Image of a man drinking a protein shake

When Is The Best Time To Drink A Protein Shake?

Last Updated July 29, 2016

In fitness, bodybuilding especially, you need a lot of nutrients to help you get big and strong, especially if you’re trying to get results quickly. While all of the substances you need are either naturally occurring in your body or available from food, it can be difficult to get the amount of nutrients you need from your daily meals – this is where supplements come in.

There are many different kinds of supplements, of which the most common is whey protein. One of the most hotly debated topics in the subcategory of whey protein is when to consume it. Before your workout? Before bed?

There are several theories on the best time to drink protein, and everyone holds what works for them as gospel. Before we break down the different times you can ingest protein shakes and what effects they have, let’s take a look at the supplement itself.

Whey Protein

Whey protein is basically a byproduct of making cheese. Before its nutritional (and commercial) value was recognized, it was simply discarded. Now, however, it is the most popular supplement, and thus the most purchased supplement on the market.

Whey protein is sold in powder form which is generally mixed with water or milk (but can be used in a variety of other things) and consumed for a quick boost of protein. I say quick boost because whey protein is absorbed into your body extremely quickly when compared to food – whey protein absorbs into your muscles in about 30 minutes, and other types of protein can take hours to break down.

Whey protein is generally inexpensive (depending on the brand), and helps provide your body with all of the amino acids it needs to rebuild your muscles after a tough workout. No protein = no gains.

The Different Times To Drink Protein

Now, we’re going to take a look at the most popular times to drink a protein shake and break down why they’re popular and effective by taking a look at the science behind it.

Post-Workout

Taking a post-workout protein shake makes sense. In fact, if we’re going to look at any time of day, taking in protein immediately after a workout makes the most logical sense.

When you work out, you deplete your muscles and your body is breaking down carbs and fats for energy and proteins to help your muscles recover from the damage from that last drop set. After a workout, the infamous “anabolic window” occurs, which basically says you have 90 minutes after your workout to take in protein and carbs or else sorry, no gains, that workout was for nothing, hit the showers.

It doesn’t actually work that way, your body doesn’t shut down at 91 minutes, but it is true that it’s more effective to re-feed your body sooner rather than later. Every minute your body spends depleted of nutrients is a minute where your body finds nutrients elsewhere; in your muscles, for example.

First Thing In The Morning

Drinking a protein shake in the morning also makes sense. You’ve been sleeping for 6-8 hours (…I hope. Remember, sleep to grow!) and your body hasn’t been taking in any nutrients for that entire time.

Sleep is integral to growth, as well as health, but you are effectively fasting when you are asleep. Jumpstarting your day with a protein shake ensures that your muscles are fed for the first leg of your day and keeps those size and strength gains coming.

Before Bed

In the same thread of thought, drinking a protein shake before bed can also be beneficial. When you’re laying down for bedtime, you’re entering a fast that will last 6-8 hours, in which your muscles will be starved if you didn’t get ample nutrients throughout the day.

Sipping on some whey before bed can help you rest easy knowing that your muscles aren’t hungry while you’re sleeping. Taking a protein shake with room temperature milk can also help you get into a deeper sleep faster if you don’t mind the taste and texture.

Pre-Workout

Why would you take a protein shake before your workout? Well, because you’re about to destroy your muscles.

When you work out, you are tearing the muscle fibers that compose your muscles so that they can repair themselves as bigger, stronger muscles. If your body is stacked with protein before a workout, it helps kick off the regenerative process and ensure that you don’t go catabolic (where your body breaks down your muscle tissue for energy – the sworn enemy of bodybuilders) before you can get your next meal in.

Just be sure to give yourself enough time to let it settle; having a stomach full of protein shake can turn a set of clean and presses into a set of clean-your-puke-off-the-gym-floors pretty quick.

Meal Time

Most protein shakes are not meant to be meal replacements; they are simply made to *ahem* supplement your protein intake. Treating every protein shake as a meal will leave you nutrient depleted very quickly.

With that said, there are some whey protein supplements that contain other nutrients and are marketed as meal replacement shakes. As the name implies, these can SPARINGLY be used to get in a quick meal when you’re on the go or you forget to pack a lunch. However, taking these for every meal will also leave you nutrient depleted eventually and can lead to health and stomach problems galore.

So, When’s The Best Time To Drink Protein?

When you’re trying to gain lean muscle and your protein intake isn’t what it should be (general rule of thumb is 1g per pound of bodyweight), any time is a great time to take a protein shake. For effectiveness, however, there a few key differences. All of the times we talked about are good to take protein shakes and can help you reach your fitness goals; but, the most effective is post-workout.

Taking a protein shake post-workout simply has the most benefits. Sleep doesn’t enable you to take in nutrients, but it also doesn’t work through nutrients nearly as quickly as working out – especially weightlifting. Pre-workout is good, but it acts more as a preventative measure, and if you have an especially intense workout you could still go catabolic afterwards without a post-workout intake of protein.

If you’re only drinking one protein shake per day and you want to time it just right, always aim to pack in some protein after you hit the weights, your body will thank you.

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