Whether you’re just starting out with taking protein or have incorporated it into your workout for years, the end goal remains the same: to maximize our exercise gains.
But in order to make the most out of your protein powder, knowing when to take it is key. Some swear by enjoying their shake before hitting the gym, whereas others insist on downing it straight after getting a sweat on.
So is there really an ideal window? Let’s take a look at the evidence.
The Benefits of Pre-Workout Protein Shakes
While we often assume it’s best to consume protein after a workout to help tired muscles recover, others argue “why wait?” Giving your body the nutrients it needs earlier on will open a window of opportunity for getting a jump-start on the process. After all, for muscles to perform at their best they need the energy to do so.
Consuming a balanced meal consisting of carbs, protein and fat at least a couple of hours before a workout is ideal to ensure your body is fueled and ready to go. This study found that tucking into a carb-rich meal prior to exercise can enhance overall performance. However, eating a large plateful of food isn’t always achievable, especially if you like to work out early in the morning — but a protein shake can be consumed around an hour before exercising to give your body the dose of energy it needs.
The main issue that can arise from taking protein prior to working out is around digestion. Some powders – especially whey-based options – can cause stomach issues, such as bloating and cramps, which obviously aren’t conducive to an effective workout.
The Benefits of Post-Workout Protein Shakes
One of protein’s biggest benefits is about recovery, as it helps repair the micro tears that occur in muscle fibers as a result of exercise – potentially thanks to its branched-chain amino acid (BCAA) content. A 2015 review affirmed that a lack of protein can actually slow the healing process and encourage muscle loss. As an added bonus, it is the repairing of these fibers that encourages muscle growth (and those visual gains).
Just as some turn to protein shakes for an energy boost before a workout, others rely on them as a way of replenishing depleted stores after – and for good reason. Research reveals taking protein alongside carbs after exercise can speed up the process of renewing glycogen levels, essential for bouncing back so we’re ready to take on the remainder of the day… and the next workout.
Last but not least, consuming protein after a workout could positively impact your overall well-being. A study of U.S. marine recruits found those who took protein immediately after working out made notably fewer general health visits to the doctor and experienced less joint- and muscle-related health concerns.
Should You Have a Protein Shake Before or After a Workout?
It’s clear there are positives for both sides of the debate. But these studies have tended to focus on the effects of protein consumption during one of these timings alone, rather than together simultaneously. However, following a direct comparison conducted in 2017, researchers revealed that taking protein on either side of a workout session offers similar benefits for muscle composition and strength. Another study shared that protein supplementation both before and after exercise contributes to reduced muscle damage and levels of soreness.
For years, there was thought to be an “anabolic window” – a 30-minute period immediately after exercise that was the optimum time for consuming protein. But science now suggests this isn’t the case and that focusing on consuming the correct amount of protein over a 24-hour period is more important than the specific timings.
Ultimately, it’s your decision as to whether you have protein before or after a workout. You’ll experience benefits at either time and, by personalizing your shake with Buddy Nutrition’s range of supplement Boost add-ons, you can ensure it really works for you and your training needs. Want a bit of extra energy for training? Grab your bottle before. But if you don’t like feeling full prior to an intense HIIT session, drink up after. Or enjoy the best of both worlds and sip away all day long.
Chantelle Pattemore is a London-based journalist and content writer. With a focus on health, well-being, fitness and food, she has written for titles including Women’s Health, Greatist, Men’s Fitness, Shondaland, Reader’s Digest and Stylist.