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Home » OSL Blog » When To Drink Protein Shakes? Before, After, or During

When To Drink Protein Shakes? Before, After, or During

January 26, 2020

Key Takeaways

  1. For years, protein intake recommendations have been the same, regardless of body weight, age, gender or activity level. However, we’ve learned that the harder you work out, the more protein you need.
  2. Women who are pregnant or breastfeeding also have different protein intake needs than women who are not.
  3. The best time to drink protein shakes depends on your goals. To lose weight, it may be best to drink it early in the day. To gain weight, drink it before bedtime.
  4. The time of day is not as important as getting in enough protein throughout the day. High-protein diets are not harmful unless you have certain health issues.

If you go to the gym, you’ve likely seen this scenario play out more than once. Someone is standing next to the racks or in the dressing room with their shaker bottle. More than likely, that bottle contains a protein shake that they’re drinking during or after their workout.

Bodybuilders, powerlifters, serious fitness buffs, and even science & doctors agree that protein is important for muscle gains

Bench Pressing

But, how often should you consume protein, or drink protein shakes? 

And, what’s the best time of day to eat or drink protein to get the maximum benefit? Is the answer different if you’re a woman or a man?

Today, we’ll answer those questions and more.

First, let’s look at how much protein you should get in a day.

Then, we’ll talk about different fitness goals and figure out if there is a ‘best time’ to consume protein, with a particular focus on protein in shake form as it is one of the most common intake methods for gym-goers and fitness enthusiasts today.

How Much Protein Should I Get Each Day?

The amount of protein people need in a day is a debated topic. For years, the Recommended Dietary Allowance for protein is 0.8 grams per kilogram body weight per day (g/kg/d). This amount is across the board – regardless of:

  • Gender 
  • Age
  • Bodyweight
  • Activity level

However, research has shown that the number is vastly underestimated. Not only that but the more active you are, the more protein you need. This makes sense since protein is essential to build muscle and repair it.

Active People More Protein

This study advises that adult men should have between 0.93 and 1.2 g/kg/day. That’s as much as 50% higher than what the RDA recommends.

Another study suggests even more, 1.2 to 1.6 g/kg/day for optimal health. Why the discrepancy? 

It has to do with the way testing is done to come to a conclusion for minimum intake to prevent malnutrition. The RDA uses a nitrogen balance technique while the study referenced above uses an Indicator Amino Acid Oxidation (IAAO) technique.

Here’s the difference:

  • Nitrogen balance technique: Subjects eat a specific diet for weeks and only then are tested. The problem with this technique is that it allows the body time to adapt to lower protein intakes. The body is able to adapt through nutritional adaptation and accommodation, which can skew the data.
  • Indicator Amino Acid Oxidation technique: This newer technique is much more rapid and reliable, allowing assessment as soon as 24 hours. The body is unable to adapt to protein changes that quickly, which gives a more realistic understanding of protein synthesis.

How Much Protein Should I Be Getting?

Now that we’ve discussed the different methods and the fact that the RDA is underestimated, here’s the important question. How much protein should you be getting each day to help you meet your goals?

How much protein do I need

Let’s check out a breakdown of suggested ranges based on activity level and goals:

  • Sedentary individuals: The absolute minimum per day should be at least 1.2 g/kg. If you don’t have any muscle building or weight goals, make sure you hit this target. Even at higher daily protein levels, most people won’t gain weight as long as they keep their calories in check.
  • Healthy, active individuals: The target range to maintain weight and muscle is at least 1.6 g/kg.  If you want to maintain muscle and not gain body fat, you can safely consume higher protein levels without increasing fat-free mass.
  • Healthy, active, and muscle building: To build muscle, you want higher daily protein intakes of 1.4 – 2.4 g/kg. For powerlifters, bodybuilders, and people in the bulking phase, you may need as much as 3.5 g/kg. This higher range will help preserve and rebuild muscle while reducing the risk of weight gain.
  • Healthy, active, and losing body fat: This category will need close to the same range as the muscle builders, 1.6 – 2.4 g/kg or higher. As your body weight reduces, you’ll want to increase protein intake.
  • Overweight or obese individuals: This group will have lower initial protein intake goals of 1.0 – 1.5 g/kg. As you lose the pounds, you’ll want to increase protein intake, like the previous group.

What about Women and Older Adults?

Women, in general, tend to have higher body fat percentage and lower muscle weight compared to men. So, are their protein requirements different as well?

