Exercise enthusiasts know that protein is necessary for muscle repair and growth. To ensure their body gets enough of this macronutrient, they’ll consume protein supplements, shakes, and bars. However, a long-standing debate of when to drink protein shakes can confuse new users.

Some believe it’s better to drink protein before a workout; others will argue that supplementing after exercise is ideal. So, what’s the best time to drink your shake? Let’s take a look.

How Much Protein Do You Need a Day?

The RDA recommends 0.36 grams of protein per pound of body weight. However, this number only addresses the amount you need to avoid a deficiency. People who strength train may need double that amount (0.72 grams a day) to support muscle growth, optimal health, and recovery.

That means a 160 lbs person would need to consume 112 grams of protein a day, which may be difficult without protein powders. Not all protein powders are created equal, and you’ll need the right product to get the most out of your workouts regardless of when you drink your shake.

Choosing a High-Quality Protein Supplement

Both animal and plant-based protein powders and foods can help you meet your daily protein needs. That’s because protein is found in every human-consumed food in varying degrees, meaning you could even eat nuts, beans, legumes, and soy and still max out on protein.

However, if you’re trying to build a significant amount of muscle in a short period, protein powders can help. 

Here are the most common protein powders on the market:

Whey Protein

Whey is a byproduct of milk and contains bioactive proteins that improve overall health. If the whey used in the powder comes from grass-fed cows, like in Transparent Labs whey isolate, you’ll get a healthier, hormone-free product.

Casein Protein

Casein is another byproduct of milk that digests much slower than whey. Casein is perfect for people who want to fast or drink protein before bed.

Egg Protein

Made with pure egg whites, egg protein is an easily digestible (but not as easy as whey) protein. However, it’s pretty expensive compared to other proteins.

Rice and Pea Protein: 

Apart, this protein doesn’t contain all the essential amino acids. Together, they’re a protein powerhouse. If you have allergies to soy, egg, or dairy, rice and pea protein is a great option. Plant proteins are also helpful for lowering cholesterol.

Soy Protein

If you don’t have a soy allergy, soy protein can pack a lot of punch. Soy contains all essential amino acids and is relatively cheap next to animal proteins.

You can find protein powders that range in 25-50 grams of protein per service. Don’t exceed 50 grams per day, especially when starting your workouts, or you could develop health issues.

Protein Shakes and the Anabolic Window

The anabolic window is an accepted theory that describes a short period where your muscles soak up protein more efficiently. It’s believed that the anabolic window remains open for 30 minutes after exercise. Once it closes, you’ll miss your chance to optimize your muscle growth.

However, modern studies show that your anabolic window stays open for much longer than 30 minutes and can open before a workout. There’s no way to really know when the window opens.

It doesn’t seem to matter when you increase your protein intake as long as you do it. There are some studies that prove protein shakes increase muscle mass if they’re drunk immediately before or after working out, but there’s no difference in strength or size between both groups.

Does it matter when you take your protein? The answer is no. Daily protein intake matters more than when you drink your shake, so take your supplement when it’s most convenient. 

Pros and Cons of Drinking Protein Before Your Workout

Even though there isn’t a performance or muscle growth benefit to consuming protein before your workout, there are several reasons why you may or may not want to wait until later. 

The Pros: Before Your Workout

If you haven’t eaten for 2-3 hours before your workout, drinking a protein shake can get you into an exercise mindset. Protein is also beneficial for curbing hunger, which may disrupt your workout session. Plus, taking a supplement before exercise can space out your protein intake. 

The Cons: Before Your Workout

Drinking a protein shake before your workout can cause you to feel sick. If your stomach is too full and you go for a run, you could literally “shake” up your tummy, which may make you nauseous. However, if you have an iron stomach, you can get away with a pre-workout shake.

Pros and Cons of Drinking Protein After Your Workout

Most cardio enthusiasts prefer to drink protein after the workout for an extra energy kick they may need throughout the day. Here’s why you should or shouldn’t drink a post-workout shake.

The Pros: After Your Workout

The faster you consume protein, the faster your muscles recover. That doesn’t mean you need to supplement protein in your anabolic window; it just means that drinking your shake ASAP can maximize your recovery time before the next workout, preventing potential injury and fatigue.

The Cons: After Your Workout

There aren’t any disadvantages to drinking protein powder after your workout. Kinesiologists suggest a carb-to-protein ratio of 3:1 after a workout because it’ll allow you to replenish your glycogen (energy) stores. Find a protein powder that has this ratio for the best results.

Do Women Really Need Protein Shakes?

There’s a prevailing myth in the workout community that too much protein will cause women to build biceps the size of their heads. If that’s what you want to do, that’s great! But, women need a lot more than protein supplements to gain Arnold Schwarzenegger-size muscle mass.

The majority of women will not get bulky from taking protein and lifting weights because they don’t have enough testosterone to stimulate large muscle growth. 

Strength training and protein supplementation are still crucial for women who want to live a healthy lifestyle. By lifting weights, women can improve their bone density, reduce their risk for chronic disease, improve flexibility, lose weight, and improve their mental health.