Whether you should drink protein before workouts or after has long been a debate in the health and wellness realm. There isn’t really a clear cut answer either, which can make things even more confusing.
There are plenty of benefits to having protein after workouts, but there are also benefits to drinking protein before workouts. So the best way to approach this question in your life is to evaluate your personal goals and needs when it comes to nutrition and fueling your workouts.
This article is not intended to sway you one way or the other. We simply want you to know what the benefits to taking protein before workouts are so you can make that choice for yourself.
So, should I drink protein before or after my workout?
No one body is exactly the same, and that means we all have varying needs when it comes to protein. One thing that we won’t debate is that athletes need more protein for muscle recovery and muscle growth.
How much more protein?
First, you should consider what your Recommended Daily Allowance (RDA) of protein actually is for your activity level and body composition. In most cases, your RDA is going to be based off of your weight, but should factor in the type and amount of exercise as well.
The thing is, whether you know your RDA for protein or not, you will not be able to consume and properly process all of the protein you need for the day in one sitting. Your body has limits and one of them is how many nutrients it can process and absorb at once.
That’s why many experts suggest spreading out your protein intake throughout your day with a mix of high-quality protein sources. Including protein in various meals, as well as protein before workouts or after your workouts, gives your body a chance to process and apply the protein.
It should also be acknowledged that when you take protein supplements in correlation with your workout it can impact muscle recovery and help you achieve specific goals.
In fact, a common belief is that protein should be consumed within an anabolic window of time following a workout, but more recent research has begun to question that idea.
The anabolic window of when protein is most effective for athletic performance and muscle recovery is now thought to be much longer and more variable than the traditional 30-minute time slot.
Unfortunately, there is not extensive research focusing on if protein before workouts or after workouts is more effective. There is one known study that did set out to answer this question, but the results found little to no difference between muscle strength or development between the pre or post workout groups.
The current consensus then is to take your protein when it works best for your body and spread it out throughout the day.
Before you jump on board and start drinking protein before workouts (especially if you already have a post-workout protein routine), be sure you know how much protein your body actually needs.
Is it possible to consume too much protein?
As mentioned before, every athlete has different needs when it comes to protein consumption to reach their goals. It starts with body weight and also often factors in the type and amount of exercise.
When you are trying to bulk up or build muscle, it can be tempting to pile on the protein to try and fast track your results, but too much protein may actually derail your desired results.
The National Academy of Medicine has determined that adults on average should be consuming 0.8g of protein per kilogram of body weight per day.
The easiest way to determine a baseline for your RDA of protein intake is to multiply 0.36 by your weight.
As an example, an adult that weighs 150 lbs would have a protein RDA or 54g (150 x 0.36 = 54). The reason it is 0.36 vs 0.8 is because you are taking your weight in pounds instead of kilograms.
If you want to calculate your RDA of protein with your weight in kilograms, then use 0.8 as the multiplier.
It is possible to consume too much protein though, and an excessive amount of protein in your diet over long periods of time can impact your digestive health, kidney functioning, and even your vascular health.
Still, there are other factors that may require you to eat more protein, such as extensive physical activity or pregnancy. In most cases, it is established that most athletes can safely consume at least double the amount of their baseline RDA of protein, but should be determined based on the activity level.
In general, you can add a certain amount of protein to your diet based on your activity level.
For people that perform some activity, but not strenuous activity (walking, stretching, etc.), they can feel free to add 1g of protein per kg of their body weight.
Athletes that perform regular but moderate physical activity (weight training, elliptical, etc.) can add 1.3g of protein per kg of their body weight.
Endurance athletes, body builders, runners, and other people that perform intense physical activity on a regular basis can add up to 1.6g of protein per kg of their body weight.
Taking that information combined with the baseline RDA information you have, you can easily calculate how much protein you should be consuming to maintain your goals and overall health as an athlete.
Now that you have that information, you can safely drink protein before and after workouts. But beyond simply getting more protein into your body, what are the actual benefits of drinking protein before workouts?
