When to Take Protein Shakes: Time of Day and Dosages

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    Are you getting enough protein in your diet? Protein shakes can be an easy way to add more protein to your diet. But is there a right time to drink your shake?

    When to Take Protein Shakes — A Short Guide

    Protein can help people maintain a healthy weight, gain muscle, and feel more energized. In order to add in more protein, some people will increase the animal proteins they consume by eating more meat, eggs, or dairy,while others may consume more protein by eating certain fruits and vegetables, such as avocados, bananas, guavas, and asparagus. Another popular way to get protein is through supplements, such as protein shakes made from whey, hemp seed, or casein. The right amount of protein can positively affect your body. Knowing when to take protein shakes can help you get the maximum benefits from these nutritional drinks.

    What’s the best time of day to take protein shakes?

    There is no one-size-fits-all answer to the best time of day to drink protein shakes. Protein shakes are digested in the body like any other form of protein. The timing of protein shake consumption depends on individual factors, like your basic health needs and goals. Timing may depend on whether you’re seeking to support healthy weight balance, muscle building, supplementing your protein intake, and so on.

    The International Sports Sciences Association (ISSA) emphasizes the importance of meeting your total protein intake and spacing it evenly throughout the day, ideally every three hours. This approach helps meet overall protein balance and use in the body.

    Depending on your fitness goals, there are certain ways you can make the most of your protein intake. If your goal is for strength and healthy body composition, for instance, consuming protein or a combination of protein and carbohydrates before and/or after exercise can be beneficial. For muscle-building specifically, protein intake within two hours after exercise or training has a more significant effect on muscle protein synthesis compared to pre-exercise intake.

    For non-exercise situations, distributing protein intake evenly across your meals can help promote satiety and appetite balance.

    Should you take protein before bed?

    Consuming protein before bed is a good idea if your goal is to gain weight or build muscle. Older adults may want to consume protein before going to bed to help maintain muscle strength. Consuming 30 to 40 grams of protein before bed can help maintain lean muscle mass and improve muscle recovery. Protein also supports energy balance and healthy circulatory function.

    If allergies are not a concern, drinking a casein protein shake about a half-hour before bed may be the best option since casein releases amino acids slowly and is not known to interfere with sleep.

    Should you take protein before or after a workout?

    Some experts say it doesn’t make a difference whether you drink a protein shake before or after your workout. Taking it before can help with muscle repair, especially after an intense workout. However, other experts believe that consuming protein around 30 minutes after a workout is best to start the muscle repair process. Ultimately, consuming protein shortly before or after a workout may have overall similar effects if muscular support is your goal.

    How many protein shakes should you take per day?

    Protein shakes are meant to supplement your dietary intake, not replace it. Even with adequate protein intake from food, some people can benefit from one or two protein shakes per day, depending on activity level and protein needs. Your overall protein needs are based on your body weight, not your activity levels. Read this to learn more about how much protein you might need per day (and how much is too much).

    When to take protein for weight loss

    Protein is an essential part of a balanced diet. As a result, it is often used to support healthy weight loss. Protein takes longer to digest than carbs, keeping you fuller longer and aiding in weight management.

    Protein should be eaten throughout the day. Research has found that a high-protein snack can help with appetite, satiety, and food intake. Eating more protein in the morning is a great strategy for weight balance because it supports metabolism, satiety, and healthy energy. A protein shake may be your best mid-morning snack, compared to one that has more carbohydrates or sugar.

    How protein shakes can help control hunger and cravings

    Research suggests that diets rich in protein can support a balanced appetite, improve satiety, and reduce food cravings. Short-term increased protein consumption has been studied more, but high-quality research from meta-analysis still shows lasting benefits for higher protein intake on body composition and healthy weight balance.

    The nutrient density and calorie content of protein shakes can vary, but adding more protein to your diet can help balance your appetite and metabolic wellness.

    When to take protein for weight gain

    Although protein is an excellent way to support appetite balance and a healthy weight, it can also help with weight gain by being utilized for muscle synthesis. If you are active, it’s important to ensure that your nutrient intake is substantial enough to account for energy burned during exercise or training.

    Consuming protein before bed may also support healthy weight gain through muscle repair and synthesis. Health needs vary, but slow weight gain (approximately ½ to 1 pound per week) is associated with more muscle building.

    The role of protein shakes in muscle growth and recovery

    Protein plays a pivotal role in the process of muscle building, recovery, and repair. Adequate protein intake is crucial for healthy muscular strength because it provides amino acids that are used to build new muscle. Protein shakes, like other foods with protein, provide these muscle building blocks and are a great way to support efficient protein intake.

    When to take protein to gain muscle

    Are you looking to build more muscle? There is more flexibility about when you can drink protein shakes to support your goals. The International Society of Sports Nutrition recommends protein for muscle gain right after your workout. Fifteen to 60 minutes after a workout, the body has an anabolic window in which it can get the most out of taking protein. Consuming protein within the anabolic window may allow the protein to start repairing the muscles you’ve strained during a rigorous workout.

