our bodies use protein for muscle growth and repair so it makes sense to consume more if you’re working out often.
And while it’s easy to get protein in your diet, dedicated protein shakes are popular for a lot of reasons: they’re easy to use, they contain clearly labelled amounts and sometimes, they taste pretty good.
A lot of people still wonder though: when is the best time to drink a protein shake?
When to drink your protein shake
Should you drink a protein shake before you hit the gym, so the protein has time to get into your body?
Or should you drink it after, when your muscles are already feeling the burn?
Sadly there’s no neatly packaged answer to this question. Research is ongoing, and opinion within the scientific community varies.
The case for drinking a protein shake before your workout
There’s a process called muscle protein synthesis (MPS) which is defined as “the incorporation of amino acids into bound skeletal muscle proteins.”
Proteins are chains of amino acids, and skeletal muscle proteins are your muscles.
So it feels intuitive that having protein in your body before a workout means it’ll be more readily available to your muscles.
But this isn’t necessarily true, as we’ll see after taking a quick look at the case for drinking a protein shake after your workout.
The case for drinking a protein shake after your workout
There’s a period of about half an hour after a workout that you’ll see called the anabolic window of opportunity or just the anabolic window for short.
Some people argue that this is the best time to have protein, as your muscles will be most receptive to it once they’re fired up and activated.
Opinion on the length of the anabolic window varies. Some sources say about 30 mins, others say a few hours.
But again: it’s not necessarily true that this is the optimal period for protein intake.
An extensive and oft-cited scientific study determined that because so many factors are at play when it comes to the anabolic window, it’s hard to make practical recommendations that take it into account.
Essentially, results will depend on your age, physique, the type of exercise you do, when you last ate, the type and amount of protein you’ll ingest and so on.
At the moment scientific consensus seems to be that overall daily protein intake has a much bigger impact on muscle growth than the time of intake.
So the answer is that you’re probably better off drinking your protein shake whenever fits best with your routine.
The extra work required to calculate the optimal time for optimal gains probably isn’t worthwhile unless you’re competing at a professional level or working with a nutritionist or other professional.
How long before a workout should you drink your shake?
If you do go for the before option, bear in mind that eating or drinking too soon before a workout can make you feel unwell.
When it comes to eating before a workout, it comes down to a mix of general recommendations with personal preferences.
General recommendations are as follows:
- If you work out early in the morning, eat a snack 30 minutes before starting
- If you work out later in the day, wait at least 2 hours after a big meal
- If you work out between meals and feel hungry, eat a snack 30-60 minutes before working out
If you follow these guidelines and find yourself feeling unwell because you’ve eaten a snack too soon before a morning workout, add 10 minutes between eating and starting.
Or if you feel unwell after waiting 2 hours between a big meal and a workout, add 15 minutes. Repeat these steps until you find an interval that works for you.
And if you feel hungry or low on energy during your workout, consider having a bigger snack or something with a better nutritional profile. Check out our guide to making a gym diet plan that works for you if you need pointers.
When is it too late to drink a protein shake after a workout?
As daily intake seems to be the determining factor, just aim to get your daily protein intake each day.
So if you weigh 60kg, in the US your recommended amount would be 48g per day of protein, and in the UK it would be 45g.
During pregnancy these numbers change slightly: if you’re pregnant or planning to become pregnant we recommend doing your own research as the information in this article won’t be relevant.
The answer to the common question of when to drink your protein shake is: whenever works best for you!
While there are cases for both before and after, ultimately the difference will be so minimal that you’re better off just aiming to hit your recommended protein intake.
Disclaimer: The information on the Powher blog does not constitute medical advice and should not be used as such. If you would like to learn more about your dietary requirements and related aspects of your health, speak with a registered medical professional.