Much like the cliché question of whether the chicken came before the egg, there’s the question that has confounded exercise enthusiasts for years. Should you drink your protein shake prior to or after your workout? It’s bound to spark a heated debate in the weight room, which is precisely why the question needs to be answered. Otherwise, you could be missing out on some serious benefits!
So, let’s get right to answering the question of when to drink your protein.
Why Protein Is Essential To Exercisers
People need about 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram of lean mass daily. Most people believe this, but in reality, it’s not that easy. You see, the Recommended Daily Allowance (RDA) is a minimal suggestion for healthy individuals. Everybody is different in terms of how much protein is necessary throughout the day, especially when people have differing lean body mass percentages. A comprehensive study from 2017 that was published in the Journal of Sports Medicine found that you really should be aiming for around 1.2-1.6 grams of protein instead.
This means that if you are targeting that 0.8 grams of protein per body weight, you are getting nowhere near enough to support muscle growth and recovery—especially if you’re spending quality time with dumbbells 4-5 days a week.
So, if you take the 1.6 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight, a 150-pound individual will need about 109 grams of quality protein every day.
The only way you can hit that mark is by consuming protein with every meal and drinking 1-2 protein shakes (about 25-30 grams of protein per serving) throughout the day.
The Different Kinds of Protein To Drink
Different strokes for different folks, right? Same goes for protein. You’re no longer limited to whey protein isolate shakes at the end of your workout or for a snack after lunch. There’s vegetarian/vegan mixtures, BCAA powders, hard gainer blends, and mass builders with a tremendous glut of calories for you to choose from. This is entirely up to you, however, and your reasons for training.
Hard gainers and mass builders are best taken after a workout because you want to finish off on a high caloric note.
Casein protein digests slower than whey, so it’s great for a post-workout shake because it will last longer than other forms of quickly digesting protein. This will help those early risers who love getting in their cardio or a quick pump while fasted before the sun comes up.
Meanwhile, someone who wants to lose some weight, build muscle, and generally maintain a lean profile, might want to consider BCAAs. Branched-chain amino acids are best absorbed before a workout since they need to be digested, broken down, and then sent to the muscles to be used as energy. By doing so, your body will catabolize the BCAAs instead of your muscles during a hard workout.
Next, BCAAs help your body recover faster and can help you burn more calories before, during, and after your workout. A study from the Medicine and Science in Sports & Exercise journal reported that a single scoop of pre-workout protein increases metabolism for the subsequent 24 hours.
Pre-Workout vs. Post-Workout Protein
Presently, there has only been one study that looks at the differences in consuming protein before or upon completion of a workout. The researchers divided 21 men into separate groups. The two groups received a shake with 25 grams of protein. The first group received the shake before training, while the second group drank their protein afterward. Everyone did three whole-body workouts per week for a duration of 10 weeks.
The end result was no significant differences in muscular size or strength between the two groups. This suggests if you are consuming enough protein, it doesn’t matter when you drink your protein shake.
Interestingly, studies on the anabolic window have also yielded little insight. The “anabolic window” is a supposed 30-minute span of time where you can maximize your results after a workout. The muscles behave like a sponge for protein during this time. Additionally, if you consume protein outside of this anabolic window, the effect won’t be as good, because the body won’t be able to utilize the protein. However, the research found that this anabolic window is longer than 30 minutes and might not even exist at all.
Again, this points to the idea that getting enough protein is more important than when.
Consider Your Goals
Here’s the thing: Your goals are important in deciding the appropriate timing for your protein shake. If you want to lose weight, then you should consider using BCAAs before your workout, because that will be enough to keep you from catabolizing muscle. You’ll burn off any excess calories during your workout, helping you maintain a negative energy balance.
However, if your goal is to put on mass, then you need to consume enough calories. That means a pre- and post-workout shake are ideal. After all, you need to hit your calorie and protein requirement to gain muscle.
Therein is the tipping point for whether you have a pre-workout shake, post-workout shake, or end up chugging both.
The bottom line is that you need protein, no matter what. Consider what your body is going to need that protein for, as well as what is most doable for you, and you will be able to make the best decision. Just get that protein!
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