Whether you should drink protein before workouts or after has long been a debate in the health and wellness community. And there isn’t really a clear-cut answer. There are plenty of benefits to having protein after workouts, but there are also benefits to drinking protein before workouts.
In fact, most of the benefits you can get from protein are there whether you take it before or after your workout. As always, evaluating your personal goals and needs for nutrition will help you make the best choice.
But can you take protein before a workout without any side effects? Are there any risks or obvious benefits to having pre-workout protein? Let’s take a look at the facts.
3 benefits of drinking protein before workouts
Is it better to take protein before or after workouts? Understanding the answer to this can help you fine-tune your workout routine, but finding an answer is tough.
Currently, there isn’t much research focusing on the effectiveness of protein before workouts vs. after workouts.
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.
That being said, research is constantly uncovering new ways to optimize your performance – including debunking current beliefs. One common belief is that protein should be consumed within an anabolic window 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.
Everyone’s body is different, and your genetic history, workout routine, dietary habits, and the time of day all play a role in your protein absorption rate. So while we wait for the research to catch up, here are three currently known benefits of drinking protein before workouts.
1. It can give you an energy boost
We’ve 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. Can you take protein before a workout without side effects?
Yes! Truthfully, the biggest and best benefit to drinking protein before workouts is the energy boost.
When you put off eating before a workout, chances are good that you’ll underperform and tire out much faster. Your body just won’t have the extra energy to burn! Carbs provide your body with a quick energy source, but they’re a match compared to protein’s steadily crackling fire.
In the past, you might have found that drinking a protein powder shake has caused stomach upset. If your workout was particularly intense, you might even have thrown up! This isn’t uncommon since most protein powders are made with whey protein.
The differences in collagen vs whey protein are varied, but when it comes to protein before your workout, go with collagen. Collagen’s quicker absorption rate and lack of lactose mean you’ll get the energy boost without the side effects.
2. Nutrient delivery to your muscles may improve
Another of the benefits of drinking protein before workouts is that it can potentially increase amino acid uptake.
Amino acids are the building blocks of protein molecules, like collagen, that help repair and build muscle. Your body rearranges amino acids in whatever configuration you need to build or repair the specific muscle, ligament, or bone that’s under stress.
Early studies suggest that there may be a correlation between drinking protein before workouts and better nutrient intake - and nutrient delivery.
This nutrient delivery of amino acids likely doesn’t 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.
“Nutrient delivery” is vague, but there’s one nutrient that’s absolutely essential to your athletic performance: oxygen. Oxygen delivery takes a hit when you have a protein deficiency.
Make sure your protein before workouts contains citrulline malate to boost oxygen delivery to your muscles during your workout. Citrulline malate benefits include its ability to help deliver more oxygen to your muscles, making it perfect to pair with protein.
3. Protein synthesis might get a boost
Our natural collagen and protein synthesis slows down as we age. Your body’s ability to synthesize protein is critical for building and repairing muscle, so boosting protein synthesis is a surefire way to improve your workout.
Protein before workouts, especially a pre-digested protein that’s easy to process, may increase protein synthesis during exercise. Collagen, in particular, has been shown to boost protein synthesis – in and out of the gym.
Adding protein before workouts or during a long workout could then potentially enhance muscle growth and recovery.
With an eye to protein synthesis, is it better to take protein before or after workouts? In this case, the answer is either. The most important thing when taking a supplement to boost protein synthesis is consistency.
Drinking protein as part of your workout routine will help you stay on track, though, so adding it to your pre-workout will give you this and the other benefits we mentioned.
Fine-tuning your protein supplementation
Every athlete has different protein needs for their goals. It starts with body weight and, from there, factors in what kind of exercise you do, how often you do it, your biological makeup, and what kind of goal you’re looking to reach.
When you’re trying to determine whether drinking protein before workouts or after will be a better fit for you, you’ll encounter lots of questions.
Can you take protein before a workout if you don’t usually take protein supplements?
Should you opt for whey powder or liquid collagen supplements?
And should you be concerned about taking too much protein?
For many athletes, finding the right protein (and the right time to take their protein) takes some trial and error. Give yourself the chance to try different options, and contact your healthcare team with questions about any side effects or specific needs.
Is it better to take protein before or after workouts?
There are a few factors to consider when deciding whether protein before workouts is “better” than after.
First is the kind of protein you’re using. As mentioned, whey protein probably won’t do you any favors before a workout. In fact, any protein with a slow absorption rate won’t help too much, especially if you take it right away.
Second, you’ll want to think about how much protein you’ve already consumed that day. 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.
This means that you should be consuming protein well before and after your workout, in addition to your usual pre- or post-workout supplement. The benefits we mentioned here might give protein before workouts a slight edge on protein after workouts, but check in with your body to see what’s working well for you.
How much protein is too much?
You might find yourself wondering if you can “overdose” protein.
“Can I drink two protein shakes in a day? Should I cut back on meat in favor of plant-based protein? Or is it the other way around? How much protein is too much, and can you even have too much protein?”
These are common questions, and it’s totally normal to wonder. When you’re trying to bulk up or build muscle, it can be tempting to pile on the protein. Fortunately, there’s lots of good science behind protein dosage, and it shows that athletes need more protein for muscle recovery and muscle growth. How much more protein?
First, check 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 on your weight, but should factor in the type and amount of exercise as well.
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 of 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 this should be determined based on the activity level and type of activity.
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, bodybuilders, 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.
Does it matter what kind of protein you take?
Absolutely. 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.
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.
This is one of the reasons hydrolyzed collagen is the best choice for protein before workouts. What is hydrolyzed collagen?
Collagen is an animal protein, frequently found in protein shakes and supplements. In its natural state, collagen is too large to be easily absorbed through your stomach pores. Hydrolyzed collagen boosts absorption by breaking the collagen molecules down.
Frog Fuel goes a step further and uses nano-hydrolyzed collagen for complete absorption in 15 minutes. This means that you get all the benefits of protein before workouts without the stomach upset caused by undigested protein.
How protein fits into your pre-workout routine
Adjusting your protein intake is one of the easiest ways you can supercharge your workout. Protein is one of the most basic building blocks of your muscles, and giving your body plenty of it means building and repairing muscles is quicker and easier.
Taking protein before workouts can easily fit into your routine, making it easy to head to the gym after work without feeling low on energy. A liquid hydrolyzed collagen supplement can even be stashed in your bag well ahead of time.
When it comes to your workout routine, consistency is key, so adding protein to your pre-workout routine helps you make sure you give your body just what it needs every time.