Dietary proteins are the building blocks of muscle. Our bodies do not produce or store certain proteins necessary for functioning muscles, and thus, we need to get our protein from our diet. However, meeting your daily protein requirements can sometimes feel like a chore when you have some coaches telling you to take protein before strength training, and others telling you to take some after your workout.
Whether to drink a protein shake before or after working out is one of the most common and confusing questions fitness enthusiasts wrestle with. It seems almost unfair that you can exercise your hardest, lift your heaviest, and try your best only for your results to not be optimized depending on when you consume your protein.
High protein diets are associated with greater feelings of fullness (satiety) and fat burning -- among other benefits to health -- so it is important we consume enough of it and through the best routes possible.
Today, we're gonna dissect the mystery surrounding protein shakes, supplementation timing, and how exactly you can improve your results depending on supplementation timing.
WE WILL BE TAKING A LOOK AT:
- How protein requirements differ between people, and why the minimum requirements don’t necessarily mean the optimal requirements.
- How your total protein intake factors into the equation
- Why timing matters depending on the kind of exercise you do, and what habits you already practice.
By the end of this article, we want you to be better-equipped with important information on protein supplementation, and especially how to best time your protein intake so that you maximize your results.
First off, did you know that recommended daily protein requirements are not as simple as they appear?
PROTEIN REQUIREMENTS ARE OFTEN MISUNDERSTOOD
Everybody is different; thus, “every body” needs a set amount of calories, fat, protein, and carbohydrates to function best. This shouldn’t come as a big surprise though since common sense should tell you that a 220lb powerlifter needs to eat a diet different than that of a 150lb cross-country runner.
There is a popular rule of thumb that you should strive to eat about as many grams of protein as your weight in kilograms; this is derived from the Food and Nutrition Board of the Institute of Medicine, The National Academies’ Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) suggestions. However, did you know that RDA only captures the minimum requirements necessary to prevent muscle atrophy?
This means that while an 85kg male can function fine on 83-85g of protein, this individual is only meeting the bare minimum protein requirement.
Not only that, there are multiple factors at play here, and you should consider them when deciding how much protein is optimal for your lifestyle.
- Age: younger individuals may require less daily protein than older individuals.
- Health conditions: acute and chronic illnesses affect how much protein you should be eating.
- Physical activity level: related to what we have already discussed, a more active person exerting more energy per day requires more protein.
Taking protein at a time that fits your lifestyle includes considering your age, any existing health conditions, and how active you are in your day to day life. Dietary protein, luckily, is easy to incorporate into your diet without too much effort.
THE BEST SOURCES OF DIETARY PROTEIN:
- Animal Protein: eggs, fish, beef, chicken, and dairy products.
- Plant-Based Protein: hemp, legumes, peas, buckwheat and lentils.
Meeting your daily protein requirements should be a cinch with these foods added to your diet, or so you may think. While protein consumption is linked to better general health and development, adult protein intake has been found to be inadequate on average, leading to greater loss of bone and muscle density with age.
Thus, while protein requirements and the type of protein you eat can vary, the growing epidemic of adults with clinically significant protein deficiency is clear. ATH Organics is equipped with effective protein supplements to maintain muscle and assist recovery post-workout because everyone should have the opportunity to age successfully and perform at their best.
With all of these options, it is important to remember that optimal daily protein intake is achievable, and it might even matter more than the time of day you choose to take some.
TOTAL PROTEIN INTAKE MATTERS
So the story we’ve covered so far has looked at the importance of protein for health, and how not getting enough of it (despite its availability) can cause problems.
Timing your protein correctly is a big deal, but researchers have discovered that adhering to a strict time of when you drink your protein shake may not be as crucial as you think. Dietitians, physiologists, coaches, and clinicians are all interested in maximizing protein intake with respect to how effectively your body uses it to build muscle.
Countless randomized, controlled clinical trials have looked at these factors and a recent meta-analysis (analyses of existing data sets) of over 478 subjects revealed the following:
- Trials that looked almost exclusively at protein timing and muscle hypertrophy outcomes were included, and their effect sizes were focused on muscle strength, development, and overall health.
- Across all trials, there were no significant differences in hypertrophy-related muscle formation in groups that drank protein within an hour before or after exercise.
- The effect size was only significant with respect to total daily protein intake, suggesting that the window of time often recommended for maximum gains is much longer than is commonly known.
It is important to note that these data all have one thing in common; getting a lot of protein in your diet is a good thing, regardless of when you do it. If you schedule your protein shakes around your workout, you are still benefiting your body through routine protein supplementation.
But protein timing still matters, especially depending on the type of exercise you regularly engage in.
POST-WORKOUT PROTEIN SUPPLEMENTS ARE BEST IF YOU EXERCISE VIGOROUSLY AND OFTEN
We have spent quite a bit of time talking about how much total daily protein matters, but if you are still grappling with whether or not to drink a protein shake before or after, post-workout may be your best bet.
When we exercise, we rely on the energy that we have acquired through eating; that is part of why a healthy, nutrient-dense diet is key to overall fitness. Once this energy source has been depleted (or if we have been fasting), we then rely on glycogen stores; after that, we depend on burning adipose (fat) tissue.
There is some discrepancy between whether or not to take advantage of this additional fat burning post glycogen depletion, and many people may not be too keen on exercising in a fasted state. If you exercise to your absolute limit and are looking to improve lean muscle gains, drinking a protein supplement with a balanced protein and carbohydrate profile can lead to better outcomes.
Thus, if you’re used to timing your protein shake, consider drinking it post-workout for the following reasons:
- If you have been exercising in a fasted state, to the point of exhaustion, consuming protein immediately after can lead to increased muscle hypertrophy.
- If you have whey or casein protein blends on hand, taking them post-exercise may maximize your gains, as demonstrated in a recent study conducted at McMaster University.
- Eating a heavy pre-workout meal changes the way your body burns fat due to “competing challenges", when exercising, so consuming the majority of your macronutrients post-exercise can be beneficial.
If anything, eating post-exercise adheres to the principle of consuming protein around your workout, which has been demonstrated to help improve recovery and muscle size in the long run.
ATH Organics is on a mission to equip readers with the latest knowledge, products, and support as you continue on your fitness journey. Protein intake is important to remember when designing a workout since the amount and kind of protein you eat or drink affects the size of your gains.
Protein requirements vary between individuals, and the question of whether to drink a protein shake before working out or after depends on your individual activity level, eating habits, and sources of protein you choose.
Total protein intake may be more important to consider, especially when the benefits of a high-protein diet include successful aging and improved bone health. However, achieving this optimal intake for your lifestyle is best accomplished through a diet rich in protein, and high-quality protein powders with favorable carbohydrate-to-protein content.
If you have to choose before or after, consider your habits and if you’re in a fasted state; you may benefit from one over the other, and it’s a discussion to continue with your coach and physician.
Check out ATH Organic’s online shop for all your post-workout and pre-workout boosts. Our comprehensive line of supplements is designed to help every athlete reach their best.