Protein is an essential nutrient that supports body structure, function, and regulation. So, whether you’re among the one billion people who need more protein in their diet or are interested in increasing your protein intake for fitness or weight loss goals, protein shakes can be a beneficial solution to increase your intake.
However, the timing of when you drink protein shakes is crucial to maximizing their benefits. Knowing the best time to drink protein shakes will make your shakes work for you. Let’s get shaking!
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When To Drink Protein Shakes for Workouts
If building muscle and increasing your fitness level is why you’re interested in protein shakes, you’re undoubtedly wondering, Is it better to drink a protein shake before a workout or post-workout? According to science, it doesn’t appear to matter.
There’s a long-held belief that people working out have an anabolic window that requires them to consume protein shortly after exercising to reap amino acids’ muscle-building powers. However, after studying the body composition changes in men who consumed the same 25-gram supplement, it appeared the protein had near equal impact pre- and post-workout.
Researchers concluded that it’s likely okay to drink a protein shake before or after a workout and receive similar results. Furthermore, they found that the window for how effective your protein shake will be before and after exercising is wider than the 30-minute or so window that fitness gurus used to follow (and often still believe).
Therefore, you’ll likely have excellent results as long as you consume your protein shake within a couple of hours of exercising. Of course, if you’re keen on staying within a narrower timeframe to drink your protein shake before or after exercising, that’s great too. Consuming protein too close to a workout will not negatively impact your fitness and muscle building.
When To Drink Protein Shakes for Weight Loss
Is your goal to drink protein shakes for weight loss? If so, you’re likely better off incorporating protein powder into your breakfast routine. Scientists have found that protein is the most filling of the macronutrients. That’s because protein has satiating properties since it reduces ghrelin, which is a hunger hormone.
A study on ghrelin secretion in men showed that eating a high-protein breakfast decreased ghrelin concentrations “more strongly” than those who had a high-carbohydrate breakfast. As a result, it’s less likely that you’ll feel the need to consume excess calories throughout the day if you drink a protein shake in the morning.
The Caveat of Protein Shakes for Weight Loss
Knowing when to drink protein shakes for weight loss is only half of the equation. The other half is purchasing low-calorie and low-carbohydrate products. Carbohydrates are a slow-burning nutrient, so while eating high-carbohydrate foods will give you plenty of energy, they will also stick around as extra weight if you consume too many of them.
According to the Mayo Clinic, if you reduce your calorie intake by 500-1,000 calories per day, you can expect to lose around one pound per week. Because of this, it’s crucial to choose a protein shake that’ll fit within your calorie reduction goals.
Some protein powder shakes have the opposite effect. That’s because they specifically cater to people trying to gain weight through muscle and therefore pack in hundreds of calories, fat, and carbs per protein powder scoop.
Morning vs. Nighttime Protein Shake Consumption
We’ve established that it’s best to consume a protein shake in the morning, at a minimum, if you’re trying to lose weight. However, drinking a protein shake at night shouldn’t hurt your weight loss goals as long as you stay within your daily allotted calorie intake.
Several 6-12-month studies have even shown that eating higher protein concentrations than the standard dietary allowance can help people reduce body weight and improve their body composition. People wanting to lose weight may benefit by consuming a protein shake in the morning and at least one other time throughout the day.
It’s so important to consume protein before or after working out, regardless of the time of day, because you create tears in muscle tissue when exercising, especially during strength training. In an ideal world, satellite cells will then target your muscle area, replicate, and fuse to your muscle fibers, adding and strengthening muscle.
However, satellite cells require amino acids to help with this fusion and replication process. Since amino acids make up protein, consuming protein shakes before or after a workout, day or night, will help with muscle repair and growth.
It could also be beneficial to consume a protein shake at night to improve strength for future resistance training, sustain metabolism-boosting effects, and reduce muscle mass loss, which is beneficial for older people who have a greater chance of muscle deterioration.
There’s one time when drinking protein powder at night always makes sense, and that’s if you want the amino acids working for you as you sleep. In that case, it’s best to consume casein protein at night.
The Differences Between Whey and Casein Protein
As you’re planning when to drink protein shakes, choosing the type of protein you consume is vital to ensure you’re working towards your desired results. Two of the most common types of protein powders are whey and casein.
Both of these protein forms are dairy products and contain all of the essential amino acids that your body requires. However, they have several differences, the most significant being how quickly your body digests them.
Whey protein is the easiest for your body to break down and absorb, which happens in as little as 20 minutes. For this reason, whey protein shakes are an excellent option to drink either shortly before or after a workout.
In contrast, casein protein takes longer for the body to digest. So, you can expect casein’s amino acid powers to work 3-4 hours after you consume it. For this reason, some people nickname it the “slow-release” protein powder.
