When is the Best Time to Drink a Protein Shake?
You’ve bought your protein powder, you have the recipes for some delicious smoothies, and you’re ready to make that shake, but now what? When is the best time to take a protein shake for maximum benefit?
Should you be drinking the protein shake BEFORE you work out or is it better to drink it AFTER the workout? Or is it even better to take in the morning or before bed? Here is a guide on when to take protein shakes based on your goals and for the most benefits.
Protein and Your Body
Protein is the body’s most important macronutrient. You need the essential amino acids found in protein to make every single structure in your body. It also boosts metabolism, helps make hormones, and helps you feel full after meals.
Another purpose of protein is to give your body the necessary amino acids that it can use to replenish muscles and build new ones after you exercise. When you work out your body needs protein to be rapidly available to refuel the muscles and provide the most benefits. The speed of the availability of the protein depends on the type of powder used, which we will discuss in a bit.
Getting enough protein in your diet, especially to support a tough workout, can be a challenge even for people who are free to eat whatever they want. Many protein-rich foods need to be cooked or prepared, but protein powders are a quick and easy option that can be used any time.
One of the best ways to ensure that you are getting enough protein every day is to take a supplement that is made almost entirely of protein. The reason that protein powders are so popular is that they offer a convenient way to get more protein into your diet.
A protein shake, depending on how you prepare it, can be used as a meal replacement, addition to a healthy meal, or as a snack. That way, you have total control over the amount of protein you are consuming. When to take a protein shake is totally up to you, it can be taken in many different ways.
When are the Best Times to Take Protein Powder?
Back to our original question, when is the best time to drink protein? The first thing to figure out is what are your goals? Are you trying to lose weight, build muscle, or just get more protein in your diet? Understanding this will help you determine the best time to drink protein to help you meet your goals.
If you just want more protein in your diet for overall health, you should drink your protein shake when it is most convenient for you. Some choose to have their protein shake at breakfast, whereas others enjoy it as a refreshing afternoon snack.
For other goals, you may need to take your protein shake at a specific time. Most people have no idea when the best time to take protein is for optimal muscle-building benefits. Frequently, they end up going about it completely wrong. Not only does this lead to less efficient muscle building, but it can actually cause you to gain weight and reduce the effectiveness of your workout!
The truth is that when to take protein powder can vary from person to person. The ideal time depends on your goals and the type of protein you are taking.
The secret to taking protein powder is all about using it wisely. Fast-acting protein powders give you a quick source of energy, while the slow-acting protein powders will help to repair your muscles after a workout. Understanding what type of protein to consume will help you determine when to drink a protein shake.
Types of Protein Powders
Protein absorption can vary based on many different factors, such as what other types of food you eat with it or how long it has been since your last meal.
A 2006 review found that in general, between 8 to 10 grams of whey protein is absorbed per hour, 6.1 gram/hour for casein, 3.9 grams/hour for soy, and 2.9 grams/hour for egg. Based on that information, here are the best times to take each type of protein powder.
Whey protein is a great pre-workout drink, as it gives your muscles a quick shot of energy. It helps your body enter the anabolic (growth) phase, promoting the growth of muscle fiber size and count.
However, the best time to take whey protein is after a tough workout within about 60 minutes. A whey protein shake contains the right balance of amino acids that will IMMEDIATELY get to work repairing your muscles. Drinking a shake after a workout can help to prevent a lot of the soreness that follows a high intensity workout.
Whey protein is also great for maintaining lean muscle mass while cutting back on calories. When you lose weight, you can lose too much muscle, slowing down your metabolism. Drinking a whey protein shake regularly can help keep your muscles and metabolism well-fueled, making it easier to keep the weight off once you reach your goals.
Eighty percent of the protein in milk is casein, the slow-acting type of protein that takes much longer for your body to break down and digest. Casein may not be ideal for quick muscle replenishment after a workout but might be beneficial for those struggling with constant hunger. This makes it a beneficial protein for those trying to cut calories and lose weight. The longer a protein takes to digest, the fuller you feel after taking it.
