Protein shakes are consumed by hundreds and thousands of fitness fanatics and bodybuilders around the world and these days, they are more popular than ever. Protein shakes are a great way to supply your body with fast-absorbing, high quality protein. However, a lot of people get a bit confused as to when they should be consuming their protein shakes.
It is important to remember that most protein shakes are not designed to be used as a meal replacement, but rather as a supplement to an already existing, high-protein diet plan. Protein shakes should also only be consumed by those consuming an adequate amount of carbohydrates and those partaking in heavy resistance or cardiovascular activity, otherwise there is a risk of severe health problems (see whey protein side effects for more details).
So, if you’re not sure when is the best time to drink a protein shake or when to drink protein shakes at all, there are a couple of good times; for breakfast and pre/post-workout.
Drinking A Protein Shake For Breakfast
You might be wondering; why is breakfast the best time to drink a protein shake? Basically, when you wake up, your body has been fasting for around 7 – 8 hours (or more if you’re particularly lazy). This means that your body has been without food or nutrition for the entire night and thus, your body will be at risk of starting to break down your muscle to use as fuel (also known as a catabolic state).
If you’re trying to build muscle, then this is the absolute opposite of what you want to happen as it will actually reduce muscle mass. By ensuring that you supply your body with energy in the form of protein and carbohydrates as soon as possible after waking up, you can ensure that this catabolic state is avoided as your body will have sufficient fuel from food and/or a protein shake.
The point to remember here is that you need both protein and carbohydrates which means that a protein shake alone is probably not enough. One solution to this is to blend a banana or some orange juice into your protein shake to add extra carbs. Alternatively, simply have a protein shake along with a healthy, high-carb breakfast such as oatmeal or even just a couple of slices of wholemeal toast.
Drinking A Protein Shake Post-Workout
Perhaps the most common time to consume a protein shake, post-workout is one of the best times to drink a protein shake. In the 30 – 60 minute window of opportunity following your resistance training workout, your muscles are going to be in need of some nutrition. During this time, your muscles will soak up nutrients extremely quickly as they need protein to perform the recovery process.
Whey protein is the best option for a protein shake post-workout as Whey protein is extremely fast-acting, with the body absorbing around 8 – 12 grams per hour. Your body will also be in need of carbohydrates during this time so combining your protein shake with a banana or some orange juice once again will help to ensure your body efficiently absorbs amino acids and uses them for the tissue repair.
If you can ingest both carbohydrates and your protein shake in that 30 – 60 minute window post-workout, you will really be helping your body out, making it one of the best times to drink a protein shake throughout the day.
Drinking A Protein Shake Pre-Workout
People often ask when to drink protein shakes and in particular, they often ask whether it is a good idea to drink them pre or post-workout. The answer is either. Although not always as effective as consuming a protein shake post-workout, there are a few benefits of drinking one before your workout. Doing this will ensure that your body has plenty of amino acids available during your weight training. However, protein shakes are not really necessary pre-workout.
In fact, consuming a high-protein meal around an hour before working out will have just the same effect. Food protein sources are packed with slower releasing protein meaning that you will have a steady supply of protein and amino acids throughout your workout if you consume around an hour or so before. Make sure your pre-workout meal has a good source of both protein and carbohydrates (ideally slow release carbs) to ensure that your body has sufficient energy throughout your training.
If you do decide to opt for a protein shake pre-workout, you need to make sure that you consume some carbohydrates along with them. As mentioned previously, this can be added to the protein shake itself (in the form of fruit perhaps) or consumed independently.
Do You Need To Drink Protein Shakes?
A slightly different question but a question where the answer is ‘certainly not’. There is no doubt that drinking a protein shake at the right time of the day will help increase your daily protein intake and also with muscle repair and aches if consumed post-workout, but you don’t absolutely need them.
As mentioned at the beginning of this article, protein shakes should NEVER be a substitute for a nutritious, healthy meal that has a good source of protein, carbohydrates, fats and vitamins. In fact, a lot of people maintain extremely healthy and muscular bodies without ever touching a protein shake. Protein shakes are extremely useful if you have a busy schedule and need a quick source of high quality protein.
Although there are a few good times of the day to consume protein shakes, they should only be consumed if high quality, healthy food isn’t available. You should also make sure that you don’t accidentally consume too much protein.
So, when is the best time to drink a protein shake? Either for breakfast or pre/post workout; at any other time of the day it is much better to consume real, wholesome food if possible. Whey protein is the best option most of the time, as it is fast-absorbing so will be perfect for supplying your muscles with the protein they need post-workout. You can view our list of the top 10 protein powders here.
It is also best not to consume too many protein shakes per day with a general rule of thumb being no more than 1 – 2 per day (so long as you are getting adequate nutrition elsewhere). It also usually helps to combine both Whey protein and Casein protein if possible too.