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The Protein Shake Debate: Should You Drink Before or After a Workout?

For people with fitness and muscle goals, a protein shake is the holy grail of diet and nutrition. It’s a must-have for multiple reasons: weight loss, muscle gain and injury recovery. Although many food products can enrich your diet with protein, protein powders and shakes are the best sources for this nutrient.

But the question is: when is the right time to drink your protein shake? Before or after your workout? And does the timing matter?

According to fitness professionals, timing is everything when it comes to reaping the benefits of nutritious protein shakes. So it’s natural for people to debate over the timing of their post-workout drink. Some people prefer drinking their protein shake pre-workout to prepare their body whereas others say doing it will mess with your workout.

Who’s right and wrong? Should you drink your protein shake before or after a workout?

Protein Shake: Before or After Your Workout?

Man preparing his protein shake

The truth is there is no right or wrong answer when it comes to taking your protein shake before or after your workout. It depends on your fitness goals and the meal you consumed before working out. If you want to build more muscle, it’s best to drink a protein shake (or eat a protein-rich meal like salmon) every three to five hours.

A 2014 study from The Journal Nutrition reports that muscle protein synthesis (aka the process of the body rebuilding its muscles using protein) increases when you consume enough protein during your day. Simply put, consuming 30 grams of protein per meal throughout the day is better than eating the recommended daily amount of protein all at once.

So whether you prefer working out in the evening or morning, always spread out your protein intake. This means drinking your shake at your most convenient time.

When Should You Drink Protein Shakes? Whenever You Want

If you prefer to drink your protein shake before a workout or after, it’s not much of a big deal. That’s because the timing of your protein consumption is not always everything. It’s more about the total amount of protein you consume every day.

Drinking a protein shake before or after your workout doesn’t matter like it used to. A study from PeerJ tested the effect of protein shakes pre-and post-workout on body composition, strength and increase in muscle size. According to the study, taking protein before or after your workout produces similar effects.

If you’re still on the fence of whether you should drink a protein shake before or after your workout, that’s OK.

Here’s a breakdown of the pros and cons of consuming your favorite muscle milk powder prior or after your exercise.

What Happens If You Drink Protein Shakes Before Workout?

picking up a shaker

It’s OK to drink a protein shake before your workout. For some people, the shake functions as a pre-workout prep.

If you want to drink your protein shake before your workout, here are the pros and cons:

Pros

If you haven’t eaten a meal in three or four hours, ramp up your muscle-building workout by drinking a protein shake before your exercise. As mentioned above, spacing out your protein-rich meals is essential in helping you build your muscle. Plus, protein controls your hunger, which is a plus, especially if your stomach rumbles before a workout.

Simply put, drinking a protein shake before your workout can help you meet your daily dose of protein.

Cons

Consuming a protein shake pre-workout isn’t advisable for people with a sensitive stomach or who are unable to digest protein well. If you have gut issues, drinking a shake before your workout can make you feel full.  If your workout has plenty of bounding or jumping (e.g. a rigorous tabata workout), you may experience an upset stomach after your exercise.

If you have a sensitive stomach, consider making the switch to hydrolyzed protein powder. This type of protein shake is broken down into smaller amino acids, which is better for easier absorption and digestion.

As for the ideal protein-to-carb ratio for your pre-workout protein shake, there’s none. It depends on your body again. Some people don’t need the additional carbohydrate boost before they exercise, especially if they’ve had carbs before their workout. But for people who didn’t have enough carbs throughout the day, it helps to consume enough carbs and protein to prepare for higher-intensity workouts.

What Happens If You Drink Protein Shakes After Workout?

Some people prefer to drink their protein shake after a workout to help their body recover. Similar to consuming a protein shake before a workout, there are pros and cons associated with post-workout protein shakes.

Pros

The faster you consume your protein shake after your exercise, the faster your muscles can recover. The best time to drink your favorite banana protein shake is 30 minutes or two hours after your workout. During this time, the protein will repair torn muscle tissues, speeding up your body’s recovery.

A protein shake is also a better post-workout meal compared to a full-blown meal. Consuming a full-course meal after working out can make you lose your appetite afterward. Moreover, post-workout shakes also replenish the fluids you lost during your workout.

Cons

Good news! There aren’t any downsides to drinking a protein shake after your workout. Doing so helps your body recover faster. Some coaches tell their athletes to drink their protein shakes immediately after a workout since many of them forget to eat for several hours.

Still, the type of protein shake you consume makes a difference in its effect on your diet. It’s best to consume proteins from milk like casein, whey or milk protein powder since they offer high-quality proteins, as well as all the essential amino acids needed by your body.

What Happens If You Drink Protein Shakes Without Working Out?

Man doing squats
Photo by Sam Moqadam on Unsplash

In reality, a small group of people truly benefit from protein shakes — the active people, the infirm and the elderly. People who are spending hours in the gym, six days a week require more protein to repair and rebuild their muscles. Also, there are people who struggle with getting enough protein despite maintaining a healthy diet.

As for the elderly and the infirm, many of these people don’t have the appetite to eat due to their condition. As a result, they lack protein. A protein shake can help them replenish their depleted protein levels.

As for everyone else, the case of whether you should drink a protein shake or not depends on whether you need it or want it. If you’ve experimented with your diet and see that protein shakes are effective at replenishing your protein without making you hungry, then keep drinking your banana protein shake.

Either way, while protein shakes are good for your health, avoid high-sugar protein shakes, as well as those with unhealthy ingredients. Otherwise, you’re not having a healthy post- or pre-workout snack. It’s a dessert. Instead, go for protein shakes that are packed with lean protein, healthy fats, vitamins and minerals.

Beware of the Protein Shakes You Consume

Protein shakes are available in different flavors and types. If you’re not mindful enough, you might buy a protein shake that is actually an unhealthy milkshake in disguise. These protein shakes contain hundreds of sugar, calories and cream. Clearly, they’re not healthy.

Some protein shakes fall in a gray area. For example, your favorite chocolate peanut butter protein powder can be healthy if it uses high-quality chocolate protein powder or raw cocoa powder. But if they contain a lot of sugar, you may want to look for a healthier alternative.

Fortunately, there are protein shakes that are perfect for any type of diet, especially keto diets. These shakes often contain clean protein from nuts, high-quality protein powder, natural sweeteners (e.g. fruits) and vegetables (e.g. kale). Some protein shakes have higher calories but these calories are from healthy fats. This type of protein shake is perfect for people who need additional calories.

In summary, it doesn’t matter if you want to drink your protein shake before or after your workout. You can enjoy a post- or pre-workout shake — just make sure you’re meeting your dietary needs. Also, consider your body’s requirements, what you just ate and the type of protein shake you’re drinking.

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