In certain cases, yes.

If a woman is pregnant, she’ll want to increase protein intake as the pregnancy progresses. Pregnancy increases the minimum daily intake recommendation to 1.1 g/kg/day. That number increases to 1.22 g/kg/day throughout and then in late pregnancy, up to 1.52 g/kg/day.

Protein Intake Women

This study shows that higher protein amounts can actually reduce infant mortality and low birth weight. Once the mom is breastfeeding, higher protein levels of at least 1.5 g/kg/day should be maintained.

As we age, physical activity usually reduces at some point. To keep as much muscle mass as possible, it’s recommended that the elderly get at least 0.94 and 1.29 g/kg/day. The numbers are slightly different between men and women, but not by much.

Now that we’ve covered pretty much all the bases on adequate protein intake, let’s get down to it. When is the best time to drink protein shakes to hit your goal, whether for weight loss or weight gain? And is it better to drink a protein shake before or after a workout?

When is the Best Time to Drink Protein Shakes for Weight Loss?

With losing weight, there are two tried-and-true methods: reduce calories and increase exercise. Protein intake helps in both of these areas by reducing cravings and building and repairing muscle.

Protein works to manipulate hunger hormones by decreasing ghrelin and increasing glucagon-like peptide 1 (GLP-1). It also helps you feel full for longer periods, reducing overall caloric intake.

Fat person working out

When focusing on weight loss, overweight men increased their protein consumption by 25% for 12 weeks. Each participant ate either three or six meals per day without a predictable pattern. At the end of the trial, eating three meals per day with higher protein intake saw two changes:

  • The participants felt fuller throughout the day
  • There was less desire for late-night snacking
  • They were less preoccupied with thoughts of food throughout the day

In this study, ten male athletes consumed a protein shake one hour after breakfast. They were each tested at 20g, 40g, 60g, and 80g to see if there was an optimal amount to ingest.

The results found that each person felt anywhere from 50 to 65% less hungry throughout the day after drinking the shake.

There was no significant difference from 20g to the higher amounts. It suggests that using at least 20g of protein supplement will decrease hunger and aid in weight loss.

To aid with weight loss, it may be best to drink your protein shake early in the day after breakfast. Depending on the amount of calories you need, a protein shake may be a good breakfast or lunch replacement.

When is the Best Time to Drink Protein Shakes for Weight Gain?

For many, weight gain usually means building muscle, but for some, that could also include increased body fat.

For those looking to increase body fat, the easiest way to do this is to increase calories consumed. Including resistance training will also help build muscle mass. To help with both, increase your protein intake by eating more protein-rich foods and/or supplement powder.

Protein Shake After Gym

Combining protein with higher levels of healthy fats can also boost fat mass and muscle gain. Mixing protein shakes with full-fat milk or Greek yogurt is one way to get both nutrients and boost calories.

If you struggle with getting in enough calories or protein, consider drinking your protein shake before bed. This way, it doesn’t decrease your appetite throughout the day and allows you to get your calories in.

When to Drink Protein Shakes: Before or After a Workout?

There have long been arguments about whether it’s best to drink a protein shake before or after a workout. Some even say that during a workout may be best.

There is a theory in play here. According to some, there is an “anabolic window of opportunity” that affects muscle hypertrophy post-workout. This window suggests that to take full advantage of post-workout anabolism, protein should be ingested no more than one hour after exercise.

Anabolic Window

Here, the suggestion is to consume 20g of protein during or immediately after your workout for maximum muscle hypertrophy. 

This study set out to try to determine if there is a benefit to before or after workout protein consumption. Twenty-one resistance-trained men were subjected to the same workouts three times per week for 10 weeks. 

They either consumed 25g of protein and 1 g of carbohydrates immediately before or after the workout.

There were two conclusions that came out of this trial:

  • There is no discernible difference in muscle adaptation when protein is taken before or after a workout.
  • The window of opportunity can be much larger; up to several hours depending on how soon prior to the workout they ate a meal.

Determining whether to drink a protein shake before or after a workout seems to come down to personal preference. 

If you eat a meal and then workout, feel free to wait until the workout is over. If it’s been a while since your last meal, then you may want to drink a protein shake before or during the workout.

While the information here is mixed, there is significant research that shows the importance of getting enough protein per day.

The Importance of Adequate Protein Intake

Without getting enough protein in your daily diet, you could sabotage your weight loss efforts. So far, the research has shown that higher levels of protein help keep fat free mass down and maintain.

