Best Time to Take a Protein Shake – Before or After Your Workout?

5 (100%) 2 votes

There are many good reasons why you’ve decided that it’s time to take protein shakes.

However, the next issue is figuring out what the best time to take a protein shake really is.

It’s a common problem, the internet offers conflicting advice regarding the best time to take a protein shake. That’s why you need this guide; it’s time to check out the facts and find the right answer.

I’m going to show you when to take a protein shake, whether you should drink a protein shake before or after a workout, and help you to understand the science behind the facts.

It doesn’t matter if you’re looking for the best protein shake for skinny guys, the best brand of protein shake, or you’re simply testing out the effects of protein on your body; you need to know the right time to take it to maximize its effects and your efforts.

man drinking protein shake at the crossfit gym

Science and Protein Shakes

Protein is essential to your body, it is instrumental in the process of protein synthesis. This is a chemical reaction in your body that encourages muscle repair and growth.

When you workout hard you are likely to get microscopic tears in your muscles; this is a good thing.

The tears mean that you are pushing your muscles to the limit; protein synthesis allows these tears to heal, making your muscle stronger in the process.

This is the reason you’ll see muscle growth over a period of time. But, the key to strengthening and enlarging your muscles lies in the amino acids contained in the protein.

That’s why you need to choose the right protein shake; the quality of the shake will make a difference to the results you see.

Science suggests that between 1.2 and 1.7 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight should be sufficient, the more athletic you are the closer you’ll be to the top end of this scale.

Put simply, if you weigh 170 pounds then you’re going to need between 92g and 130g of protein a day.

While it is nice to think that this comes from diet alone, it’s not always the case. In addition, research suggests that doses of protein throughout the day can really help to promote protein synthesis.

That’s why you’ll hear so many conflicting stories about when to take your protein.

The Best Time to Take a Protein Shake – Exploring The Options

man preparing whey protein shake

Let’s take a look at the options when considering when the best time to take a protein shake is.

When You Get Up

If you’re serious about health then you already know that you need between 6-8 hours sleep a night; this is when your body balances hormones and muscles are fully repaired.

Of course, if you’ve been asleep for 8 hours you have been effectively fasting.

Your body needs a boost to really get going in the morning and a protein shake makes sense, it feeds the muscles in your body instead of burning them to give your body energy.

While you can opt for a high protein breakfast, such as eggs or oatmeal, the protein shake is quick to make and digest.

At Bedtime

Taking a protein shake before bed will help to feed your muscles during your fasting period.

This is a wise precaution if you are trying to build muscle as if you don’t have enough energy in your body to feed your muscles and organs, your body will breakdown muscle cells to get the required energy.

This is known as your muscles entering a catabolic state, which will undo your hard work building them up.

Of course, you should be careful to verify the carbohydrate and calorie intake of your protein shake. Whether you’re looking to gain muscle or lose weight you need to stay within your calorie target.

Top Tip: If you’re thinking of a protein shake before bed then you need to consume casein protein, not whey.

The reason is simple; whey protein is quickly absorbed and will give you an energy boost, potentially preventing you from falling asleep.

Casein protein is digested at a much slower rate; effectively giving your body the amino acids it needs to repair itself, without boosting your metabolic art and keeping you awake.

man makes a protein shake

Before a Workout

If you’re about to workout then you should be aware that not all protein shakes are created equal.

You need to choose a quality product if you want the best possible results, whether you’re looking at supplements for CrossFit or running a marathon.

The traditional belief is that protein is taken after a workout. However, there is an argument that suggests taking it before.

When you workout you should be creating microscopic tears in your muscles; otherwise, they will never get bigger or stronger.

Once they are torn they need to start repairing, having protein in your body ready to deal with this means the process can start as you’re working out; reducing the chance of your muscles going catabolic.

However, taking a protein shake before working out can leave you feeling full, potentially resulting in you not reaching your full capacity or even throwing up your shake, and anything else in your stomach.

In order to avoid this, you’ll need to take your protein shake an hour or so before exercising. However, this is where the real science comes in.

Adding protein to your body pre-workout is only really necessary if you haven’t eaten in more than 3-4 hours; assuming you’re eating balanced and healthy meals.

It takes up to 6 hours to properly digest and absorb a meal. If less time than this has passed between eating and your workout then you will already have protein in your body when you workout.

The time changes to between 3-4 hours if you’ve had a protein-rich snack, (such as Greek yogurt).

Taking the protein shake won’t do any harm, but it’s unlikely to offer many benefits.

