When to Drink Your Protein Shake: Benefits of Protein at Different Times of the Day

Health & Wellness

Is it better to drink a protein shake before or after a workout? Does it matter? We give you the rundown on when to consume protein.

Last updated: 30 June 2022
8 min read
Best Time to Drink Protein Shakes

Proper nutrition is one of the most important foundational pillars of wellness. For athletes, this means getting the right balance of nutrients at the right time to fuel performance and facilitate recovery and restoration.

But the issue of nutrient timing is hotly debated—especially when it comes to protein.

Some say that there is a specific window of opportunity after a workout to deliver essential amino acids. Others say that protein quality and meeting overall protein goals is more important than a specific timing strategy.

So, who's right? The truth is that both statements can be correct.

The Best Time to Consume Protein

The best protein-timing strategy for you will depend on your goals and lifestyle.

Exercise scientists and workout enthusiasts once believed that there was a short anabolic window shortly after exercise during which protein must be consumed to maximise workout gains and boost athletic performance. But that myth has been debunked.

Scientists now encourage athletes to think of the entire day as an opportunity to fuel the body appropriately for activity.

This might involve consuming a protein shake before or after a workout. It might also include having a protein shake before bed. But it also means fuelling the body adequately with snacks and meals throughout the day that provide a range of micro- and macronutrients.

According to the authors of a 2020 research review on nutrient timing, "though research suggests that consuming certain nutrients at certain times may be more beneficial than other times, there is likely the most to gain from consuming nutrients at all times surrounding exercise bouts and throughout the day".

The study suggests that, instead of thinking about an anabolic window, we should imagine a "garage door of nutritional opportunity" to positively impact performance and recovery.

What does this mean for you?

It means that there is no longer a need to run home after the gym to slurp down a protein shake before the anabolic window slams shut.

It means that you might consider different types of protein to meet your needs at different times of the day.

Finally, it means that you might choose to include a broader range of ingredients in your protein shake to enhance athletic performance.

Best Time to Drink Protein Shakes

Consuming Protein at Different Times

If there is no single timing strategy that is right for everyone, it might be helpful to consider the benefits of various protein intake schedules. Then, based on your goals and the advantages of each, you can decide when to drink your protein shakes.

5 Protein Timing Strategies

  1. 1.Protein in the Morning

    There is not much evidence suggesting that consuming a protein shake for breakfast (independent of a morning workout) offers any unique benefits.

    In fact, at least one study suggests that it is best to divide your protein intake evenly between meals throughout the day to optimise skeletal muscle protein synthesis.

    But if weight loss is your goal, you might consider having a protein shake for breakfast.

    Studies have shown that protein can help reduce levels of hunger hormones (ghrelin) and increase levels of hormones that help you feel satiated. Some research has directly linked consuming a higher-protein breakfast with better weight loss outcomes.

    But remember that no single meal will make or break your long-term success. Your daily calorie intake matters most.

    If you have a protein shake for breakfast, followed by a nutritionally balanced lunch and dinner, along with a healthy dose of physical activity each day, you're most likely to reach your weight loss goals.

  2. 2.Protein Before Exercise

    It is common for athletes, especially endurance athletes, to consume carbohydrates before exercise to help maintain energy levels for the duration of their workout.

    But studies on cyclists have shown that ingesting protein with carbohydrates before exercise can improve endurance, overall performance and minimise muscle damage. And there may be benefits for strength-trained athletes as well.

    Researchers found that consuming a supplement that included carbohydrate, protein and fat 30 minutes before exercise significantly improved vertical jump power and the number of repetitions performed at 80% of a one-rep max.

    There is also some evidence that adding protein to your pre-workout shake may help improve metabolic responses and muscle protein synthesis after exercise. You'll just want to be sure that your pre-workout protein shake includes carbs that are easily digestible to avoid gastrointestinal problems.

  3. 3.Protein During Exercise

    While you may not find it comfortable or convenient to consume an entire protein shake during exercise, consuming some protein during certain types of exercise may provide an advantage.

    In a position paper on nutrient timing published by the International Society of Sports Nutrition (ISSN), researchers suggested that endurance athletes consume carbs every 10–15 minutes during exercise if the bout lasts longer than 60 minutes.