The best time to take protein powder made from casein protein is first thing in the morning, as it will help you stay full throughout the day. Casein can also be used before bed to help stabilize blood sugar overnight and restore and repair muscle.
Soy protein is a slower absorbing protein when compared to whey or casein. Its main benefit is that it contains more glutamine, an important amino acid for thyroid and immune health. It is also the only plant-based complete protein.
There is a lot of controversy surrounding it due to the fact that most soy is genetically modified and may alter hormones due to its phytoestrogen properties. But, if you choose to use soy protein powder, it is best as a midday snack as it can help you to push back your hunger pangs.
Egg protein is the slowest to digest. The study mentioned above used a whole cooked egg to measure protein absorption, not pure egg protein powder that is made of mostly egg whites. Therefore, the fat content of the egg may have had an influence on the results. Regardless, just like soy, the best time to have egg protein is as a midday snack, helping you to stave off hunger pangs and cravings until dinner.
There are a number of different protein powders made with a blend of two or more types of protein. A protein made with all three types of protein (slow, mid, and fast-acting protein) is a great option any time. A blended powder will give you the protein needed for immediate repairs, and the mid and slow-acting proteins will keep your body repairing the muscles all afternoon long.
When is it too late to drink a protein drink?
While you can drink a protein shake any time, there are a few times when it might be “too late”. Drinking protein immediately before bed, may cause stomach upset for some people.
But, others may find it beneficial for stabilizing blood sugar during the night. Optimally, if you want to use protein powder for blood sugar stabilization, drink it about 30-60 minutes before bed, so your body has a bit of time to digest the protein.
If you are using protein powders for muscle building, it is ideal to take it within 60 minutes of your workout. If for some reason you can’t get your protein in within that time frame, while it is not ideal, your body will still benefit from the additional amino acids no matter what. This means it is never truly “too late” to drink your protein shake.
When to take protein shakes for weight gain?
A lot of the conversation around protein shakes is about weight loss or muscle building. But, what if you need to gain weight? Can you use protein shakes for weight gain as well?
The answer is yes! Protein shakes are a great source of nutritious extra calories for those who need to gain weight. Adding a protein shake to your meals or snacks can be a great way to beef up your daily intake by 300-500 calories, depending on what you add to the shake.
Protein shakes are a great place to sneak in high-calorie ingredients like whole milk and nut butters, which help you effortlessly add calories to your day. Boosting your daily intake by 500 calories can help you gain around a pound a week.
So, protein shakes aren’t just for people that need to lose weight, they can also help you gain weight if you need to.
The Four Rules of Protein Supplements
Here are four rules to follow when deciding when to take a protein shake:
1) Always supplement post-workout. That’s when your muscles are at their neediest and taking protein immediately post-workout gives them the protein they need to repair and regrow stronger. Aim to have your protein within 60 minutes.
2) Consider supplementing pre-workout, if you don’t have time post-workout or if it has been several hours after your last meal. If you haven’t eaten in 3-4 hours, your body needs energy before your workout and taking a quick-acting protein supplement 30 to 60 minutes prior to exercise will give your muscles the energy to get through a training session.
3) Take before bed. If you tend to wake up hungry, consider a protein shake before bed. The slow-acting proteins taken before bed will do wonders for your body’s natural repairs and help you wake up refreshed. Try to drink it at least 30-60 minutes before you lay down.
4) Have protein powder first thing in the morning. If you are not taking protein at night, your body might need a dose of protein after a night’s sleep with no nutrition. Starting your day with protein powder sets it on the right metabolic track for the day! A high protein breakfast is also essential for weight loss.
The ideal time to take protein powder depends on your personal goals and preferences. While there are some rules to abide by, really you can take protein any time. Deciding when to take protein powder depends on your goals and the type of protein you are using.
Bilsborough, S., & Mann, N. (2006). A review of issues of dietary protein intake in humans. International Journal of Sport Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism, 16(2), 129–152.