It also helps with resting energy expenditure and can even help regulate blood pressure in some. Protein has even been linked to helping boost the immune system.

When it comes to building and maintaining muscle size and strength, adequate daily protein intake is essential. This meta-analysis of 23 different studies shows that timing isn’t as important as the amount of protein consumed.

Protein Rich Foods

Food should be your number one source of dietary protein. You should only use supplements when higher levels of protein are needed to help build and repair muscle.

Here are some healthy foods that are high in protein:

  • Quinoa
  • Chickpeas
  • Chia seeds
  • Pumpkin seeds
  • Greek yogurt
  • Cottage cheese
  • Lean cuts of beef
  • Milk
  • Eggs
  • Tuna
  • Lentils
  • Almonds 

Use the reference guides listed above to help determine the range of protein you should strive for. As your goals and lifestyle changes, your protein intake may change as well. Getting your protein intake requirements throughout the day can help keep you on track.

If you do need to supplement with protein powder, here are some tips for finding the best quality.

Choose your Protein Supplement Wisely

There are lots of protein powders out there, with the most common containing whey and/or casein. It’s hard to choose which is the best for you, but here are a few things to look out:

  • Beware of fillers. You can usually rule out the lower quality protein supplements by checking the nutrition label. The protein source + isolate should be the first ingredient. Lots of other stuff listed means you’re paying more for less protein and lower quality ingredients.
  • Check for sugar content. Another thing to look out for is the amount of sugar. Ideally, you don’t want any added sugar in your protein powder. 
  • Great taste is essential. While not everything you eat or drink has to taste great, it definitely helps. Picking a protein powder that tastes good, even when mixed with plain water, can help you keep the habit to gain the benefits.
  • Blends are best. Some will argue that one type of protein is best, either whey or casein. But a blend will give you optimal benefits by providing a complete amino acid profile.
Protein Powder Supplement
Old School Labs’ Vintage Brawn™

Vintage Brawn™ is one protein supplement that hits all these marks. It comes in three different flavors, has zero sugar and fillers, and also includes milk, beef, and egg proteins. Just one serving provides 24 grams of protein to help build muscle and aid in recovery.

Of course, you don’t have to take our word for it. Just check out the hundreds of reviews from delighted customers who love our protein shake supplement.

Is Too Much Protein Bad For You?

Some may worry that adding too much protein into their diets can be harmful. Kidney disease and brittle bones have been associated with high-protein diets. 

This isn’t true. In fact, high-protein diets are considered generally safe.

This study followed 14 healthy, resistance-trained men eating at least 2.5 g/kg/day of protein for a year. After the trial, blood lipids, kidney, and liver function were all normal, even in those who consumed over 3.0 g/kg/day.

This study only lasted four months but came to the same conclusion as the previous study.

High Protein Health Concerns

For those who are already dealing with mild renal insufficiency (poor kidney function), a high-protein diet could advance the disease. But for those who have normal kidney function, eating more protein won’t harm them.

Even in pre-diabetic adults, increased protein consumption did not affect kidney function.

As for bone health, studies show that eating more protein can actually improve bone density and strength. Consuming animal proteins seem to be better for bone health, especially in the elderly.

Unless you’re advised by your doctor or health professional to avoid a high-protein diet, increasing your intake should be safe.

The Bottom Line

Protein, or protein shakes for those on-the-go and gym-goers, are a great way to help build and repair muscle while keeping body fat in check. For those who struggle with hunger and feeling full and satisfied, upping your protein can help.

However, protein powders should generally not be used in place of real food. Make sure you are getting most of your daily protein intake from high-quality food sources, and only supplementing powders like our Vintage Brawn™, instead of relying on it for all of your protein.

Choose high quality, no filler protein powder option. Depending on your goals, you can drink protein shakes in the morning, as a lunch replacement, or after a workout. Ultimately, you decide when it’s the best time to drink your protein shake.

What are your favorite sources of high-protein foods? When do you find is the best time to drink protein shakes? If you make protein shake smoothies, what’s your favorite recipe? We’d love to hear what works for you in the comments below.

Disclaimer: None of the individuals and/or companies mentioned necessarily endorse Old School Labs or COSIDLA Inc. products or the contents of this article. Any programs provided for illustration purposes only. Always consult with your personal trainer, nutritionist and physician before changing or starting any new exercise, nutrition, or supplementation program.
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