What’s The Best Time to Drink Protein Shakes? Ask The Fitness Nerd

[ 35 ] October 27, 2008 |

When should you drink a protein shake? Today we tackle the question of what’s the best time to reach for that protein shake.



Dear Fitness Nerd:Image of Strawberry Protein Shake in Glass with Kiwi Slice

I’ve read a lot about the benefits of protein shakes, especially when it comes to building muscle and becoming leaner. But I’ve seen conflicting advice on when the best time is to drink protein shakes, and how often I should be consuming them. Some people say right before you workout, others say immediately following your workout, and some people seem to drink them 3-4 times a day or more. I’m confused. Can you help clear this up? Thanks. Sarah M. (Albany, NY)

Sarah,

This is a great question.  

The first thing to realize is that protein shakes are intended to be supplemental to your regular whole meals — not replacements for whole meals. So if you view it that way, you should typically be consuming no more than 2-3 shakes a day on your workout days, and 1-2 (if any) protein shakes on your non-workout days.

In general, the two most critical times for drinking a protein shake are:

  1. First thing in the morning
  2. Immediately following your resistance or weight training workout.

Why first thing in the morning?

Well, when you wake up, you have essentially been in a fasted state for the past seven to eight hours. That means you’ve had no protein during this time and you are at risk for becoming catabolic (meaning you’ll start to break down muscle for fuel.) By drinking a protein shake with some simple carbs (like orange juice or a banana blended in) as soon as you wake up, you can stop this muscle breakdown dead in its tracks and put yourself back in “positive nitrogen balance” — a fancy term that simply means you have more protein available for your body than what it is using for fuel or excreting.

The second key window of opportunity for drinking a protein shake is immediately following your resistance or weight training workout.

During this 30-60 minute post-workout window, your muscles are like sponges and take up nutrients — including protein — very quickly as part of the repair and recovery process. Your body also utilizes carbohydrates more efficiently during this period, due to increased insulin sensitivity, so drinking your protein shake with some simple carbs can help the body more efficient absorb amino acids and utilize them for ongoing tissue repair and growth.



What Kind of Protein Should I Be Using In These Shakes?

In both cases, a shake containing whey protein is your best bet. Whey is one of the most easily digested proteins available and is rapidly made available to the body — often in as little as 20-30 minutes after being ingested.

Remember, time is of the essence in both of these scenarios, so if you are relying on forms of protein that take longer to digest — for example casein (milk proteins) or soy protein — by the time the amino acids become available to the body, you’ll have missed your window of opportunity. 

It is, however, fine to combine the whey protein with a secondary form of protein like soy protein isolate, casein (milk protein) or even egg protein (albumin).

One of my favorite post workout protein shakes is skim milk combined with a scoop of chocolate whey protein and soy protein isolate and a high glycemic carb (usually something like Rice Chex which are very portable.) By combining these three forms of protein together, you basically ensure a “amino drip” for 2-6 hours since they digest at different rates.

Soy, whey and milk proteins also have different amino acid balances, with soy containing more glutamine, for example, which can help with recovery and lessening the symptoms of delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS). Soy also has documented cholesterol-lowering properties and may reduce the risk of certain types of cancers.  So when you combine these different forms of protein together in your shake, you maximize the nutritional and recovery benefits of the shake.

What About Drinking a Protein Shake Before Working Out?

Protein shakes are also popular as a pre-workout meal.

In these cases, they are typically consumed about an hour before your workout and usually are mixed with either water, soy milk or skim milk and sometimes a slower-burning, low-glycemic carb like oatmeal.

While pre-workout protein shakes can help ensure that you have plenty of amino acids available during your training, they are not always necessary. You could also eat a whole food source of protein 1-2 hours in advance of your workout and do just fine. The protein shakes are primarily there for the sake of convenience, and not always for necessity.

Do I Have To Drink Protein Shakes To Be Successful in the Gym?

No. While carefully-timed protein shakes can help you fill in some of the gaps in your diet, they shouldn’t be a substitute for healthy, clean, whole foods. It’s possible to build a great physique and stay in fantastic shape without ever touching a protein shake — but they can help, especially if you have a busy schedule that makes eating five to six times a day difficult.

If I could only drink one protein shake a day, I probably would reserve it for after my workout. 

