Protein is crucial if you’re hoping to get the most out of your workouts. And while many athletes are serious about their protein intake, there is still a lot of debate around the timing of that intake. So you may be wondering: Should I take protein before or after workouts?
Some athletes are squarely in the camp of drinking protein after their workouts, while others swear by drinking protein beforehands. But does the timing really matter? Is one better than the other? Should you actually do both?
Today we will go over all the details you need to know about proper protein supplementation. We’ll cover why protein is important, if (and how much) the timing matters, whether it’s better to have protein before or after workouts, and how to optimize your supplementation schedule.
Before we get into the benefits of taking protein before or after workouts, let’s discuss the benefits of protein for athletes in general, so you can understand the importance of adding it into your workout routine correctly.
Why is protein important for athletes?
There are many reasons why athletes use protein to reach their workout goals. Protein is important for your body because:
Protein can give you energy
Your body needs protein to function. If you have depleted protein levels, you won’t have the energy you need for an effective workout.
Of course, you shouldn’t rely only on protein. Your main source of quick energy is carbohydrates, so you should be sure to get a mix of carbs and protein in your diet.
But protein can increase your energy levels by providing your body with the amino acids it needs to function properly during intense workouts.
Protein speeds your recovery
The reason you feel sore after a grueling workout is because the strain you put your muscles under has created micro-tears in your muscle fibers. When your body repairs those micro-tears, your muscles build back stronger.
But when you’re trying to reach peak performance, you don’t want to wait any longer than necessary for your body ro recover. That’s where protein comes in. A high-quality protein source contains the amino acids your body needs to repair muscle fibers quickly.
Protein helps you feel satiated
No one wants to do a Spartan Race on an uncomfortably full stomach. It’s important to maximize the effect of your nutrients so you aren’t eating heavy foods that are full of calories and little else.
A quick protein supplement can make all the difference in your workout without physically filling you up. Best yet, it can make you feel full for a lot longer than carbs or fats. That’s because protein reduces the levels of the hunger hormone ghrelin which, in turn, helps you feel more satiated during exercise.
Protein builds muscle
The essential amino acids in protein are the major building blocks your body needs to grow muscle mass.
As we mentioned earlier, your muscles develop tiny tears when you challenge them during a workout. When you repair them, it makes your muscles a little bigger and stronger – and your body uses protein to do this.
So now that you understand just a few of the reasons why protein is important for your workouts, when should you take your protein? Should you have protein before or after workouts?
Let’s take a look at how to time your supplementation.
Does the timing of protein supplementation matter?
You’ve probably heard of the anabolic window. And if you haven’t, it’s the window of opportunity surrounding a workout where your muscles use protein most effectively.
For years, it was believed that that window of time was only 30 minutes long, so people claimed you should consume protein within 30 minutes of your workout. But recent studies have shown that the anabolic window is much longer than 30 minutes. And it’s not only limited to after your workout.
Really, you should just ensure that your pre- and post-workout meals are no more than four to six hours apart to maximize your results.
In fact, studies are finding that whether you drink protein before or after workouts isn’t nearly as important as how much protein you are taking, and the quality of protein you are taking. That being said, there may be a few differences when drinking protein before or after workouts.
So, what is the best time to drink a protein shake? Let’s take a look at the effects of drinking protein before or after workouts.
Should I take protein before or after workouts?
When it comes to whether to drink protein before or after workouts, the choice is yours! Studies have found that whether you take protein before or after workouts, it should have very similar effects on your muscles.
Choosing whether to take protein before or after workouts is a personal choice that depends on your lifestyle, goals, and needs. If you have a hard time working out on an empty stomach, maybe you would prefer to take protein before workouts.
If you feel sick when you eat before exercise, then obviously having your protein shake afterwards will be preferable for you.
Of course, there is no reason your protein has to be in the form of a shake either. You can eat some chicken breast, or have a high-quality liquid protein shot! As long as you are fueling your body with the right nutrients, you will be set.
That being said, there may be some slight differences when it comes to taking protein before or after workouts.
For example, taking protein before workouts can help your muscles activate and adapt better to your training. It may also help to reduce muscle breakdown during your workout – which improves your endurance.
If you take protein after your workouts, it will help to reduce inflammation, repair muscle breakdown, and give you a boost of energy by replacing fluids and nutrients that you lost during your workout.
Of course, if you are putting your body through high-intensity workouts like HIIT, CrossFit, Iron Man, or long-distance running, you might benefit from having protein before and after workouts – within a 30 to 45 minute window on either side. Make sure you add in some carbs, too.
