Before or After: When is Best to Take Protein Powder?

Eat, lift, sleep, repeat is the classic mantra for anyone looking to bulk up and build muscle, but these days ‘drink your protein shake’ could comfortably sit in as an essential step in your fitness journey too. Getting enough protein is a big part of complimenting your training inside the gym, as it’s required to rebuild torn muscle fibres and help you grow even bigger ones. 

The general goal is to consume around 0.8 grams of protein per kg of body weight daily according to Harvard Health Publishing, although this differs based on each individual’s body and fitness goals. Athletes will need more per serving and more servings due to the breakdown of muscle fibres, whilst people who want to lose fat require a caloric deficit with a higher protein intake. You can find out more about how much you should be getting in alignment with your goals in our article How Much Protein Do I Need? 

Regardless of specifics, if you’re  exercising, you should be upping your intake. For most people, protein shakes are a great way to pack more into their diet, as they quickly provide around 25 grams per serving (like our vegan protein powder PERFORM) in a convenient powder form. 

But is it better to drink your shake before, or after a workout? Well, this can depend on your reason for using supplement powder in the first place. Here, we’ve covered some of the most popular reasons for consuming protein drinks, and what that means for when you should take them. 

  • Anabolic window for muscle gain: 30 - 60 minutes after working out

If you’ve heard of the “anabolic window”, you might be used to gulping your shake down as quickly as possible after your workout. The anabolic window is the 30 to 60 minute window of time after exercise - and the idea is that consuming some protein during this magical window will enhance muscle gain. 

The theory makes a lot of sense: as you have damaged your muscle fibres and depleted stores of glycogen, by consuming protein and a high glycemic index carbohydrate immediately after your workout, you can quickly provide the muscle tissue with nutrients. This is said to enhance muscle tissue recovery, increase muscle protein synthesis, and maximise strength gains.

However, the key to maximum results isn’t as simple as consuming protein within this small window and, no, your entire gym session won’t be wasted if you don’t manage to squeeze a shake in straight away. Further research has shown that consuming protein and carbs straight after a workout doesn’t influence the rate muscle recovers, nor does it increase the rate of muscle protein synthesis, which is the process of repairing your muscles after damage.

In fact, studies have concluded that there is no difference between consuming a mix of carbs and proteins 1 hour post exercise and 3 hours post exercise. Both pre and post-workout intake have the same effect on muscle tissue when paired with strength training - so, in terms of when you should be drinking your protein shake for maximum gains, the answer truly is that it doesn’t make a difference. 

  • Keeping up daily protein intake: consume throughout the day

What does matter, however, is that you hit your daily macronutrient targets. This means eating enough carbs to keep you fuelled for your workouts, and enough protein to keep your rate of muscle protein synthesis high, helping you to build and repair your muscle tissue after  training. 

You should be consuming a moderate amount of protein throughout the day, as opposed to eating your entire recommended daily amount at once. Ensuring you spread your intake throughout the day will help provide a sustained release of amino acids throughout your workout, keeping you energised and allowing you to complete high intensity exercise.

So, the most important thing is that you stick to your daily targets and consume enough calories, carbs and protein to help your body refill lost stores of energy, recovery and build new muscle tissue.

  • Fuelling your body for exercise: pre-workout

Having a pre-workout protein drink is ideal if you haven’t eaten anything in the last couple of hours.  You want to space your consumption out throughout the day for maximum gains, so drinking a shake will help keep you topped up and energised throughout your workout. Plus, it will help curb any hunger you might be feeling prior to your workout, keeping you going until you can dig into a full calorie meal. 

It doesn’t matter what the source looks like. One really simple meal to have to have 1 to 2 hours before your workout is a source of protein and some carbs, like Vivo Life’s WHOLE plant-based nutritional shake with some bananas.

The only real reason why you might not want to drink a protein shake is if you have a sensitive stomach. Some people do have a bit more difficulty digesting supplement powders and feeling sick or too full if they do intense exercise after drinking their shake. That’s why it’s best to opt for a raw or fermented protein powder for optimal digestion.

  • Supporting repair and recovery: post-workout 

Although you don’t need to rush to pack your protein in half an hour after a workout, consuming some after a workout will help kickstart the recovery process, aiding your muscles with the repair and rebuilding process. If you know you’re not eating for a while after your workout or you have a busy schedule, drinking a protein shake is an easy, convenient and portable way to ensure you’re feeding your muscles with the protein they need to repair themselves.

There aren’t really any cons to drinking protein after your workout unless you exercise late at night and don’t want a thick shake before bed. 

So there you have it! There are no hard and fast rules you have to play by when it comes to when you should take your protein powder and if you should have a shake before or after a workout. Ensuring you’re hitting your daily protein intake is the most important thing, so don’t sweat about timings or rushing to fit it in within a certain period - you can enjoy it leisurely at any time of the day.