Inside Scoop: Should you eat protein before or after working out for muscle growth and weight loss? The truth will surprise you!
This post was submitted by Claas Backer, who believes that the key to a happy life is to pursue your goals, overcome challenges and convert your dreams to reality. It's based upon mastering four underlying four pillars; nutrition, fitness, productivity, and mindfulness.
In order to build muscle, we need protein. We all know that, right? Nothing new. That’s old school knowledge. Even iconic bodybuilders like Arnold Schwarzenegger already knew about the anabolic window.
“Within 30 minutes after your workout, you need a protein shake.” Otherwise, your muscles won’t grow…
I assume that most of you have heard this saying at least once in your life unless you’re completely new to strength training.
“If you miss the anabolic window, you can forget about building muscle!”
Back then there were simple rules and everybody knew what they had to believe. And today? Ask three fitness experts and you will probably get three different answers:
- “Eat your proteins BEFORE training.” Says one of them.
- “Eat your proteins AFTER your workout.” Says the other. Why change something that worked in Arnold’s time? Sounds reasonable, doesn’t it?
- “Do not stress yourself and forget about the anabolic window. Everyone knows that’s a myth.” Says the third one.
But is it actually better to consume protein before or after exercise? Or is protein-timing just a variable that does not exist? Who’s wrong and who’s right? What does science say? Whom should you believe and place your trust in?
In fact, researchers have now explored the protein needs of athletes, the anabolic windows and the effect of protein timing on muscle growth and regeneration in detail.
The results are surprising.
In today’s article, I’ll comprise the most important findings and answer the above-mentioned questions. Let’s start and dive deeper into the world of the muscle building macronutrient.
Why do athletes need more protein?
During strength training, microscopic muscle injuries trigger a stimulus to growth, the so-called super-compensation.
Our body needs protein for muscle growth. In fact, for regeneration, to repair and grow the damaged tissue. These micro-injuries are incidentally a completely normal effect of intense muscle work.
And guess what, that’s why protein powder and protein bars or protein supplements in general, are among the most popular dietary supplements amongst athletes.
Before we start to answer the question when the perfect time for protein intake truly is, we should clarify the question of the right amount first.
How much protein do you actually need?
The German Society for Nutrition (DGE) recommends 0.8 grams of protein per kilo of body weight per day for normal-weight adults. So, you need at least 0.8 grams of protein per kilo of body weight daily to prevent protein deficiency. However, it should be clear to everybody that this recommendation is not about optimizing performance or building muscle.
It’s about minimum health recommendations. The amount recommended is not enough to build muscle or to quickly recover from hard workouts. This is proven by several studies (1), (2), (3), (4).
Studies have come to the following conclusions:
For optimal results, strength athletes need at least double, better still two and a half times the amount. Endurance athletes obviously need a similar amount of protein. For a 70 kilogram athlete that would be 140 grams of protein per day.
Nonetheless, the studies also reveal that demand varies individually. For some people, the optimum was more than 2 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight.
Anyone who wants to optimize their performance in power or endurance sports should follow the following principle:
Eat at least 2 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight.
A number of studies also suggest that an even higher protein intake of 2.5 g to 3 g per kilogram of body weight can help those of us who want to lower their body fat. Especially when the protein-rich diet is combined with strength training.
Therefore, who wants to lose weight, benefits from over 2.5 g of protein per kilogram of body weight per day. Your body apparently absorbs the protein best when you distribute the amount over three to four meals a day, every 3-4 hours.
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What does protein timing mean for your progress?
After intense exercise, the muscles you have trained are particularly sensitive to protein intake.
This effect is also called “anabolic window” or “metabolic window”. It indicates that after training, your muscles absorb protein like a sponge.
Many people truly believe they need to drink a protein shake within 30 minutes after exercise to maximize their progress. If they miss out on this unique opportunity, the window will close again and their bodies will no longer be able to utilize the nutrients so effectively for regeneration and muscle building.
That does sound horrible, right? Don’t panic. Relax!
