Grab your cheat sheet…
You have packed your gym bag, a gruelling session meticulously planned, and your protein shake is in hand… but is this really the best time to drink it?
This is a subject matter of great discussion, even controversy, within the fitness industry. Some fitness experts (non-experts) preach the need to keep stringent timeframes for drinking your protein shake. Others say it doesn’t matter at all.
So, who should you listen to?
There are two things to consider when choosing the time of day to shake up your protein powder;
The most important thing is that you understand why people choose different times of day to take their protein shakes so that you can make an informed decision that works for you.
So, when is the best time to consume protein shakes?
The different types of protein powder
We are going to look at the five commonly used types of protein powder;
The majority of these can be taken at any time of day, with most people taking them before or after their workout.
The one caveat to this rule is what you consume before bed. Protein shakes can be difficult for our bodies to digest, so drinking them late at night can disrupt sleep.
However, Casein protein is broken down slowly, releasing essential amino acids over several hours, making it easier to digest than other proteins. If you haven’t eaten for a long time (e.g., in the early morning), your body can start to break down muscle tissue to use as energy. Casein’s slow-release mechanism can help prevent this. All proteins can help improve muscle synthesis and prevent muscle breakdown if taken before bed, but Casein does this job much better than the rest.
Some people opt for using two different types of protein shakes in a day. If you plan to do this, vary which protein you take in the morning and which you take in the afternoon/evening. Take note of which timings give you the greatest benefits regarding energy levels and easy digestion.
When to take protein powder based on your goals
No one rule fits all when it comes to protein. Your specific health and fitness goals should influence your protein shake consumption timing.
Maximize Muscle growth…
If you can, you should take a protein supplement within 30-45 minutes after your workout because that is when your muscle will be doing a great deal of ‘growing’.
But this isn’t as vital as previously thought, and unless you are a professional bodybuilder, you probably don’t need to worry about this too much. You will increase your muscle mass as long as you get enough protein throughout the day.
Your body weight will depend on how much protein you need to stimulate significant muscle growth.
See our blog on "What is whey protein (and do you need to take it)?" for more details on your recommended protein intake.
Preventing muscle loss…
You know you need to burn more calories than you consume to lose fat; the opposite is true with protein intake and muscle-building. If you aren’t getting enough protein in your diet, your muscles will struggle to grow after a workout. Workouts and daily life burn protein, so you’ve got to replace this and more to ensure you don’t lose mass.
Similar to building muscle, preventing muscle loss is best aided by drinking your protein shake 30-45 minutes post-workout, but if you don’t manage to get it within this timeframe, it really isn’t the end of the world! See it as a target rather than a rule.
Protein and Performance…
We’ve all had a day in the gym when we feel lacking in energy. Often this is because we haven’t properly fueled our bodies. We need both carbohydrates and protein to perform at our best.
So if your main concern is lifting more or running faster, get your protein in 30-45 minutes before your workout. Compliment your pre-workout protein with some carbohydrates, such as fruit or oatcakes, to ensure you can lift more and train for longer.
One of protein's best ways to help you drop body weight is its appetite-curbing power. If your goal is to drop body fat, you should drink your protein shake between meals to replace high-sugar snacks.
Tailor it to your body; if you find that you overeat at dinner time, have your protein shake at 4 pm. Or if you can’t help yourself from snacking before lunch, go for 10 am.
Does it matter when you drink your protein shake?
The key question here is, do you have a particular goal?
Or do you just want to get lean, get strong and perform better at the gym?
If it is the latter, your main focus should be increasing your overall dietary protein consumption. If you drink your protein shake at a time that suits your schedule, you will be likelier to stick to it.
Drinking a protein shake at any time of the day is going to be beneficial, and it will complement your efforts in the gym. A good pre-workout meal taken an hour or two before your workout can still provide plenty of post-workout protein, meaning you don’t have to rush to take your protein shake.
However, if you are feeling hungry during your workout, then this is a sign that you should be drinking your protein shake quickly afterwards (along with carbs - we need those too!)
Don’t allow yourself to be ‘starved’ of protein at any time of day, whether that’s around the time of your workout or before you go to bed. Calculate how much protein you need based on your body weight, and eat protein-rich foods throughout the day, along with your protein supplements, to ensure that you meet this target.
If you’re taking whey protein, then we recommend our Crazy Nutrition Tri Protein, packed full of whey and casein, to help build muscle and recover from workouts.