Protein is necessary for muscle repair and growth.
For this reason, many people consume protein supplements in the form of shakes along with their workouts.
However, the optimal time to have a protein shake is a hotly debated topic.
Some believe it’s best to drink a protein shake before a workout, whereas others argue that after a workout is ideal.
This article explains whether it’s best to have a protein shake before or after your workout.
How much protein do you need?
The recommended daily allowance for protein is 0.36 grams per pound (0.8 grams per kg) of body weight.
The recommended daily allowance is the estimated amount of a nutrient a person needs to avoid a deficiency. It doesn’t specify the amount needed to optimize body composition or health.
For protein, it’s clear that the recommended daily allowance is far too low to support muscle recovery and growth.
Research suggests that people who routinely strength train may need double the recommended daily allowance, or 0.72 grams per pound (1.6 grams per kg), to support muscle recovery and growth.
A person weighing 150 pounds (68 kg) equals a minimum of 109 grams of protein per day.
To optimize your results, spread this amount over 3–4 meals consumed every 3–4 hours.
A protein shake is a good option between meals, either as a snack or around your workout. Protein powders typically contain 25–30 grams of protein per scoop.
Summary: People who exercise regularly need more protein to support muscle recovery and growth. Consume your protein at equally spaced times throughout the day to maximize results.
Does the “anabolic window” matter?
Many people believe drinking a protein shake within 30 minutes of exercise will maximize their results in the gym.
This 30-minute window, commonly known as the “anabolic window,” is a short period of time during which your muscles are like a sponge for protein.
If you consume protein outside the anabolic window, your body won’t effectively utilize it or build muscle.
Research now suggests that this anabolic window of opportunity is much longer than 30 minutes and may not be limited solely after exercise.
It may not matter whether you drink a protein shake before or after your workout to optimize muscle repair and growth.
Summary: It was previously believed that protein had to be consumed within 30 minutes of a workout for your body to use it. Recent research suggests that this may not be the case.
Should you increase your protein before or after a workout?
One study compared the effects of consuming protein before or after a workout on muscle strength and size.
The researchers split 21 men into two groups, both of which received a protein shake containing 25 grams of protein. One group received it immediately before their workout, while the other received it immediately after.
Everyone completed a full-body workout 3 times per week for 10 weeks.
Interestingly, the study found no significant differences in muscle strength or size between the groups. These results suggest that as long as you consume protein around your workout, it doesn’t matter whether it’s before or after training.
Therefore, you can choose which time you prefer or is most convenient.
Summary: Whether you drink a protein shake before or after your workout may not affect muscle strength or size.
Daily protein intake may be more important
When it comes to maximizing muscle and strength gains, research on consuming protein around your workouts is mixed.
Some research has questioned whether consuming protein around your workout is even necessary.
A few studies suggest it’s beneficial, while other research shows no effect.
These opposing results continue to spur new research on the effects of consuming protein around exercise.
Suggested read: 5 science-based health benefits of milk
Overall, studies find that total protein intake is the strongest predictor of muscle strength and size, regardless of whether you consume it close to exercise.
Therefore, how much protein you consume per day is likely more critical than when you consume it for gaining muscle size and strength.
Summary: The total amount of protein you consume each day is more important for muscle growth and strength than the timing of your intake.
How to meet your protein target
Both animal- and plant-based foods contain protein and can help you meet your daily protein goal.
Meat, poultry, dairy, and fish are high-quality animal protein sources, while nuts, beans, legumes, and soy-based products are good sources of plant-based protein.
Research suggests that animal-based protein is superior to plant-based protein for building muscle, but it’s beneficial to consume a combination of both.
Protein shakes can also be a convenient way to increase your protein intake, especially when you cannot get enough through food alone.
The most common types of protein powders on the market include:
- Whey protein. Whey protein is a milk protein that your body absorbs quickly, making it useful before or after your workout. It also contains bioactive proteins that may offer other health benefits.
- Casein protein. Casein is the other milk protein that your body digests much slower than whey, making it ideal during periods of fasting like sleep. Moreover, some brands of casein protein offer up to 60% of the recommended daily allowance for calcium per scoop.
- Egg protein. Egg protein powders are made with pure egg white protein. They digest at a medium rate and are one of the most expensive protein supplements on the market.
- Soy protein. Soy protein is one of the few plant proteins that contain all essential amino acids, making it a complete protein source for vegetarians.
- Rice and pea protein. Rice and pea proteins do not contain all essential amino acids, but combining them makes them a complete protein. They’re low-allergenic, appealing to those with egg, dairy, or soy allergies.
Summary: Animal and plant products are good dietary protein sources. Protein shakes can also help you reach your daily protein target.
Are high protein diets safe?
Healthy people can safely drink protein shakes.
Suggested read: Casein vs. whey protein: What's the difference?
That said, shakes are not designed to replace meals. It’s best to use them between meals and if you prefer, around your workouts.
Many people fear that taking protein supplements in combination with a high-protein diet can harm their health.
That’s because high protein diets have been erroneously associated with kidney disease and osteoporosis, characterized by weak and brittle bones.
However, no evidence suggests that a high-protein diet causes harm in people with healthy kidneys.
Even those who consistently consume high protein diets, such as weightlifters, have healthy kidneys.
On the contrary, a high-protein diet is associated with improved bone health. This may be because protein increases bone mineral density and reduces the risk of bone fractures, especially when combined with strength training.
Therefore, unless your doctor or registered dietitian instructs you to limit your protein intake due to a medical condition, there is no need to fear a high-protein diet.
Summary: You can use protein shakes between meals to boost your protein intake. The majority of healthy people can safely follow a high-protein diet.
Protein plays a vital role in repairing and rebuilding your muscles after exercise, and many people use protein shakes after their workouts to aid this process.
However, research suggests it doesn’t matter whether you drink a protein shake before or after your workout. Interestingly, your total daily protein intake is what matters most.
While protein shakes around workouts and between meals are helpful, ensure you get enough throughout the day. Both foods and supplements can help you meet your goals.
For healthy people, there are few or no health risks associated with using protein shakes while following a high-protein diet.
Consuming more protein than the current recommended daily allowance has many health benefits.