After Your Workout

When you’ve finished working out your body should have used the carbohydrates and protein that were available. This is actually when you’re at the biggest risk of your muscles going catabolic as your body needs the energy to start repairing itself.

In short, if you’re looking to build muscle taking a protein shake post-workout is essential.

Whey protein is absorbed in approximately 20 minutes, ensuring the muscles don’t have time to go catabolic.

Taking a protein shake within 30 minutes or even 90 minutes of your workout is claimed to be essential; if you don’t they say you’ll lose the gains associated with your workout.

This is not actually true as it is the overall protein intake per day that counts. However, as you can’t store protein, it is a good idea to replace the protein as quickly as possible; which is why you really should take it as soon as convenient after you finished your workout.

Just don’t panic if that’s not the second you finish!

As a Meal Replacement

A protein shake is not a meal replacement. The average whey protein will have several nutrients your body needs, but, it won’t have everything you need.

Replacing your meal with a protein shake means your body will be missing out on essential nutrients; this is likely to lead to health problems; particularly in your intestines.

There are some protein shakes that are marketed as meal replacements, but even these should only be used on occasion.

Eating a balanced diet is essential to maintaining your health.

Whey protein shake in a glass

Protein Shakes & Weight Loss

The initial thought when protein shakes are mentioned is that they are used to gain muscle. But, they can also be used to help you lose weight.

However, this is not a long term option.

A diet that uses protein shakes to help you lose weight will instruct you to take two protein shakes a day, instead of meals.

The shakes will be approximately 250 calories each. You’ll also have to consume a meal once per day of about 500 calories and two snacks of no more than 200 calories each.

In short, you’ll be consuming approximately 1,400 calories a day. This is enough below your maintenance amount to help you lose weight. (Average maintenance calories for men is 2,500 and for women 2,000).

Unfortunately, this type of diet can be difficult to stick to for months at a time, and, you’ll find it hard to exercise at the same time.

Your body won’t be consuming enough calories to allow you to exercise vigorously; if you do you’re likely to deprive your muscles of their essential protein. You’ll see your muscle mass decrease as well as your fat levels.

Gaining Muscle with Protein Shakes

Protein shakes are a great way to ensure your muscles have all the protein they need to grow bigger and stronger. In fact, a good quality shake will make it easier for you to gain muscle.

However, most protein shakes also contain carbohydrates, sugars, and fats. This means you’ll have to allow for them in your diet plan.

While gaining mass does require a higher calorie intake, there is a limit to the number of calories you should be eating, the exact amount will depend on the gains you’re after and the exercise you’re doing to support these gains.

You should consider this before deciding whether to mix the protein shake with water or milk. (Milk obviously has more calories and fat).

You can take a protein shake in the morning, post workout and before bed. But, you need to be working your muscles in order to gain muscle, if not you’re simply consuming extra calories and, possibly, too much protein.

If you need to lose fat while building muscle it’s essential that you choose a low-carb protein shake.

This will help you to get the balance between extra calories to build muscle and a calorie deficit to lose fat.

whey protein powder in scoop with nighttime fat burner vitamins

How Many Shakes Do You Need in a Day?

When you buy protein powder there will be usage guidelines. Most of these will suggest that you take 3 shakes a day. However, the actual number you need depends on your current weight, goals and your diet.

Let’s take a look at an example:

If you weigh 78kg and want to gain 2kg of muscle then you need to eat enough protein to support your goal weight.

Remember that while the World Health Organization recommends an intake of 0.8g per kg, this is only to maintain the status quo.

You should be looking at 1.2g per kg. If you want to be 80kg then you’re going to need 80 x 1.2 grams of protein; that’s 96grams per day.

Splitting this into three standard meals means you need 32grams of protein in every meal. That’s approximately a hand-sized piece of meat.

You can probably manage this for two of your meals a day, so one shake will be enough to help you gain the 2kg of muscle.

Of course, you’ll have to amend this calculation to suit your own circumstances.

So When Should You be Taking Your Shake?

The bottom line is simple!

Consuming enough protein every day is critical to muscle gain and your overall health. You should be aiming for approximately 1.2g per kg of body weight.

Mixing smaller shakes and spacing them out is good, most time slots will help to ensure you get the most from your shakes.

But, for effectiveness, it doesn’t matter if you’re looking to lose weight, gain muscle or do both; take just one a day and the best time to take a protein shake remains after you’ve completed your workout.

Don’t forget, you can find out the answers to all your other health & workout related questions by subscribing to the newsletter.

All you have to do is put your email in the box below.