    Everyone is different and research confirms that there is not just one way to support healthy muscle development. One study of young men found that they benefited most from protein supplements taken before bed. Another study that tracked healthy adults and older adults found that optimal muscle growth was associated with spacing protein consumption throughout the day, rather than only taking it before bed.

    While a definitive time of day to take protein for optimal muscle development may still be up for debate, these studies do show that protein is essential for healthy muscle-building and recovery. The importance of protein timing for muscle synthesis.

    The process of muscle synthesis is closely tied to the timing of protein intake. To better understand how this works, let’s break down the science.

    • During exercise, the muscles undergo a catabolic phase where muscle breakdown occurs.
    • After exercise, the body enters an anabolic phase, where rebuilding and repairing the muscles takes place.

    The post-exercise anabolic phase is when the body can efficiently use protein for healthy muscle development and growth.

    The length of the anabolic phase varies based on the type of exercise, one’s personal physiology, and other variables. However, consuming protein immediately after physical activity offers the best opportunity to support muscle synthesis. By providing the body with protein during this critical post-workout window, you can optimize the recovery process and enhance your body’s muscle-building response.

    What’s the difference between protein shakes and whole food protein sources?

    Dietary supplements, including protein shakes, can never fully replace a healthy, balanced diet. There are a few notable differences between protein shakes and whole food sources. Protein from whole food sources has more nutrient variety and amino acid profiles. Protein shakes typically come from just a single source of protein, like whey or casein, which naturally occur in whole foods like dairy. As a result, protein shakes may not provide as many amino acid varieties, as well as healthy fats and carbohydrates, compared to a well-rounded diet that includes different protein-rich foods.

    While protein shakes may have some advantages, such as easier digestion than some food sources of protein, they may also include added sugars or other ingredients that aren’t typically found in whole protein foods. Reading labels carefully is important to understand and assess the quality of your protein, as well as any other things you’re getting with it.

    If you use plant-based protein sources, their absorption rate is not as high as protein from animal sources. However, by consuming protein from a variety of whole plant foods, you can meet your amino acid needs more effectively than relying solely on plant-based protein powders. As with any dietary approach, maintaining balance and incorporating variety is essential.

    Key ingredients in high-quality protein shakes

    When choosing protein powders or ready-to-drink shakes, it’s essential to carefully examine the ingredients. Reading labels thoroughly allows for a comprehensive assessment of the product's quality. There are several factors that should be considered.

    • Serving Size: Note how many grams of protein are included per serving.
    • Nutrition Facts: Consider how many carbohydrates and grams of sugar are in the product. It’s best to minimize added sugars.
    • Additives: Read the other ingredients to check for additives, flavorings, and other ingredients that may not work for your health needs.
    • Manufactured With: If you have dietary restrictions, check for allergen statements or other notes about what the product might include.
    • Other Nutrients: Some protein shakes or powders come with additional ingredients like fats or Medium-Chain Triglycerides (MCTs), other amino acids, vitamins, minerals, or other nutrients.

    To ensure quality and purity, look for protein shakes that undergo third-party testing.

    If you have any uncertainties about which qualities make a protein powder suitable for your needs, consult with your doctor or a healthcare professional.

    Can you take too much protein?

    Although protein is beneficial for muscle and healthy weight balance, too much protein may have adverse effects. Approximately 10-35% of your daily calories should come from protein. Too much protein from food or supplements could lead to symptoms like:

    • Dehydration
    • Discomfort
    • Nausea
    • Digestive or bowel changes

    How do you know if you are eating or drinking too much protein? Protein needs are calculated based on your body weight, and there is a wide range that may be healthy. There may not always be signs of consuming too much protein, so it’s important to consult your healthcare provider about a healthy intake.

    The bottom line

    Protein is an essential macronutrient that is important for muscle development and healthy weight management. Protein powder can serve as a convenient source of protein, but it should be used along with a well-balanced diet that includes a variety of whole-food protein sources. The optimal timing for protein shake consumption depends on why you’re using it. To support muscle development, most evidence suggests consuming it immediately after exercise or training. Ultimately, ensuring adequate protein intake throughout the day is essential for maintaining healthy muscles and promoting overall wellness.

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    Dr. Carla Montrond Correia ND, CNS
    Medical Content Manager
    Dr. Montrond-Correia is a licensed naturopathic physician and a certified nutrition specialist (CNS). She holds degrees from University of Bridgeport, Georgetown University, and University of Saint Joseph, and supplemented her education with internships in the health and wellness space. She's focused on research, herbal medicine, nutrigenomics, and integrative and functional medicine. She makes time for exercise, artistic activities, and enjoying delicious food.
    Jordana Tobelem, RD
    Freelance Contributor
    Jordana Tobelem is a Registered Dietitian who enjoys helping others become the best versions of themselves through proper nutrition education. Jordana is passionate about promoting lifestyle changes through nutrition, physical activity, and behavior to create a superior quality of life. She uses her experience in the clinical field of dietetics to provide consulting services to an array of healthcare brands and companies. Jordana loves finding the most current research in nutrition to create meaningful content to share with her clients. Jordana has been a member of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics since 2018 and also holds certifications in both Personal Training and Health Coaching.