Let’s be honest, if you’re into the gym, then you either have protein shakes or have thought about having protein shakes.
The most common time to consume a protein shake is directly after our workout. Our muscles are broken down in the gym, so it’s fair to assume the right course of action is to neck a protein shake after the gym to start the muscle repairing process.
But how long after the gym should we have our shake? Do we need to guzzle it down as soon as we step foot outside of the gym, or maybe even earlier? Heck, maybe we need to drink it on the way to the changing room!?
Or can we wait an hour, or even 2 hours after the gym to consume our shake? We work hard in the gym and spend our well-earned money on protein shakes so it’s not unreasonable for us to try and get the most bang for our buck and aim to consume our shake when we’re going to reap the most benefits.
We've all heard the saying "timing is everything", which couldn't be more accurate in this case. Here’s the deal: there is a time limit when getting your protein fix after a workout. That's right - there is a window of opportunity for your body to absorb the most nutrients after an intense workout.
This article will look at when you should drink your protein shake after your workout and what type of shake you should drink. We'll also be dishing (pun intended!) out some helpful advice and answering all your burning questions.
So, let's get started!
|Table of Contents|
|Post-workout muscle building window|
|Do we need carbohydrates in our post-workout shake|
|What happens if you drink protein late at night|
|Different types of protein shakes|
|Do you need protein shakes|
|Frequently asked questions|
For years, people have believed there to be a post-workout time window where a protein shake needed to be ingested to take advantage of the anabolic state the body was in immediately after a workout. People believed that muscle gains could be sacrificed if they missed this window.
It was a common belief that protein and carbs should be ingested within 45-60 minutes post-workout to maximize post-workout muscle building and kick start the anabolic muscle-repairing process.
That said, recent research has shown that this time frame is more relaxed than previously believed. According to the National Institute of Health, (1) resistance training does make the muscles more sensitive to the anabolic effects of food – but this sensitivity can last 24 hours (not just 1 hour).
A (2) meta-analysis conducted by leading hypertrophy specialist Brad Schoenfeld found that when daily protein intake was matched, there was no difference when ingesting protein within 1 hour of a workout compared to ingesting protein over 2 hours after a workout.
But, we cannot say whether waiting 4,5,6 hours after a workout to have protein would negatively impact muscle hypertrophy.
So, what does this all mean?
It means the 45-60 minute timeline many of us were used to hearing is not as strict as previously believed. Overall, it doesn’t matter whether you have a protein shake directly after training or wait a couple of hours. Meeting daily protein requirements is much more critical in the grand scheme of things.
On the other hand, if your pre-workout meal was 4 hours before your workout, you may want to get some protein down you fairly quickly after a workout.
But if your pre-workout meal was 1 hour before a workout, you can still get away with waiting a couple of hours after your workout to have some protein. We should aim for a maximum 5-hour window between our pre/post-workout nutrition.
The bottom line is that having a protein shake fairly quickly after a workout won’t have any adverse effects, so if you can have one quickly – great, but if you can’t – don’t stress.
But what about carbohydrate intake after working out? Do we need them or is having protein alone okay?
Again, people have believed that ingesting carbohydrates post-workout (along with protein) is a good idea because carbohydrates stimulate insulin, which helps to prevent protein breakdown after a workout. What people need to appreciate is that protein also stimulates insulin, so adding carbohydrates has no additional benefit on this front.
Long-term studies show no anabolic benefit from adding carbohydrates to your protein shake after a workout.
During a workout, glycogen stores are depleted. Some people decide that ingesting post-workout carbohydrates can help replenish the glycogen lost through exercise. While this is true, it doesn’t need to be done immediately post-workout.
(3) Research suggests that glycogen repletion is similar 24 hours after a workout, regardless of when the carbohydrates were eaten. So, you can have carbohydrates across the day like you usually would, rather than adding carbohydrates to your protein shake immediately after a workout.
Saying that, if you like to add carbs to your post-workout shake, there shouldn’t be any real downside to it.
You may have heard people say not to consume protein late at night because it’s bad for you. That is untrue. Drinking a protein shake late at night has various benefits, especially for those who haven’t quite met their daily protein target.
Here is why:
Your body needs protein to repair and build muscle after a workout. Drinking a shake late at night can help replenish your muscles and aid recovery.
So, how does protein help muscle recovery?