A growing body of research has demonstrated that people who drink post-workout recovery drinks that combine whey, casein and a source of simple carbohydrates put on more lean tissue than people who drink whey-only or carbohydrate-only recovery drinks. Also, because protein shakes can be very portable, they are easily mixed with water or even milk kept in a cooler in your car — making them extremely convenient.

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What's The Best Time to Drink Protein Shakes?
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When should you drink a protein shake? Today we tackle the question of what's the best time to reach for that protein shake.
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  1. Simple information about eating for recovery | Healthy Gal | October 23, 2011
  1. meghan (1 comments) says:

    Thanks, Matt… I’ve actually always wondered about this…

    In the morning, is it better for me to mix with skim milk or orange juice?

    Meghan

  2. Bill Parker (2 comments) says:

    Another good one Answer Guy but I have a follow up question that you didn’t touch on.  I’ve seen diets that call for anywhere between .3 – 1 gram of protein per pound of body weight which is a big window.  That said, studies have shown that unused protein is stored as fat so my concern would be downing a shake in the AM plus one after an evening workout in combination with a healthy diet may push the protein intake pretty high and result in more fat than muscle production.  What say you?

  3. YogaChick (3 comments) says:

    Hey Matt (or should I call you "Fitness Nerd"):

    Another great article. Quick question, though. Is there any issue with me mixing my protein drink up ahead of time and keeping it in the car so I can drink it right after my workout? I seem to remember overhearing some guys at the gym saying that you shouldn’t do that. Something about the protein breaking down????

    I LOVE your site btw!

  4. Matt (194 comments) says:

    Hey Bill, thanks for stopping by. And congrats on finishing that marathon. Sounds like you’re right back into the training again.

    So here’s the deal: Any calories in excess of what your body can typically use in a 2-3 hour window are going to get stored as body fat, regardless of whether they’re in the form of proteins, fats or carbohydrates. This is really why breaking your three "square meals" up into a series of smaller meals every 2-3 hours can help reduce body fat levels (and help with muscle recovery and growth.)

    There are some differences in how the body digests and metabolizes carbs, fats and proteins that may give proteins a slight metabolic advantage over carbs, for instance. 

    For example, while protein has the same amount of calories as carbohydrates gram-for-gram,  the body definitely has to "work" harder to break protein down into a form that can be used for energy. So it’s not as efficient at using protein for energy as it is with carbs (which get broken down into glucose much more directly than proteins do.)  The actual impact of this "metabolic advantage" is an issue of dispute among nutrition researchers, dieticians, doctors and trainers.  

    Protein also tends to be more "satisfying" to people, blunting hunger.

    In terms of how much protein you should consume each day, it really depends on your activity levels, goals and also individual metabolism. One thing that seems pretty clear is that for very active people, the USDA protein recommendations are probably too low.

    On the other hand, a lot of the recommendations you’ll see in bodybuilding and fitness magazines that have people consuming 200-300 grams of protein a day are also probably excessive.

    Also, some people just find that a higher protein, lower carb diet works better to keep them lean. Others do fine with lower dietary protein and higher carbs. You just have to play around with these things until you find what works for you.
     
    Myself, I tend to come in at around 1-1.25 grams of protein per pound of body weight per day — so about 180 grams of protein a day. Some days the protein will be higher, depending on my other macro-nutrient ratios and whether it’s a weight training day, some days it may be lower.  But it’s unusual for me to come in under 150 grams a day and rare for me to exceed more than 200 grams a day.

    So the simple answer is that if you are eating more calories than you are burning, you’ll get fat — regardless of whether those calories come from carbs, fats or proteins.

    • Chris (12 comments) says:

      I realize this reply is 4.5 years too late, but I only just came across this website, so someone else might as well and it’s important that they not be misinformed.

      “So the simple answer is that if you are eating more calories than you are burning, you’ll get fat – regardless of whether those calories come from carbs, fats or proteins.”

      This is almost too simple, to the point of being miseading.  The above statement is true but only true for someone who is not working out.  If you are working out (with the intent to gain muscle), your caloric intake has to be greater than what you expend, or where will the gains come from?
       