Scientific studies reveal that the anabolic window is “open” quite long after a workout which means that the 30-minute rule can be considered refuted. Let’s hark back to the initial and main question of this article.
Should you take protein before or after working out? What’s best?
So far, there is only one scientific study in which the effect of protein before or after training was examined and compared.
In this study, the researchers divided 21 men into two groups, each one was given a shake with 25g of protein. One group drank the protein shake before training and the other after training.
Each participant trained three times a week for a total of 10 weeks following the same full-body training schedule.
The result of the study is quite astonishing: The scientists did not observe any significant differences between the two groups. In other words, it does not matter if you consume your protein before or after your workout. As long as you eat protein close to training, you can expect similar outcomes.
Thus, the best thing to do is to choose the time that is the easiest for you to adhere to and maintain consistently over time.
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Does the timing of protein intake even matter?
Whether the timing of your protein consumption close to training helps to maximize muscle growth has not yet been scientifically clarified:
Some studies question the thesis that protein intake close to training even plays a role.
In some cases, however, the researchers observed a positive effect on muscle growth when the protein was consumed before or after exercise.
On the contrary, other studies did not put on record any effect.
Therefore, it can be said that the current study situation does paint a picture that is anything but consistent. This prompted the researchers Alan Aragon, Dr. med. Brad Schoenefeld and James Krieger to evaluate a total of 23 scientific studies in a meta-study with the goal of finding an answer to the question of protein timing.
They came to the following conclusion:
The total amount of protein has the greatest effect on muscle and strength development. To put it simply, sufficient protein consumption is the most important variable in principle.
However, the current study situation does not allow a clear conclusion on whether the timing plays a significant role. Overall, that’s good news, because the only rule we can say of being scientifically backed up is giving you plenty of room to maneuver:
Just eat enough protein every day!
In line with this, there is nothing that speaks against taking your protein shake before or after exercising. If you want to drink a shake before or after training, please go ahead and feel free to do so. If you don’t, that’s also totally fine. But most importantly, you do not need to worry about it at all. Because if you want to build muscle, then how much obviously is much more important than the when.
So, in the end…
Protein plays a key role when it comes down to building muscle and muscle recovery after exercise.
Whether you consume your protein before or after training, however, does not seem to matter. Interestingly, the daily amount of protein has the biggest effect on your progress.
Therefore, rather focus on your total daily protein consumption than worrying about when you should consume your protein.
Don’t make it more complicated than it actually is. Choose times that are most convenient for you, so that you can maintain sufficient protein consumption daily in the long run.
Those of you who already eat “healthy” don’t need to be afraid of a protein-rich diet. On the contrary, it seems to have some health benefits to eat even more protein than the DGE recommends.
As the last point, once more people try and make things more difficult and complicated than they actually are. This leads to needless discussions about small aspects that may only influence 1% of the overall bigger picture.
Keep the main thing the main thing.
First things first.
I hope this article helped to relieve some stress of you worrying about the perfect protein timing to maximize your gains. As we now know, you can relax and focus on the important things rather than stressing about less important secondary things.
What’s your experience with protein timing? When do you take your protein? After or before training? Leave a comment below!
Thanks for reading, Claas
Hi, I'm Claas. For several years I have been training and developing my personality with dedication and ambition to pursue my goals. During this time, I already had the opportunity to support many friends, family members and athletes on their journey to achieve their goals, both athletic or performance driven. Whether about nutrition, training, performance or self-development, for the last few years I was able to steadily improve my knowledge to provide our clientele with all my experience. I believe the key to a happy life, to pursue your goals, overcome challenges and convert your dreams to reality, is based upon mastering our four underlying four pillars; nutrition, fitness, productivity, and mindfulness. Learn more about the four pillars at https://emerging-athlete.com.
This was super helpful. Sometimes I prefer to eat before my workout and I was concerned that after would not be as beneficial! Thanks for clearing this up! Great article!
Thank you Angelina! We always aim to clear up the confusion with health and nutrition advice.