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Which is Better: Protein Shake Before Or After Your Workout?

I get asked a lot about the best timing for when to have a protein shake – before or after your workout.  So, in this post, we’ll dive into what the research says, and I’ll share what I do so you can make the best decision for your body and lifestyle. 

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Like I mentioned in my video on Why Women Need To Eat More Protein, adequate protein intake is necessary to support muscle recovery and growth, and many of us actually aren’t getting enough protein.

Now, when exactly should we add that protein, especially when you’re working out regularly?

The truth is, there is no absolute right answer to this question, and it depends on your goals. There are pros and cons to both pre-workout protein and post-workout protein consumption. 

The truth is, there is no right answer to this question.

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Protein Shake Before Workout

Let’s start out with the Pros for having a protein shake before your workout.

Pros

Energy Boost

One of the biggest benefits of taking protein shakes before a workout is that they give you an energy boost and provide ample nutrition to carry you through the workout without feeling as if you’re running on empty halfway through your routine.In fact, combining protein with high-energy-producing foods, like oatmeal, banana, rice, and nuts before a workout can really work well to provide you with optimal energy and has been shown to reduce the central nervous system fatigue and decrease the rate of muscle breakdown.

Why is this so important? Well, it means that you can maximize the amount of effort you put into your workout, which will help you to build the most muscle and to burn the most fat. All huge wins!

Muscle Growth

They also aid muscle growth just as much as taking protein shakes post-workout, so you don’t have to worry that you’ll be missing out on your gains. As you probably know, protein contains essential amino acids that are the building blocks of muscle fibers. Having that protein pre-workout can be a good thing as it can be absorbed quickly and transported to muscle cells to promote growth.

Feeling of Satiety

If you haven’t eaten for a few hours before your workout, then consuming protein before you hit the gym can help you feel fuller and satiated.

When I first started working out before I really found Intermittent Fasting and became used to fasted workouts, I really needed food ahead of my workout so I didn’t get lightheaded or feel shaky.  A protein shake before the workout helped a lot with this.

Fat Loss Support

If you’re trying to lose fat, then adding protein shakes, especially ones with casein, can significantly enhance the amount of energy and fat your body burns after the workout.Okay, that’s a lot of positives, but what about the cons of having a protein shake before your workout?  

My favorite protein is Cleanish Plant-Based Protein because it tastes great, has simple, clean ingredients, is easy to digest, and is high in protein.

Cons

Digestion Issues

Some people don’t like to drink protein shakes or any food before a workout because it feels heavy and uncomfortable during exercise.

Other people have a sensitive stomach or have trouble digesting a protein shake before a workout. Such individuals typically don’t consume protein before a workout because a pre-training session protein shake leaves them feeling queasy. 

If this sounds familiar to you and you’d rather stick to having your protein fix after the workout, there’s an easy fix that might work for you. Try to drink your pre-workout shake about an hour and a half before you hit the gym. You can also try a protein powder that is easy to digest, like a plant-based protein, as opposed to whey protein, which can be difficult on sensitive stomachs.

Breaks a Fast


If you are wanting to stay in a fasted state, having a protein shake will definitely break a fast, which isn’t ideal. I discuss this more in my video on What I Eat In a Day, but incorporating IF and fasted workouts in your daily routine can also have a lot of health benefits, like more growth hormone in your system to promote muscle growth, lower insulin and blood sugar levels for optimized fat burning and enhanced fat utilization.  If these are your main goals, then that protein shake would interfere.

Okay, so those are pretty clear pros and cons for why having a pre-workout protein shake (or meal), so let’s now talk about the pros and cons of a protein shake AFTER your workout.

Protein Shake After Workout

Now, let’s discuss the pros of having your protein shake after your workout.

Pros

Muscle Repair

A protein-rich meal post-workout, whether it is through dietary protein or supplements like protein powder, is traditionally the time when most people like to consume protein.  There is a belief in the gym that if you don’t have a high protein meal or shake within 30 minutes to 2 hours after your workout, you’ll lose your gains – though this is actually not backed by research. 

It is true there is an anabolic window during which muscle repair occurs after the muscle is broken down during exercise. This is also the time when the growth of muscle tissue takes place, which is why many focus on this nutrient timing. However, research suggests that this window isn’t as narrow as many believe, especially if you’ve had a protein-rich snack before your workout.

That said, research also shows that if your goal from weight training is building muscle, drinking a protein shake after a workout might be important if your last meal was 4-6 hours before your workout, which is a common reality for many of those who might be hitting the gym after work. (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3577439/).