As you may imagine, casein protein is better suited for people wanting to use protein to lose weight, given that it’ll keep them full for longer. Doubling up on these proteins can also be a great choice for people working out who want to combine whey’s fast-release effects with the slower release of casein.
Other Qualities of Whey and Casein Protein
Aside from the time-release differences between whey and casein protein, they differ in some other areas as well. Casein clumps more in liquids and has a grittier texture, while whey usually tastes better and is cheaper per gram than casein protein.
If you’re serious about using protein shakes to level up your fitness goals, using a combination of whey and casein protein shakes and timing them according to our suggestions is an excellent option to get the unique benefits from each type of powder.
Other Protein Shake Options
Here’s the good news: Whether you’re vegetarian, vegan, or have other dietary constraints, there are many other types of protein powders that you can use. Examples include:
- Pea protein
- Hemp protein
- Egg protein
- Brown rice protein
- Mixed plant protein
While each of these protein options has its unique features, it’s okay to follow the guidelines discussed here in terms of when to take them. You can expect them to offer similar muscle-building and weight loss properties as whey and casein protein.
Can Protein Shakes Serve as a Meal Replacement?
It’s no secret that some people use protein shakes as a meal replacement. But is it healthy to do so?
According to nutritionists, it isn’t. That’s because it’s crucial to have a combination of protein, fat, and carbohydrates for a well-balanced diet. You should aim to ensure that 40-60% of any given meal comes from unprocessed carbohydrates, 10-35% of your meal is protein-based, and the remaining nutrients are unsaturated fat sources.
Of course, your motivation for wanting to drink protein shakes also comes into play. Meals that are high in protein and low in carbohydrates often help with weight loss. If your goal is to use an increased protein intake to lose weight, consuming a higher amount of protein in the short term will likely support the results you’re seeking while avoiding long-term health issues.
On the other hand, athletes or people who do high-intensity workouts at the gym often need to go against this balance. Professional athletes will often maintain protein consumption while doing carbohydrate loading anywhere from one to three days before a high-intensity activity. That way, they increase the energy-friendly glycogen content in their muscles.
Understanding Protein Absorption
Now that you know when to drink your protein shake, it’s equally important to understand how much protein your body can absorb at one time. After all, protein shakes can significantly add to your grocery bill, so you don’t want to be consuming more than you need.
The general belief is that the average healthy young adult can synthesize 20-25 grams of protein at a time. In theory, your body will then use any excess protein for urea and organic acid formation, or oxidize it for energy. However, a study found that while the 20- 5-gram guideline is generally true, the body uses some protein over this threshold for building muscle tissue.
The study recommended eating protein over the course of four meals throughout the day to maximize how much protein your body uses for muscle growth. As of now, the international recommended dietary allowance is 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight, but it’s unnecessary to consume all of that protein at once; instead, spread it out throughout the day.
If you still need some more information about the timing of your protein shakes and other factors involving protein consumption, here are frequently asked questions about protein shakes:
How many protein shakes should I have a day?
You should consume around seven grams of protein for every 20 pounds of body weight. However, it’s best to use protein shakes as a supplement for consuming protein in addition to getting protein through food. Determine what percentage of your protein you want to consume from shakes and eat protein-rich foods to get the rest.
Is it okay to drink a protein shake on an empty stomach?
For most people, it’s okay to drink a protein shake on an empty stomach. Since your body can easily absorb protein, especially whey, it usually doesn’t lead to issues.
Nevertheless, we recommend ensuring your protein shake has a balance of carbs and fats if you plan to drink it on an empty stomach and use it as a meal. Otherwise, it’s best to supplement your shake with real food.
Is it okay to drink a protein shake every day?
Yes, it’s okay to drink a protein shake every day. However, it might not be necessary depending on your goals, exercise routine, and the other food you consume.
For example, if you want to drink protein shakes to build muscle mass, consuming them within a couple of hours before or after your workout is beneficial. However, they may not be as necessary—although certainly not harmful—to drink on rest days as long as you’re getting enough daily protein from food.
The Bottom Line
There’s no clear-cut answer for knowing when to drink protein shakes, as the timing of your protein shake consumption depends on your body and your personal goals.
However, as a general rule, people wanting to lose weight should frontload most of their protein consumption throughout the morning. In contrast, people wanting to build muscle mass should consume protein within a couple of hours before or after their workout, which means drinking a protein shake at any time of day.
Regardless, it’s crucial to remember that your body won’t be able to use excessive amounts of protein within a single sitting after about 25 grams. So, it’s best to spread your protein intake throughout the day. Maximize this macronutrient and you’ll be well on your way to a super-strong lifestyle!