- When to drink protein shakes for weight gain & muscle building
- When to drink protein shakes for weight loss & fat burning
- How & when to take intra workout protein shakes
- Pre workout: When to drink protein shake before workout
- Intra workout: When to drink protein shake during workout
- Post workout: When to drink protein shake after workout
Here at Predator Nutrition, we often get asked whether you should drink a protein shake before or after a workout. Here we look at common times someone might choose to use a protein supplement, how to use them for best results, and how you can use them to hit your protein requirements for the day.
It is important to remember that, no matter what time you use protein supplements, they have no magical properties! Protein supplementation is simply a convenient way for you to get a sufficient amount of protein into your daily diet to facilitate fitness goals such as lean muscle growth and muscle repair.
Should I drink protein shakes before or after workout?
Protein shakes can be consumed either before or after a workout (or both)! The most important thing is that you consume enough grams of protein over the course of the day, regardless of where it is coming from. There are lots of different formulas and recommendations online for how much is 'optimal', so we'd advise aiming to consume around a gram of protein per pound of bodyweight per day initially and going from there, monitoring digestion, rate of progress and enjoyment!
When to drink protein shakes for weight gain & muscle building
There are several benefits to using whey protein for weight gain and muscle building:
- protein supports growth of muscle
- aids recovery from training
- easy to consume and digest when calories are high
Rather than worrying about when you should drink a shake, we would focus on getting in regular feedings of protein throughout the day (every 3-4 hours is usually sufficient for the previous meal to have been digested).
The overall diet should be comprised of a variety of complete proteins, which might include sources such as meat, fish, eggs and yoghurt. Whey can certainly be helpful towards 1-2 meals a day to save time prepping food!
Examples of how to consume protein powder for muscle growth:
Breakfast: smoked salmon, eggs, veg
Pre-Workout Meal: oats, whey, honey
Intra-Workout: EAAs, cyclic dextrin, creatine
Post-Workout Meal: chicken, rice, sultanas, veg
Evening Meal: beef mince, pasta, veg
Pre-Bed Meal: yoghurt, casein, banana, peanut butter
When to drink protein shakes for weight loss & fat burning
If the goal is weight/fat loss, there are several benefits to supplementing your diet with protein shakes:
- supports retention of muscle
- increases satiety sweet flavours
- can help cravings
Some people might increase protein intake slightly while dieting to avoid losing any muscle and keep them full between meals. While you might be able to get away with a whey concentrate in the offseason, we'd look to keep trace macros (small amounts of carbs and fat) to a minimum and going for a whey isolate vs whey concentrate instead.
Like when trying to build muscle, protein should be consumed regularly (we'd suggest at least 20g of high-quality protein per meal for females, and at least 30g for males).
Examples of how to consume protein supplements for weight loss:
Breakfast: chicken/turkey sausages, egg whites, veg
Pre-Workout: oats, whey isolate, berries
Post-Workout: chicken, rice cakes with reduced sugar jam, veg
Evening Meal: salmon, veg/salad
Pre-Bed Meal: casein protein, almonds
Should you drink protein shake during workout or not?
We would tend to advise against drinking whey protein during workouts to protect digestion. This does not, however, mean that a complete source of amino acids during training cannot be helpful. An essential amino acid (EAA) or peptopro supplement would be advised for how light they are on the digestive tract.
Peptopro is a highly hydrolysed enzymatic digestion of casein comprised of all 20 amino acids. One study looked to examine the effect of using this hydrolysed casein supplement during weight training exercise.
Methods: Ten subjects were studied with the training sessions being conducted in the evening following consumption of a standardised diet during the day. Participants took part in two experiments, one where they were provided 0.15g per kg of bodyweight of a carbohydrate solution provided before the session and every fifteen minutes during the workout, and one where they were given 0.15g per kg of bodyweight of Peptopro (casein hydrolysate) on top of the carbohydrate solution.
