Should I have a protein shake before or after my workout?
This was a question I received from a newsletter subscriber. It’s a question that comes up often, so I decided to post it to the blog.
QUESTION: If I’m lifting weights first thing in the morning, should I eat/have a protein drink before I go? I’ve been eating afterward when I’m doing the elliptical and at-home strength training, but I wasn’t sure what the best thing to do is.
I’d need to know why you’re asking this question to answer it properly but an educated guess would be because someone told you to. Or you read somewhere that it’s needed in order to preserve, repair, and build muscle.
If I would have been asked this question in my early 20’s you would be receiving all kinds of “bro-science” right now.
There are two processes that naturally occur over the course of a day.
- muscle protein synthesis
- muscle protein breakdown
Protein that you eat or drink is broken down into amino acids that are used to repair and grow new muscle. This is known as muscle protein synthesis. This can occur when you eat a meal that is high in protein.
Muscle protein breakdown is when you are breaking down muscle into amino acids. An example of this is when you are fasting.
After eating a protein-rich meal, muscle protein synthesis begins to occur. Then, as you fast between each meal, muscle protein breakdown begins to happen again.
Lifting weights with progressive overload increases both muscle protein breakdown and muscle protein synthesis. With muscle protein breakdown happening at a slightly higher rate.
If muscle protein breakdown is happening at a slightly higher rate it makes sense to have protein before or after a workout to stop it from happening.
But because of something called net protein balance you don’t necessarily need to.
Net protein balance is the balance between muscle protein breakdown and muscle protein synthesis. If muscle protein breakdown is higher than muscle protein synthesis for an extended period of time you will lose muscle.
If muscle protein synthesis is higher than muscle protein breakdown for an extended period of time you will build muscle.
From this, it’s easy to see that having a protein shake (or protein) an hour before a workout or within 30-minutes of a workout doesn’t matter all that much for most people.
What’s most important is staying in muscle protein synthesis (positive protein balance) over an extended period of time.
How much protein you need can be influenced by a number of things. But generally speaking anywhere between 1.6-2.4 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight is sufficient. Distributing this over 2-4 meals per day and you are good to go.
The long story made short
Make sure you are getting enough protein over the course of a day for an extended period of time. It doesn’t make a huge difference for most people if they have a protein shake before or after a workout. But it could be helpful if you have a hard time eating enough protein at meals.