It’s a question as old as time: Should you drink your protein shake before or after a workout? There’s actually not a simple answer, due to the various types of protein available. Some are appropriate for pre-workout drinks and others for after a workout.
How Much Protein Do You Really Need?
The conventional wisdom is that you need .8 grams of protein per kilogram of lean mass per day. However, this is probably inaccurate. A comprehensive study found that twice as much was closer to the mark. Finding "lean mass" can be difficult, but the short answer is, you’re probably not getting enough protein. Protein shakes can help you to hit that target. What’s more, they can be a tasty treat, quenching your sweet tooth without the negative effects of sugary drinks.
It’s important to buy quality protein, though. Soy protein is one of the worst sources out there. Whey is the best for during the day, because of the quick time it takes to digest. Casein is the best for night time because it is slowly digested over the course of several hours.
What Kind of Protein to Drink When
As stated above, casein protein is great for right before bed. But what about before and after workouts? When to drink a protein shake is likewise influenced by the kind of protein you’re going to have.
Before you train, the best kind of protein to have is branch chain amino acids (BCAAs). These are effectively fragments of protein. They’re absorbed into the body much faster than fully formed proteins. This is what makes them perfect for drinking before and during the first part of your workout. Not only will they help you to grow muscle, they will also help to sustain you when your gas tank starts running low.
After you train, make yourself a protein shake out of whey protein. Again, this is a more quickly absorbing protein. You want to have this shake within 30 minutes after you work out. This is known as the "anabolic window." The thinking is that protein consumed outside of this time period isn’t converted into muscle as efficiently - or perhaps not at all.
Consider Your Goal
The other factor here is your goal when it comes to working out. If you’re looking primarily to lose weight and not necessarily to gain muscle, BCAAs before a workout will probably be enough to keep you from losing muscle while you work out. The rest will be down to consuming fewer calories than you burn throughout any given day.
On the other hand, if you’re looking to put on mass and get more muscle, you’re going to want to have a protein shake before and after - and doing all you can to make sure you hit your protein and caloric requirements for the day.
Ultimately, taking protein at a certain time won’t make a major difference in terms of how quickly you meet your goals. There’s no substitute for consistency - not even having your protein before or after a workout. But when it comes to actually getting through your workout (and your recovery), you’re going to want all the help you can get.