Results: By consuming protein during the two hour long workout, protein breakdown rates were reduced by an average 8.4%, while protein synthesis increased by 33% compared to the carbohydrate only group. Whole body net protein balance was negative in the carbohydrate group but strongly positive in the group consuming protein during training.
Conclusion: Even in the fed state, protein co-ingestion increases muscle protein synthesis during resistance exercise.
Our comments: This certainly supports the consumption of protein during workouts for muscle gain. One of the interesting facets of this study is that in contrast to the vast majority of nutrition studies, this one took place in the fed, as opposed to the fasted state. This is important to note as it has often been argued by sceptics that many studies showing a benefit to protein or amino acid ingestion only show a benefit because they were conducted in a fasted state. The fact the study showed a benefit for protein ingestion during the workout despite prior meals, lends support to those such as Charles Poliquin who have always advocated very high intakes of amino acids during training bouts.
How & when to take intra workout protein shakes
For those who have had a high protein meal before training it is probably less important to worry about availability of amino acids during or after training, but many would not choose to have such a large meal before training as it can make it more uncomfortable to train and effect the potency of pre-workout supplements which many would prefer immediately before training. In addition, the very fast release rate of proteins such as Peptopro, BCAA's, and Whey Hydrolysate, make them an ideal intra-workout choice as they would enter the bloodstream almost immediately and cause less gastric distress than a whole food protein. For very long workouts it would become more important still to provide some fast acting protein source during a training session.
Taking protein shake before, during or after workouts: Summary
Pre workout: When to drink protein shake before workout
The most important thing to consider when deciding on a pre-workout meal is how well it sits on your stomach, and how effective it will be to provide sustained energy for your session. The last thing anyone wants is to be going into a heavy set of squats feeling sick and heavy!
Fat in the diet can slow the movement of food through the digestive tract. While this can be helpful to prevent sharp spikes and drops in blood sugar while training, we'd keep added fat minimal (5-10g fat from something like very dark chocolate or coconut oil would suffice).
Keeping digestion at the forefront of our minds, avoid fatty cuts of meats and select a protein that can be digested easily, such as a whey isolate, and allow 60-90 minutes for digestion before beginning any resistance training.
Intra workout: When to drink protein shake during workout
As discussed, protein can be consumed during workouts, but preferably not in the form of a thick whey shake. Protein shakes are complete proteins, meaning they contain all essential amino acids, they building blocks of proteins for new muscle.
For this reason, free amino acid supplements such as an EAA formula are ideal to sip on throughout your strength training. As these are already broken down, they won't require the same digestive processes that something like chicken would, and can contribute to post-exercise muscle recovery.
By supplying your muscles with amino acids intra-workout, you take some pressure off getting a meal in post-workout too. Have a few errands to run after the gym that will push your next meal back? Not to worry!
The same can be said for those who train fasted and aren't having any protein before the session. For these people, we'd advise mixing up some EAAs and cyclic dextrin, starting to drink them on the way to the gym, and finishing in the last 3rd of your session, if performance and muscle gain are the goal.
Post workout: When to drink protein shake after workout
Post-workout protein is certainly important for building muscle mass, but not needed as quickly as some people might think!
Once upon a time, there was a legend of an 'anabolic window', the belief that if you didn't chug a protein shake within 30 minutes of completing your last set, the session was effectively wasted. We now know that this is untrue. If anything, consuming any sort of meal while heart rate is still elevated and blood isn't in the digestive tract will just cause digestive stress that means the protein won't be absorbed as well!
We'd advise waiting for your heart rate and breathing to return to normal (this may take around 60 minutes), then consuming a protein and carb meal. The best protein powders to use here are those that are low in fat. Most people consume their highest carbohydrate meal at this time to aid recovery and restore glycogen that might have been depleted.
1. Beelen M, et.al (2008): Protein coingestion stimulates muscle protein synthesis during resistance-type exercise.