The amino acids in protein act as ‘building blocks’ that the body uses to repair and rebuild muscle fibers. Protein helps support tissue growth and repair, allowing your muscles to recover faster.
(4) Research has also shown that consuming protein before bed can increase muscle protein synthesis during sleep and help prevent muscle breakdown. Think about it, the longest period without consuming protein is while we’re sleeping – so having a protein-rich meal before we hit the hay is a sound choice.
In addition to helping with muscle recovery, protein can help you maintain and build lean muscle mass.
Your body goes through the cycles of MPB (Muscle Protein Breakdown) and MPS (Muscle Protein Synthesis) throughout the day. MPB is a natural process that breaks down muscle tissue, while MPS is a biochemical process to build, repair, and maintain muscle tissue.
When you exercise, MPB increases while MPS decreases. (5) Eating protein at night helps to shift the balance back in favor of MPS, helping you build and maintain lean muscle mass over time.
There are many different types of protein powders, but the 3 most popular are:
We'll briefly go over what each one is best for.
This is the most popular protein powder we should have post-workout due to its quick absorption rate. It helps kick-start muscle recovery after a workout. Whey protein is also a popular shake to consume as a snack between meals.
Casein protein is a slow-release protein, making it a great option to use closer to bedtime or when there is a long gap between meals. This protein digests slowly and continuously feed the muscles with amino acids.
As veganism continues to grow in popularity, so does plant-based protein. If you are vegan, this would be the best option for you. Plant-based proteins are also better for digestion and can help control your appetite.
The short answer is no, protein shakes are not required for you to achieve your goal.
They’re not required, but they can help.
Like all supplements, the trick is in the name. You should use them to supplement a healthy diet, not rely on them. You should use them as a tool to help achieve your goals.
See, whey protein is a super convenient way of getting a decent amount of protein into your diet. To build, or even maintain muscle mass, you need to be eating a relatively high-protein diet. Hitting your daily protein goal is not always easy, and that’s where whey protein supplements come into play. 1 scoop of protein powder can typically provide around 23 grams of protein, which can go a long way in hitting your daily targets.
It's also convenient in the way you can have it on the move. Say you’re on a long car journey, you can’t exactly whip out a chicken breast while you’re driving – but you can sip on a protein shake. Similarly, if you’ve got a meeting at work that’s lasting way longer than you’d like it to, then drinking a protein shake is acceptable, whereas munching down on a steak is probably frowned upon.
Whey protein supplements are affordable too. Comparing a supplement to a sandwich you can pick up from the supermarket, you would probably pay around £3-4 ($3-5) for a sandwich, but you can pick up a whey protein supplement for as little as £0.30 ($0.50) a serving – and they’ll both have comparable amounts of protein!
So while you don’t necessarily need them, they can make your life easier!
You should consume protein within two hours after a workout for optimal muscle growth and recovery. However, according to (6) studies, muscles are still sensitive to protein up to 24 hours after a workout. So if you're pressed for time and can't make it to your shaker bottle within the two-hour window, don't worry — you can still benefit from taking protein after.
Your body is in a constant state of protein turnover. Muscle protein breakdown, as the name suggests refers to the proteins that are broken down; and muscle protein synthesis refers to the proteins that are built. If the synthesis is higher than the breakdown, we’ll be building muscle; and vice versa if the breakdown is higher than synthesis, we’ll be losing muscle. This is a constant process, so the body will constantly require protein to keep the synthesis levels heightened. With this said, the requirement for protein is likely higher during the 24 hours post-workout.
It depends on your goals, activity level, and dietary needs. Generally speaking, 1-2 protein shakes per day should suffice. It is only advisable to have more than 2 if you are a professional athlete or bodybuilder with very specific goals. In that case, you should consult a nutritionist or dietician to ensure that consuming protein shakes is a method you should utilise to help achieve your daily protein goal.
Protein is essential for muscle growth and recovery, especially after a challenging workout.
As you’ve learned, there’s no immediate rush to down a protein shake as soon as you finish your workout – you’ve got 2 or so hours to get the shake in you.
That’s not to say that if you drink the shake after the 2-hour period you’ve missed all the muscle-building benefits – it is just likely that 2 hours is the time you ideally want to aim to be on the safe side to ensure maximum benefits.
Overall, whether you have a protein shake within 2 hours or not, what’s more important is that you hit your daily protein target, and truthfully a post-workout shake is only a tiny piece of the puzzle when it comes to muscle building and losing fat.