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.
The Recommended Daily Allowance (RDA) for protein is 0.36 grams per pound (0.8 g/kg) of body weight (1).
The RDA 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 ().
In fact, research suggests that people who routinely strength train may need double the RDA, or 0.72 grams per pound (1.6 g/kg), to support muscle recovery and growth (3, ).
For a person weighing 150 pounds (68 kg), this equals 109 grams of protein per day.
To optimize your results, spread this amount over three to four meals that are consumed every three to four hours (, ).
A protein shake is a good option between meals, either as a snack or around your workout. They 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.
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 in which your muscles are like a sponge for protein.
The thought is that if you consume protein outside of the anabolic window, your body won’t effectively utilize it or build muscle (10).
Research now suggests that this anabolic window of opportunity is much longer than 30 minutes and may not be limited to after exercise ().
In fact, it may not matter if you drink a protein shake before or after your workout in terms of optimizing 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.
To date, only one study has compared the effects of consuming protein either 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 group received it immediately after ().
Everyone completed a whole-body workout three 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 if it’s before or after training.
Therefore, you can choose which time you prefer or is most convenient for you.
Summary Whether you drink a protein shake before or after your workout may not have an effect on muscle strength or size.
The research on whether protein intake around your workouts is important for maximizing gains 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 led researchers to analyze the findings of 23 studies on the effects of consuming protein around exercise ().
They found that total protein intake was the strongest predictor of muscle strength and size, regardless of whether people consumed it close to their exercise or not.
Therefore, how much protein you consume per day is likely more important 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 when you eat it.
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 sources of protein. Meanwhile, nuts, beans, legumes and soy 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 is quickly absorbed by the body, 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 digests much slower than whey, making it ideal during periods of fasting like sleep. What’s more, some brands of casein protein offer up to 60% of your RDA 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 contains all of the essential amino acids, making it a complete protein source for vegetarians.
- Rice and pea protein: Rice and pea proteins do not contain all of the essential amino acids, but combining them makes them a complete protein. They are low-allergenic, making them appealing to those with egg, dairy or soy allergies.
Summary Both animal and plant products are good sources of dietary protein. Protein shakes can also help you reach your daily protein target.
Healthy people can safely drink protein shakes ().
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, a disease characterized by weak and brittle bones.
However, there is no evidence to suggest that a high-protein diet causes harm in people with 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 in between meals to boost your protein intake. The majority of healthy people can safely follow a high-protein diet.
Protein plays an important 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, make sure you’re getting enough throughout the day. Both foods and supplements can help you meet your goals.
For healthy people, there are little or no health risks associated with using protein shakes while following a high-protein diet.
In fact, consuming more protein than the current RDA has many health benefits.