      And it always matters where your calories come from.  Excess fat is not going to be broken down and converted into muscle, it is going to be stored as fat.  Excess protein, however, is essential for the creation of new muscle tissue.  I know you know this, because you mentioned in the article the “positive nitrogen balance” necessary to prevent muscle loss, but I just wanted to clarify.  And excess carbs are not necessarily a bad thing either.  In the days leading up to an endurance event, carb loading is advantageous because it saturates the muscles with sugar, and therefore, energy.  It all depends on your goals.

      Bill Parker is incorrect that “unused” protein will be stored as fat, because protein breaks down into amino acids, which are used by the body or further converted into urea via the kidneys, which is then excreted. Therefore an extra protein shake won’t make you fat, but an unnecessary one is a waste of money.

      The simple answer for me is:

      If you are working out and want to gain muscle, you have to consume more calories than you burn.
      If you’re not working out and want to get fat, see above.
      If you are working out and want to lose weight, you have to consume less calories than you burn.  Also, since your goal is different, your workout should be different from someone’s who is trying to gain weight, which is why your diet is different.
      If you’re not working out and want to lose weight, start working out.

      Proper nutrition is key in any fitness goal.  It’s not as simple as how much you eat, it’s equally important what you eat.

  5. Matt (194 comments) says:

    Meghan, great question. Actually, the orange juice would probably be a great choice in the morning, since your body can use the simple sugars and carbs after the overnight fast.  The skim and whey protein or even skim milk and soy protein is a solid post-workout choice. Best of luck!

  6. Total Lifetime Fitness (4 comments) says:

    Matt – Thanks for a terrific article. Your recommendations and guidelines are excellent. I believe the answers to questions of when, what, and how much are necessarily individual answers.

    In other words, what works for you, works for you.

    We could waste a lot of valuable glucose trying to figure out which way is best – before, after, early in the AM, late in the PM. My recommendations always are – try this out and see if it works for you.

    Also, many people – myself included – don’t do well eating anything before working out. My physiology is used to this – I was a professional dancer – and I’m totally OK with having my first meal of the day after my early morning exercise.

    Finally, if you’re doing food combining all day long – all your meals are protein/carbohydrate combos – you’ll always have enough available glucose and available amino acids. When you’re doing food combining, your metabolism is working the way it’s supposed to. :-)

  7. Matt (194 comments) says:

    David, as always, I love it when you stop by.

    You’re completely right — the food combining is really key here. Eat smallish meals, get your carbs, protein and healthy fats and you will make progress. It’s pretty simple.

    I will say that for me, at least, having the post workout whey protein with skim milk and Rice Chex (the only time I eat simple carbs from cold cereal) really did seem to help pack on some additional muscle versus when I was skipping the post-workout protein shake.

    Stop by again …
    matt

  8. Dave (5 comments) says:

    hiya thier mate…isit orite for me to have protien shake like 8 times a day since i dont have no time to  make my self a proper dinner..?

  9. David (7 comments) says:

    Hi you wrote about having a shake first thing in the morning because the body’s been starved all night.  But I recently just read about casein protein – which people are saying to have just before bed – because the casein protein is very slowly absorbed over night and keep the muscles from deteriorating.  What do you think about casein protein shakes instead of whey?

  10. FELECIA (1 comments) says:

    I workout from about 6 – 8:30 pm.  For breakfast I eat may be a 16 oz. container of cantaloupe or other fruits.  For lunch a salad.  I want to loose weight.  Is drinking a protein shake after my workout @ 8:30 to late?

  11. DJ (1 comments) says:

    Do you suggest using protein shakes if you are a diabetic. I have a low sugar/calorie shake that I was thinking about using when I eat fruit to slow down the sugar of the fruit.

  12. Jim (6 comments) says:

    I’ve been drinking shakes post workout and pre-bedtime. Is this a good idea?

  13. Jake (3 comments) says:

    How much whey protein should i consume if  im just trying to loose wieght and turn my fat into muscle, i dont wanna have big muscles, i just wanna be toned.
    thanks.

  14. Pawan (1 comments) says:

    Hey Matt,

    In the maoring just after wake up I am having 5 capsules of AMINO 1900, is this ok or need to replace with protein shake.

    One more query I have that justbafter my workout ( In evening) i m taking 4 Amino capsule then my dinner and then protein shake, please confirm is this ok?

    waiting for reply.

