Should You Drink Protein Shakes Before a Workout?

ripped guy drinking protein shake at the gym

Protein shakes are among the most popular supplements available today. They are found not only in bodybuilding supplement stores but in grocery stores and health-food establishments.

Protein supplements provide a much-needed nutrient for optimal health. It aids in building and repairing muscle tissue. Mike Roussell, Ph.D. is a nutritional consultant and speaker known for helping clients form healthy dietary habits based on complex nutritional concepts. He points out that amino acids and protein can be taken before and after a workout.
ripped guy drinking protein shake at the gym

There is some disagreement as to the best time to consume protein shakes to get the most benefits when working out—whether a protein intake works best as a pre-workout meal or a post-workout shake. Three experts weigh in on the topic. All agree that there are benefits from either pre- or post-workout consumption. They differ in the preference they would make if it were necessary to choose one option.

If he had to pick one, he would recommend taking them before the workout. For a long time, post-workout nutritional shakes were thought to be a major piece of the nutrition workout puzzle. Recently, research has suggested that ingesting amino acids and protein before a workout is more beneficial.

Fuel for the Muscles

Pre-workout protein, especially the BCAAs (Branched Chain Amino Acid), help fuel muscles during training. The liver does not have to process BCAAs after they are absorbed. They go directly to the bloodstream where the muscles pick them up.

Exercise causes oxidation and breakdown of BCAAs. By providing the working muscles with BCAAs, the need for the body to catabolize the muscles is prevented.

guy showing off flexed biceps

Protein Synthesis Increased

Adding protein before a workout primes the pump. Protein synthesis begins during, rather than after, the exercise session. Ingesting pre-workout protein likely increases delivery of amino acids to and uptake by the muscles during the workout.

BCAAs, taken as part of a complete protein or alone, inhibit muscle breakdown. The net protein synthesis is elevated even more.

More Calories Are Burned

Medicine and Science in Sports & Exercise published a study that reported a scoop of whey before working out increases calorie burning over the next 24 hours. The cause of the increase in calories burned is not entirely understood.

It may be that increased protein and modified energy sources have added metabolic effects. It is not necessary to know why calorie burning increases to reap the benefits.

The Carryover Effect

Nutrients, taken before a workout, have a carryover effect. After protein ingestion, muscle protein synthesis stays elevated for as long as three hours. Drinking a protein shake before working out allows you to reap the benefits of high amino acids in the blood during a workout and the carryover of elevated levels after the training session.

The elevated amino acids in the blood help prevent muscle breakdown after a workout. The reduction of cortisol, a muscle-catabolizing hormone, is partially responsible. A study published in 2007, in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research reports starting a training session with a carbohydrate and protein shake 30 minutes before exercise leads to significant cortisol reduction up to 24 hours after a training session.

bodybuilder drinking protein shake

Bonus Fat Burning

Nutrients ingested around training sessions are critical to the development and refinement of the physique. By skipping protein before a workout, an opportunity to support anabolism during the workout is lost. Anabolism is the reduction of post-workout muscle breakdown and muscle growth.

It is necessary to get adequate dietary protein other than pre- and post-workout. If the protein consumption is adequate, Dr. Roussell recommends BCAAs before a training session. The free form offers faster absorption and uptake. The amino acids in the blood will be high when the session begins.

Mike Samuels writes for his fitness website. He has A Levels in business, law, and sports science from his alma mater, Peter Symonds College in the UK. He is a qualified corrective exercise specialist, sports massage therapist, and personal trainer.

Samuels suggests that carbohydrates digest faster than fat and protein and, therefore, should be the basis of a pre-workout nutrition. He does stipulate that adding protein to pre-workout carbs can produce an increase in strength and lead to favorable body composition changes when compared to eating carbohydrates alone.

As a workout progresses, the body breaks down protein. There is a decrease in protein synthesis. As noted in the Journal of Sports Science and Medicine, the body uses stored carbohydrates that results in lower glycogen levels.

Drinking a protein shake after a training session ensures a positive balance of protein needed for muscle growth.

A third theory is presented by Garth Sapstead, who is a conditioning and strength coach and a leading personal trainer in the UK. He is published numerous research papers and science journals.

Garth is of the opinion that a protein shake after a training session is highly recommended and massively important for maximum results. He also believes the same beverage consumed 30 minutes before a training session, as well as during the workout may be superior.

During a typical workout session, muscle protein is lost. Ingesting amino acids prior to or during a workout may counter muscle protein loss. Less tissue breakdown occurs and a more anabolic environment is created.  

Creatine Powder shaped like a flexed arm

Types of Protein Shakes

Mr. Samuels looks to the International Society of Sports Nutrition for the kind of protein powder to recommend. There are many types of protein powder available. They include egg, casein, and whey, as well as vegan sources such as hemp or pea protein powder.

There is no convincing argument for the benefits of one over the other. Nutritionist Nanci Guest advised in an article published in Oxygen Magazine to try a variety of protein powders to determine a preference.

Protein shakes are not a necessity. There are other whole food options such as milk, beans, fish, and meat. Protein is essential for optimal growth. recommends a 2000 calorie diet that contains 50 to 175 grams of protein daily.

When choosing a protein shake, be sure it fits protein and calorie requirements. Before introducing any supplement into a diet, consult a doctor. Buy the supplement only from a manufacturer that is approved by the Food and Drug Administration.


Protein Timing and its Effects on Muscular Hypertrophy and Strength, Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition

Nutrient Timing: Is there a Post-Exercise Anabolic Window?, Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition

Effects of Protein Supplements, Sports Medicine Journal

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