Linia Patel

By Linia Patel

Protein shakes: Before or after you workout?

When is best to have you protein smoothie

Is it better to have your protein shake before or after your workout?

While previous studies thought that the timing of protein and the type of protein consumed around sport was very important, recent research has shown that actually the amount of protein and carbohydrate consumed over the course of the day is far more important than the timing of it, with regards to fat loss, building muscle and improving performance.

So adding protein powder to your breakfast or having a protein shake after a training session all produce the same final outcomes on body composition and recovery (given that the rest of your diet is balanced). The key is to find out what works for best for you.  

Do I need to eat before exercise?

Pre-exercise meals

In terms of pre-exercise nutrition, we talk about the pre-exercise meal (which is three or four hours before a workout) and a pre-exercise snack (within the hour before training).

The ideal time for a pre-exercise meal is 2-4 hours before your workout because it’s early enough to digest the food, yet late enough that this energy won’t be used up by the time you begin exercising. 

For your pre-exercise meal, you need to eat something that helps boost and sustain energy levels, preserve muscle mass, optimise recovery and boost overall performance.

This meal needs to be well balanced and should include:

  • wholegrain carbohydrates
  • lean protein
  • some good fat
  • fibre in the form of vegetables or fruit

Pre-exercise snacks

In the hour before your workout, what you eat will depend on your goals. If fat loss is your primary goal, the most important thing for you is to create an energy deficit throughout your day so you may not want to have a pre-exercise snack. Instead you may wish to include protein powder somewhere else in your diet (in your porridge, yogurt or as an afternoon snack) as a practical way to boost your protein intake.

On the other hand, some people struggle to exercise on an empty stomach. Exercising with low blood glucose levels can also induce early fatigue, which may result in an overall lower calorie burn. Additionally, training on empty may leave you so hungry that you over eat after the session. This might mean that you need to prevent excessive over-eating and maintain a healthy energy balance by having a healthy pre-workout snack, such as a nutritious protein shake.

If you are looking to increase muscle mass, studies have shown that having a protein shake before exercise helps maintain muscle mass during training and reduce markers of muscle damage, therefore aiding recovery.

If your body composition is in check and it’s all about enhancing performance, then you need to focus primarily on carbohydrates and fast absorbed protein sources. The issue with eating closer to when you actually exercise is that you need to eat something that is easy to digest. That’s why liquid calories such as shakes and smoothies are recommended.

Post exercise shake

Should I eat after exercise?

When you train, your body breaks down protein and protein synthesis decreases. Your body also uses it’s stores of carbohydrates, resulting in lower glycogen levels. Sweating during the session also means that you’re often dehydrated after a session.

Post-workout nutrition has three specific purposes:

  1. Replenish fuel (glycogen) stores used during the training session
  2. Repair and rebuild any muscle damage
  3. Restore fluid and electrolytes lost in sweat

A post-workout dose of protein helps ensure a positive protein balance, which is vital for muscle growth. A shake also helps hydrate. Having a protein shake after exercise is therefore a great strategy for better recovery, adaptation and performance.

Initial research suggested that there is an optimal window of opportunity within the hour after exercise when the muscles are most receptive to absorption protein. However, the latest studies show that the total amount of protein and carbohydrate consumed over the course of the day is far more important to lean muscle gain, fat loss and performance improvements that any specific nutrient timing strategy.  

Swigging casein protein before bed may also promote muscle building. This is because it digests more slowly and releases its amino acids at a prolonged rate. In a recent study, protein synthesis was 22% higher in resistance-trained males who consumed 40g of protein in the form of casein drink before bed compared to those consuming the placebo drink.

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References:

  1. Protein. British Nutrition Foundation. Accessed online {https://www.nutrition.org.uk/nutritionscience/nutrients-food-and-ingredients/protein.html)
  2. Phillips S et al.2011.Dietary protein for athletes from requirements to optimum adaptation. J Sports Sci ( Suppl 1): S29-38
  3. Moore D et al. 2012. Daytime pattern of post-exercise protein intake effects whole body protein turnover in resistance-trained males. Nutrition & metabolism.9: 91
  4. Churchward-Venne T. 2012. Nutritional regulation of muscle protein synthesis with resistance exercise: strategies to enhance anabolism. Nutrition & Metabolism. 9:40
  5. Res P. 2012. Protein ingestion before sleep improves post-exercise overnight recovery. Med Sci Sport Exercise.
  6. Reidy P. 2016. Role of Ingested Amino Acids and Protein in the Promotion of Resistance Exercise Induced Muscle Protein Anabolism. J Nutr. 146 (2);155 – 83
  7. Cintineo H. 2018. Effect of Protein Supplementation on Performance and Recovery in Resistance and Endurance Training. Front Nutr.11.5.83
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