    BR//
    Pawan

  15. Solange (1 comments) says:

    Hi!
    Im a full time college student and I workout between classes bc that is the only time I have available. I usually drink a protein shake once I get back to my apartment which is like 8 hours later. Do I get any benefits from the protein shake when I drink it this late post-workout? 
    Thank you!

  16. Jesse Vjjgf (1 comments) says:

    Here’s what I have been trying – and it really has worked for me but I have some questions.
    My preworkout stack is the Dr Max Powers Anabolic Stack, and also 30 Minutes before workout take 20g whey protein
    Questions:
    any good reccomendations on buying the Max Powers Anabolic Stack in bulk ? I want to use the stack for 3 months, off for three months and then on again for 3 months. Any bulk options?

    thinking about adding Vitamin C also, i’m just trying to mix and match to see what my body works well with and buy it all in bulk so i can save money.
    thanks for any feedback.

  17. lamar (1 comments) says:

    I workout first thing in the morning.  I get up at 5am and start my routine.  I lift weights for a half an hour then i try to run for another 30 minutes.  What should I be eating for breakfast? I’m trying to lose fat and build more lean muscle.  I have been just eating a banana and drink a protein shake with orange juice.  SHould i be eating toast or an egg or cereal?  I’m not sure what to do an how to lose weight.

  18. milton (1 comments) says:

    Muscle is the last to be catabolized for energy.

  19. james (8 comments) says:

    hey,im used to taking optimum nutritions gold standard whey protein about 5 hours before workout and 40 mins later after workout,tell me if its okay, and also i eat alot of proteins and carbs in my diet,i normally take 4 to 5 heavy meals in a day.

  20. carlos (1 comments) says:

    its good if i take protein shakes the first time i go to the gym??

  21. Rod (2 comments) says:

    Hi! I workout first thing in the morning because I have a busy schedule. I usually eat a fruit whole grain bar with some water, 20 or 30 minutes later I am already at the gym lifting some weights for about an hour, and right away do 30 minutes cardio. After that I shower and, about 40 or one hour later have breakfast, usually an egg, ham and cheese sandwich with whole grain bread and more water (Water is on most cases all I drink throughout the day, unless I eat cereal with milk), or I eat for breakfast granola and yogurt. I actually am leaner, since my clothes fit a lot better, but have found my self in the situation of weighing, right now, 6 pounds more than what I weighted when I started. Calculating my BMI, I am at 26, which is slightly overweight. I eat, in my opinion, a healthy diet with little complex carbohydrates and little fat, and still have found myself hard to lose wight! Should I change any of the order or my routine and/or consider drinking some protein shakes? If so, at what time?? Thank you!

  22. Chad (2 comments) says:

    I have just been doing a regiment of push ups daily with 2 days off during the week.  I do 15 sets in one day varried by close, normal and far width hand spacing.  I have been doing this for 6 months and am pleased with the progress.  I started off barely able to do 50 push ups with good form, no arching or dipping of back, now I can do 100 straight.  At the end of the day I have done in the  neighborhood of 1000 push ups.  At night I do 6 sets of crunches on a decline sit up board, standard and twisting for obliques.  Is it  a good idea for me to take protein for this, seeing I am not really pushing heavy weight, but doing high reps and multiple sets?    I appreciate any feed back and appreciate all the good information I found here from all of you.  Take care – Chad

  23. Chad (2 comments) says:

    For the guy that was asking what is good to eat for breakfast for weight loss is a good half cup full of old fashioned Quaker Oats made on the stove.  This is a really good source of fiber and a good source of fuel for the morning, fills you up -  I also have a protein shake in the moring and I am more than satisfied after these two.  I am down to 13 % body fat, ( so my scale says ) 6 feet tall and 160 pounds currently and feel great.  Doing 1000 push ups a day and 6 sets of decline sits ups.  I lose a p0und  a day with this type of formula, no sugar, no fats, just good meats, fruit and veggies…

  24. Luke (3 comments) says:

    Hello  I’m just wondering if you could help me. Iv recently started training again and I’ve started taking usn anabolic muscle fuel I’m having one shake when I get up and then my cereal then after my workout in having another shake but through the day I’m eating fruit Tina chicken pasta etc… Am I doing this correctly or should I be changing they way I’m doing this? Should I be having any more shakes in the day?  Also I mix my shake with water what other things can I use to  mix it?