    But they added that when carbohydrate delivery is inadequate, adding protein may help increase performance, reduce muscle damage and regulate blood sugar.

    The organisation also suggested that adding protein to carbohydrates during resistance exercise may offer performance-enhancing benefits such as greater acute and chronic training adaptations.

  4. 4.Protein After Exercise

    The post-workout protein shake is the one that gets most of the attention. Exercise experts and researchers have examined not only when protein should be consumed but also what kind of protein should be consumed.

    The 2017 position paper by the ISSN and a 2016 position paper by the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, Dietitians of Canada and the American College of Sports Medicine suggest that athletes consume high-quality protein with about 10 grams of essential amino acids within two hours after exercise.

    Amino acids are the building blocks of protein. Essential amino acids are those that the body doesn't make, so they must be included in the diet. Of all the amino acids, leucine has been identified as one that contributes more substantially to muscle mass gains. According to one position paper, dairy proteins are superior to other proteins, largely due to leucine content and the improved digestion and absorption of branched-chain amino acids.

    You can get dairy protein from foods like milk or Greek yoghurt. But you can also get it in supplement form.

    In fact, whey protein supplements are a great addition to your post-workout protein shake. Whey is one of the two proteins found in milk. The other protein is casein. Whey is often preferred in a post-workout shake because it is absorbed quickly.

    If you're shopping for whey protein powder, you're likely to see a few terms on product packaging. Choose the product that aligns with your protein intake needs.

    • Whey protein powder contains 11%–15% protein. This is the type of protein that might be added to protein bars or meal replacement shakes.
    • Whey protein concentrate contains 25%–89% protein. Many believe this type has a better taste because it also contains some lactose and fat.
    • Whey protein isolate is at least 90% protein. It has a higher concentration of protein because it contains less lactose and fat.

    Another smart addition to your post-workout protein shake might be creatine.

    Creatine is an amino acid found in seafood and red meat. Your body also makes a small amount of creatine each day.

    But many people take creatine supplements. Most supplements are a form called creatine monohydrate, but another commercially available product called creatine HCL is also available. Creatine monohydrate has been studied more extensively.

    Creatine supplementation has been shown to be not only safe but it is also considered by experts to be the most effective nutritional supplement currently available to athletes in terms of increasing high-intensity exercise capacity and lean body mass during training.

    Researchers suggest that you use a "loading protocol" when supplementing with creatine. The protocol involves consuming 0.3 grams per kg of body weight per day of creatine monohydrate for 5–7 days and then 3–5 grams per day after that.

    You'll want to add the creatine to your protein shake because taking it with protein and carbohydrates is most effective to maintain muscle creatine levels.

  5. 5.Protein Before Bed

    A protein shake before bed may also provide certain benefits. Studies have shown that pre-bed protein ingestion can be an effective method to improve overnight muscle protein synthesis and improve the skeletal muscle adaptive response to exercise training.

    But you may want to choose your supplement wisely when making a protein shake before bed. Casein protein is digested more slowly than whey protein, so your body benefits from higher amino acid levels for up to five hours.

When Is the Best Time for You?

Getting enough protein throughout the day is important for muscle growth and optimum exercise performance. Creatine supplementation is likely to help as well.

But getting too much of any nutrient is not necessarily better.

Protein requirements for athletes vary, but generally range from 1.2–2.0 grams per kg of body weight per day.

In the past, it was assumed that endurance athletes needed less protein than strength-trained athletes. But current guidelines suggest that exercisers should not be categorised as strength or endurance athletes.

To make sure you meet your protein needs, take lifestyle factors and goals into account to decide when it's best to have a protein shake.

For instance, if you can eat a meal or snack that includes plenty of protein every three or four hours, you may not need a protein shake.

But if you know that you'll have a gap when you can't sit down and get essential nutrients, a protein shake makes sense.

However, remember that proper nutrition includes not just supplements but healthy wholefoods as well. Building a balanced diet around wholefoods can not only provide you with the important micro- and macronutrients you need but also boost satisfaction and satiety for improved overall wellness.

Best Time to Drink Protein Shakes

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