If you are just doing the average workout or body-weight training, taking protein before and after workouts will be overkill, so you can choose before or after – whatever timing works best for you.
But, as we mentioned before, instead of asking, “Should I take protein before or after workouts?” you should really be asking, “How much protein should I be consuming?” or “What is the best protein for athletes?”
So let’s talk about how you can get the most out of your protein supplement.
Optimizing your supplementation schedule
To ensure you’re receiving the most benefits possible from your protein intake, it’s important to know how much protein to take, what type of protein to take, and how to choose the highest quality supplements.
How much protein should you take?
How many grams of protein to take after a workout depends on a few factors, such as your gender, your body weight, and the intensity of the exercise you’re doing.
To calculate your individual protein requirements, determine your body weight in kilograms but dividing your weight in pounds by 2.2. Then, calculate how many grams of protein you need based off of the intensity of your workouts:
- Low intensity: 0.8g per kilogram of body weight
- Moderate intensity: 1.2g per kilogram of body weight
- High intensity: 2.0g per kilogram of body weight
If you are body building, you may need a bit more protein. If you are an endurance athlete, you may need to replace some of your protein intake with more carbs.
In general though, the majority of athletes do not need to exceed 25 grams of protein at one time. Your body can’t even process more than 30 grams at once, so if you think doubling up on your protein will give your body extra nutrients, anything over 30 grams is going to waste.
Now that you know how much protein your body needs, let’s move on to the next question on many people’s minds: Can I drink two protein shakes in a day?
Can you have two protein shakes a day?
Yes, you can have two protein shakes a day. That being said, you shouldn’t exceed the amount of protein your body needs for peak performance, or you will end up with a too much protein stomach ache.
It’s also important not to replace your meals with protein shakes. They should be used around your workout, or as snacks between mealtimes. You should ideally be getting your daily protein intake from a variety of sources.
Let’s discuss what your options are.
What types of protein are there?
Once you decide whether to take protein before or after workouts, you need to decide what kind of protein you are going to take! Here are some of your protein source options:
Whole protein from animal sources
It’s important to get the majority of your daily protein intake from whole foods. Animal sources like meat, fish, and dairy products are great sources of protein, because they are complete protein sources that contain all nine essential amino acids. These are the ones your body cannot make on its own.
Whole protein from plant sources
Plant sources of protein are by and large incomplete proteins. If you are vegan or vegetarian, it’s important to research what essential amino acids different plant sources are lacking so you can find other plants to supplement with.
For example, legumes and veggies tend to be low in methionine and cysteine, while grains, nuts, and seeds tend to be low in lysine. Quinoa, soy, hemp, and chia are more complete sources of protein, but they contain less protein than animal sources.
While it’s great to get protein from whole sources, it’s not the most bioavailable way. If you want to fully digest your protein and make use of protein before or after workouts, you probably want to take a protein supplement.
One of the very best protein supplements for athletes is collagen protein. Collagen not only helps you to bulk up, it also helps with injury prevention and faster recovery when you do get injured – so you can stay in the game.
Whey protein is one of the most popular protein sources out there, but when it comes to collagen protein vs whey protein, collagen wins every time in our book. That’s because this milk-derived protein is harder to digest and causes issues for people with lactose intolerance.
Egg protein supplements are made from powdered egg white. They digest at a medium rate and tend to be some of the most expensive protein supplements on the market, so they aren’t the best choice for most people.
That being said, if you are vegetarian and lactose intolerant, egg protein may be a better option for you than plant based proteins.
Soy protein is one of the few plant proteins that contains all of the essential amino acids. There is some conflicting evidence around whether frequent soy intake messes with your hormones, so do some research before choosing this as your main protein supplement.
Rice and pea proteins
Rice and pea proteins are both incomplete protein sources, but combining them makes them a complete protein. If you want to shell out for both and mix them, they may be a good option for vegan athletes.
What is the most effective protein supplement?
If you want to get the very most out of your protein supplement, we recommend a collagen supplement. And not just any collagen supplements, but a hydrolyzed one.
Collagen has all the benefits of other animal proteins like whey and egg protein, but also contains additional healing and injury prevention benefits since collagen is THE protein your body uses to naturally build new tissue fibers.
Providing your body with extra collagen protein will help you to recover faster and workout for longer – and those are only a few of the liquid collagen benefits.
At Frog Fuel, our single-serving liquid collagen shots don’t need to be mixed with anything, making them easy to throw in your gym bag or pocket and take whenever you need them.
Whether you decide to take protein before or after workouts (or both) our liquid protein shots are an easy way to meet your protein goals.