So, it’s really dependent on your schedule and overall goals. If you’re working out in the evening, and you’re gonna be having dinner a few hours later anyway, adding either a pre-workout or post-workout protein shake will help you maximize your gains. For me, since morning workouts work the best for my schedule, and I really like intermittent fasting, I skip pre or post workout protein shakes. Sounds crazy, right? Am I hurting myself?

Perhaps not. In a meta analysis by Brad Soehnfeld in 2013 (https://jissn.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/1550-2783-10-53)  the effect of protein timing on muscle strength and hypertrophy was analyzed and, when it came to building lean muscle mass, protein timing wasn’t a significant factor, but rather, total protein intake of at least 1.6 mg/kg/day is what you need to maximize muscle gains.

Easier Digestion

A clear benefit of protein post-workout is that it’s easier to digest than a full meal. A post-workout shake will give you just the energy boost you need without making you feel overstuffed or crash after a blood sugar spike that can happen if you consume a meal with lots of sugary carbs.

If you’ve got a busy morning and are running late, drinking a protein shake after your workout is a great way to nourish your body without spending too much time cooking a full breakfast, so I’m calling that a benefit. 

Hydration

Another benefit of a post-workout protein shake is that it can help replace some of the fluids you lost during your workout.  We want to aim to drink at least half our body weight, in ounces, each day and then more with exercise, and having that protein shake will also provide you with additional hydration, which is a good thing.

Cons

There are no real cons if you like to drink a protein shake after your workout, though now you can see why there is no need to rush to do it, either. If you do find that adding protein shakes to your diet, pre or post workouts, makes you constipated, take a look at your fiber intake, as you’re probably short there. Check out my video on the Top 21 High-Fiber Foods to discover some delicious and nutritious options that will keep your digestive system happy. 

The recommended daily allowance of protein in adults is 0.36 grams per pound or 0.8 grams per kilogram of body weight. So, for an average person who weighs 150 pounds or 68 kg, the goal should be 54 grams of protein a day. 

But here’s the thing.

This is the recommended protein intake for people who don’t have a specific fitness goal.

If you want to gain muscle or build muscle strength, then you need to double this amount. So, to grow muscle size and support muscle recovery, a 150-pound or 68-kg individual should consume around 100-120 grams of protein a day. 

Of course, professional athletes need an even higher protein intake to keep energy levels up.

Research shows that these folks need anywhere from 1.2 grams to 2.0 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight per day.

Based on our research, women also have different protein requirements. More of that here.

In Conclusion

There is no single optimal time to have your protein shake. Whatever works best for your schedule and your needs is what’s best for you. What you really need to focus on is getting an adequate amount of protein each day to aid your muscles in their growth and recovery. And hey, don’t take it all at one sitting! If you consume way too much protein in one meal, but then are short on protein in others, you might be harming yourself.

Studies show that consuming moderate amounts of protein, either through diet or through protein supplements, spread across the day is associated with more efficient muscle protein synthesis. Spread it out, folks!

I’ve tried both ways – both fasted workouts and fed workouts, and I find I do have slightly more strength and energy with a fed workout, but then, as I mentioned above, for my schedule and overall goals, I go with a fasted workout and then skip post-workout meals too to get the benefits from intermittent fasting.

So, rather than obsessing about the timing, pay attention to the total amount of protein you’re consuming on a daily basis. You might be surprised to discover you aren’t actually getting sufficient amounts or hitting your recommended daily allowance. Try drinking protein shakes at different times around your workout and see how you feel, in addition to finding a way to make them fit into your lifestyle to help you reach your unique goals. 

Check out my post on how to calculate your macros to understand how much protein you should be eating for your unique needs.

If you’re looking for a delicious clean-eating protein powder, check out my Cleanish brand Plant-Based Protein Powder!

Lacey Baier

Hey y’all, I’m Lacey Baier and I’m so glad you’re here! I’m a healthy lifestyle influencer and the creator of this clean-eating blog and YouTube channel, A Sweet Pea Chef. My recipes have been published on Food Network, Good Morning America, FoxNews, Tastemade, Fitness Magazine, and much more. I live in Dallas, Texas with my husband and four kiddos. Let’s get started!

One thought on “Which is Better: Protein Shake Before Or After Your Workout?

  1. Hi! Thanks for the breakdown!
    Is it ok to have a protein shake before and after workout? Or it is unnecessary?
    Thanks!

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