3 benefits of drinking protein before workouts
More research still needs to be conducted to understand all the ways drinking protein before workouts benefits your health and performance. That being said, here are three amazing benefits we know about so far.
1. It can give you more energy for your workout
We have all been there: hungry before heading to the gym (or out on a run) but not sure if we should use our protein as a pre-workout snack.
When you put off eating before a workout and don’t have enough energy, you are more likely to underperform and fatigue faster.
But the truth is that sometimes protein isn’t the best option before you workout, especially if you are using a protein powder, because protein powder isn’t great for sensitive stomachs.
In some cases, drinking a protein powder or eating something heavy like that can cause stomach upset and, if you’re planning an intense workout, it could even make you throw up.
That said, there are great pre-workout protein options on the market if you want to satiate your hunger with protein and fuel your workout accordingly. Look for proteins that have a fast protein absorption rate, like Frog Fuel liquid protein supplements.
Depending on the length of your workout you may even benefit from adding some fuel mid-workout. Mid-workout protein can often benefit endurance athletes by helping them keep their energy levels up and jump start muscle recovery.
2. It may improve nutrient delivery to your muscles
There is some speculation that one of the benefits of drinking protein before workouts is that it has the potential to increase amino acid uptake. Amino acids are the building blocks of protein molecules, like collagen, that help repair and build muscle.
Although there is not extensive research on this topic, early studies suggest that there may be a correlation between drinking protein before workouts and better nutrient intake - and therefore nutrient delivery.
This nutrient delivery of amino acids isn’t thought to stop after your workout either. By taking a pre-workout protein supplement, there is a higher likelihood of blood amino acid carryover from during your workout to your post-workout.
3. It is thought to help with protein synthesis
It has become widely accepted that our natural collagen protein synthesis slows down as we age. With that, having ways that we can boost our protein synthesis is beneficial for anti-aging and athletic purposes.
Protein before workouts, especially a pre-digested protein that’s easy to process, may increase protein synthesis during exercise. Adding protein before workouts or during a long workout is then thought to enhance muscle growth and muscle recovery.
When you are using a pre-digested protein, your body is given the amino acids it needs to make new protein molecules. Much like possibly improving your nutrient delivery, when taking protein before workouts you may enhance protein synthesis.
Choose the best pre-workout protein for your goals
While we are still discovering the benefits of protein before workouts versus protein post workout, it is important to remember that one, the other, or both work for you.
For many athletes, finding the right protein (and the right time to take their protein in correlation with their workout) takes some trial and error.
Along with knowing your RDA of protein, choose a protein based on the protein absorption rate. Not all protein supplements interact with your body in the same way, and a lot of that has to do with the molecule size of the protein.
For instance, when looking at collagen protein, if it is consumed in the whole form, it is very difficult for your body to digest because of the molecule size in comparison to your stomach pores.
If the protein molecules are larger than your stomach pores then your body has to work much harder to break that protein down into smaller pieces to be able to use it. In most cases, your body is unable to digest most of the protein if the molecules are too big - and it can cause stomach distress and will be unused.
That’s why when talking about one of the potential benefits of using protein before workouts, protein synthesis, the study we referenced mentioned pre-digested protein supplements. An example of a pre-digested protein supplement is a hydrolyzed collagen.
When collagen goes through hydrolysis, it can also be referred to as collagen peptides. This process of hydrolysis breaks the whole collagen molecule down into smaller, more digestible pieces.
But that’s not the only piece to the pre-digested protein puzzle.
Finding a highly digestible protein, like Frog Fuel, means that it is likely nano hydrolyzed and contains additional enzymes to help speed up absorption and digestion.
Nano hydrolyzed collagen has gone through hydrolysis more than once so that the molecules are even smaller. This makes Frog Fuel nano-hydrolyzed liquid protein perfect as your protein before workouts. It will be absorbed quickly - and fully - by your body, so you can get the very most out of your workout.