Protein shake before or after workout: Which is best for muscle growth?

Maximise the impact of your workouts.

Written by
Sophie Overett
Medically reviewed by
Last updated
January 16, 2024
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Protein shake before or after workout: Which is best for muscle growth?
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When it comes to developing regular exercise habits, there can be more to it than just planning workouts or booking that extra class at the gym.

Depending on your age, habits and body composition, dietary supplements can offer your body the support it needs to maximise the impact of your workout, enhancing muscle development and muscle repair, while also boosting your energy.

Protein has long been studied by sports therapists and scientists for the important role that it plays in giving your body the tools it needs to level up.

This valuable nutritional supplement can be bought as a protein powder, making it easy to stir into yogurt or drink as a protein shake, but how does it work? And when is it best to consume protein to ensure the most effective results?

What is protein powder and why is it important?

Proteins are made up of essential amino acids which are crucial to building and repairing muscles and bones, and making hormones and enzymes [4].

Generally speaking, you should get enough protein through your diet; however, when you're looking for weight loss and muscle gain, a little extra protein post-workout can help you with muscle growth. Protein powders and protein shakes, such as Pilot’s Weight Reset Shakes, can be an effective way to do this.

Protein powder is a dietary supplement made from either animal or plant-based sources. Depending on the brand and recipe, this might involve cow’s milk (whey protein) or eggs, peas, rice and soy. As it’s being made, naturally occurring fats, minerals, fibre and carbohydrates are removed, and additional nutrients and herbs are usually added [2].

This gives it an additional boost that can help support muscle repair and recovery, your overall health, and help you lose fat and gain muscle mass after a workout.

What is the anabolic window and does it matter?

The anabolic window is a period of time, generally thought to be up to 2 hours (although some studies have found it could be as little as half an hour), after you work out, where research suggests consuming protein feeds muscular gains [3].

The theory as to why that is is that intense workouts burn through your stored fuels (including those essential amino acids and glycogen), as well as causing damage to muscle fibres. By consuming protein in the anabolic window, you trigger your body to rebuild that damaged tissue and restore those energy reserves directly, which enhances body composition and exercise performance.

Nutrient timing has been an area of study for sports physicians for a number of years, and the understanding is that consuming protein supplements immediately after exercise leads to increased muscle protein synthesis, enhancing the development of muscle and building up athletic performance [3].

Should I have a protein shake before or after a workout?

Ultimately, it depends! A pre-workout shake has been found to help your muscles to turn on, as well as reduce muscle breakdown and any aches and pains you might feel afterwards, while that post-workout protein shake will be more likely to help you with muscle growth, muscle repair, boosting energy and reducing inflammation [5].

That said, some recent studies have explored the effects of protein and essential amino acids on the body, and found that the focus of a workout, and the impact that workout has on the body, can have a significant effect on the way our body processes protein.

This difference is most pronounced when comparing cardio and aerobic exercise, with resistance training such as weight training, yoga and Pilates. In these studies, research suggests that post-workout protein is crucial when it comes to cardio-focused exercises, while pre-workout protein can be better for helping you gain muscle and strength in resistance training [3].

In short, this recent study suggests consuming protein supplements after cardio, and before weight training.

How long before a workout should I drink a protein shake?

If you're gearing up for a resistance training workout, a pre-workout protein shake can be a great way to increase muscle protein synthesis, help your body build muscle and get the most out of your exercise.

To maximise the benefits ahead of your workout, try drinking a protein shake between 30 and 45 minutes before you hit the gym [5].

How much protein do you need?

How much protein you need is dependent on a whole range of factors, from your age and your body weight, to the type of exercise you're doing [2], to your training status (e.g. if you're just starting out versus if you exercise regularly, or if you're a recreational athlete versus a competitive one), the duration of exercise, and the number of training sessions per day [1].

Generally speaking though, the recommended daily protein intake for a person to consume is 0.8 grams per kilogram of weight. For example, if someone weighs 70kg, they should consume roughly 55g of protein per day [2].

For exercisers looking to support muscle growth, muscle recovery and weight gain though, research suggests consuming 1 and a half, to 2 times as much protein as that recommended daily protein intake may help to increase strength and lean muscle [2].

Should you drink protein shakes on non-workout days?

Drinking a protein shake such as Pilot’s Weight Reset Shakes (which also doubles as a meal replacement shake!) on your rest days can be very beneficial for optimal muscle growth.

After all, dietary protein is what helps your body to recover and repair, supporting muscle fibres to heal and your body to grow lean muscle and adapt post-workout [6].

A rest day protein shake is often well-paired with a gentle walk and some light stretching to alleviate any potential stiffness and to maintain a healthy exercise routine.

Photo credit: Karolina Grabowska / Pexels

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