  25. Sofia (2 comments) says:

    I’ve been searching high and low for an answer on the internet and can’t seem to come across it;
    heres my situation and question
    I tried a new protein (vega-sport) which I am in love with and has been amazing for me and my post workout recovery.
    I have been taking the protein powder directly after my workouts and it’s worked wonders, I’ve noticed a drastic drop in the level of muscle pain on the next day, which was really the only reason I started taking a protein in the first place. All in all it’s been a great supplement and all the other side effects have been positive.
    However, I am still experiencing muscle aches 2-3 days after on rest days. I was wondering if it’s beneficial to be taking this protein on my rest days. I would only want to take the protein on my rest days with sore muscles if it would aid in the repair of them.

    a couple other things you may need to know,
    I’m not a body builder, but I lead a healthy active lifestyle and am aiming for increased physical stamina and strength
    I’m a healthy eater 
    i stretch before and after working out

    I think thats about all, I’ve heard so many mixed reviews about whether it’s beneficial to take protein on your off days when you have muscle fatigue from a variety of people but I really hope I get the answer here!
     

  26. jay (4 comments) says:

    thanks this really helps. what is a good protein shake to use ?

  27. Erica S (1 comments) says:

    New to this site and have a question.  I recently bought some whey protein to drink before i work out because i sometimes lack the energy needed to endure the whole workout. I also don’t get enough protien in my diet. However , from reading the earlier suggestions it looks as though its better to use after a workout.  What would be quick to do pre workout that would provide the nutrients i need to make it through the workout?  I like the convienience of whey protien just mixed with water, but I was looking to do this as a pre workout drink?? Thoughs :) ?

  28. Sonia (1 comments) says:

    I am starting a fitness programme. I have tailored to suit my needs and my schedule. Would weights, cardio, and swimming be a good all rounder? I do have running and cycling in the mix also.

    Also would you recommend doing a split schedule? Like working different muscle groups on each day of the week – ie: legs on one day, back and shoulders on another day, etc? 

  29. Chris (12 comments) says:

    If your interested in starting a workout program then i would go with insanity. I lost 40 lbs in 60 days with it. Beachbody has a lot of other good workouts too. Im a coach, check my site, if you buy from me then you get me as a personal coach plus a bonus dvd on most workouts for signing with a coach. wwww.beachbodycoach.com/yourcoachchris  

  30. stuart warnock (1 comments) says:

    Hi

    i   have never used protein shakes although thinking of starting them.. Was told myofusion would be good to use?

    I read though the article above  and seen best times to take the shake would be morning and after work out although if your not going to the gym do you still take a shake in morning ?
    Any advice would be great

    Thanks st

  31. Parsa (1 comments) says:

    Hello there,
    Very well written article! but it has not answered my question yet. Due to my work schedule, I prefer to work out early in the morning before I start my day. In this way, I eat a simple breakfast (oatmeal) 45 min before I hit the gym and I have my protein shake right after my work out. 

    As you said, one of the best times to have your protein shake is in the morning. But in my case, there is not much time between the breakfast, workout and post-exercise protein shake. 

    first of all, should I still drink some protein after I’ve had breakfast?
    Furthermore, what about slow digestive protein shake 1 hour before bed time?  Would they have any positive effect on avoiding muscle break down during sleep? 

  32. leona (1 comments) says:

    Hi Matt

    I am lactose intolerant so pure soya isolate protein  powder from holland+barratt is all I can have. Is a shake with soya milk banana+strawberries/berries with a little maple syrup first thing in the morning and post workout beneficial?
    The post workout window as you informed me is short and I understand soya is not digested as quickly as whey so
    how soon after the workout would I need to take the shake? instructions 

  33. Tiffany (1 comments) says:

    Matt, I have a question for you!! This was a great article to read, it really answered some of my questions. I just recently started working out again, but I go to the gym around 9:30-10 pm and stay until 11:30pm, so would it still be okay to have a protein shake after I get home from the gym? I haven’t been drinking one when I get home, but I heard that I should. But I feel like if I have a protein shake that late at night I will never be able to get to sleep. Please help me! :)

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