An age-old argument among muscle heads, gym rats, athletes, and scientists… Should you consume protein before or after your workout to maximize the benefits? Considering protein is the life-blood and fuel for anybody looking to get the most out of their workouts, it’s not surprising that this is one of the most heavily debated practices in supplementation. The good thing is, neither is going to be BAD for you. Protein is one of the substances that our bodies love and unless you have a rare medical ailment, you’re not going to have anything in the way of negative effects. We’ve talked about protein in detail before, so you already know the basics.
Still, there is some importance in having the discussion. Both arguments have some validity and the truth of the matter is, there’s no blatantly obvious winner here. Let’s take a look at some of the benefits of protein supplementation before, during, and after your workout. When you ingest the protein will change the effects it will have on your body. Because of this, more often than not, the “winner” of the argument is only the winner because the user is trying to see a certain set of results. These results are realized and best achieved based on the argument that actually supports the results and vice versa. It’s a catch 22. Let’s take a closer look…
A relatively new term in the world of fitness, nutrient timing is proving to be more than just a fad. Now that we’ve got decades of supplementation research under our collective belts, we obviously understand what supplements work for each type of fitness and physique goal. Whether you’re trying to bulk up on the muscle mass or trying to become a lean machine, the supplements you take will be different to help you maximize your success and achieve your goal.
Well, since we know most of what we can know and understand about the different supplements that are available to us, the fitness community has turned to a new technique to master. The idea of nutrient timing is one of the fastest growing practices in the fitness community. Profession sports teams being the strongest propellant, nutrient timing research is trickling down to the everyday stay at home moms and amateur gym rats!
Understanding that WHEN you take your supplements has almost as much effect as WHAT you’re taking for a supplement is important. For example, one wouldn’t take creatine right as they’re about to go to sleep. It would be a complete waste of the supplement and might actually make it more difficult to get to sleep. That might be an extreme example but the premise is still there when it comes to other situational supplements. Protein is no different.
Protein is a hugely important component when considering nutrient timing. The timing of your protein supplementation will be dictated by what you’re trying to accomplish…
Protein BEFORE a Workout
Obviously the big benefit of enjoying a pre-workout protein bar or shake is that the branched chain amino acids inherently in the protein will be essential when it comes to providing your muscles with the fuel it is about to need and consume during the upcoming training. This fuel isn’t stored for significant amounts of time, so it’s best to consume the protein 15 to 30 minutes prior to the workout commencement. We like to enjoy a tasty protein shake with some of our other pre-workout supplements and then stretch and jog for a few minutes on the treadmill to get the blood pumping and speed the digestion process. Giving your muscles the BCAAs from the protein will stop the muscles from catabolizing themselves, giving them something else to work off of.
In addition to giving your muscles the fuel they need to prevent premature tiredness, pre-workout protein will help your body burn more calories from fat! By consuming protein, your body understands it has some healthy fuel and decides to burn off the visceral fat you’ve got as the primary energy source. On top of the super-helpful visceral fat burn, protein will keep your metabolism in check. It’s going to be a natural hunger-suppressant but boost your metabolic rate at the same time, especially when you get the blood flowing during an intense workout. This means that even after the workout is over, you’re going to be prone to burning more calories from fat than you’d be without the pre-workout protein.
Protein synthesis has been found to stay elevated for 2 to 4 hours AFTER consumption. This means that even when your workout is over with, your muscles are still getting the benefits. You might not be able to feel it but they’re naturally improving themselves. The continued protein synthesis is ideal because it will prevent that excessive post-workout muscle breakdown that happens in the hours immediately following an unsupplemented workout. Simply having the protein directly after the workout will leave a 30 minute gap of time for the muscle breakdown to occur, negating much of the hard work you just put in.
Protein DURING a Workout
Probably a bit underrated and often not considered to have a place in such an argument, but having some protein during a workout is quite beneficial as well. Particularly if you’re looking to have a super intense workout, protein supplementation is going to be just as important as hydration. In the really intense workouts that leave you looking like Shaquille O’Neal after a double overtime game in the end of his career, it’s inevitable that your muscles are going to run out of fuel. Especially for those of us with low body fat, our muscles will turn on themselves. They need to get that energy from somewhere and if the BCAAs are gone, the muscles may cannibalize and eat themselves for energy. It’s not as morbid as it sounds, it’s very similar to the post-workout muscle breakdown that can occur. Speaking of which, having some protein during intense training will guarantee that’s not a possibility either. Why go through all of this effort to look and feel great, only to let it waste away during and after your workout?
Staying hydrated is obviously very important while working out. Think of water as your body’s coolant. Without it, you’ll get dehydrated and overheat, similar to what happens to a vehicle running without coolant in the engine. If you’re going to be having an intense work out, especially in a hot or humid environment, have a little protein powder mixed in with your water. Make sure you’re taking a decent drink between each workout before moving on to the next. Your workout leads to a loss of important nutrients that are needed to help repair, rebuild, and recover the muscles. This protein powder and water mixture will help refuel your body and lead to a much less painful post-workout recovery.
Protein AFTER a Workout
Taking protein powder after a workout is something we’ve mentioned in the past in our articles. Ongoing hunger is a major problem for many of you out there that are doing everything you can to shed a few pounds of fat to put emphasis on the muscle you’ve gained. Enjoying a nice protein shake after your workout will suppress the annoying hunger pangs that come with energy exertion while at the same time, giving your body the protein it needs to recover from the exertion. Reducing the appetite by having a bit of protein after a workout is something increasingly more common among professional athletes and is actually a pretty healthy alternative to controlled fasting. There are a variety of meal replacement supplements available for purchase that will be loaded with protein and the other nutrients your body needs to optimize health and wellness while staving off hunger and assisting in workout recovery.
In addition to controlling the metabolism and helping prevent the annoying hungry feeling that leads to being HANGRY, post-workout protein will help recover from even the most intense workouts. This is direly essential for post-workout muscle reduction. There is absolutely no reason for you to bust your butt for 60 minutes straight in a ridiculously intense workout just to lose 80% of the progress you made within 30 minutes of ending the exercise session. Make sure you’re bolstering your regimen with an after-workout protein meal or supplement drink.
Meals as Supplementation
It’s absolutely true, what they say about breakfast. Breakfast is the most important meal of the day. This is definitely true when it comes to protein supplementation. When you wake up in the morning, your body has officially been 8 or 10 hours without any sort of sustenance. It won’t be long before those familiar hunger pains and pangs come stabbing at you like a hundred knives! Beat them to the punch. Seriously. Before you even feel the hungry feeling, get yourself a couple of eggs and consume them however you prefer. The eggs will provide you with a naturally high source of protein, staving off the hungry feeling for a couple more hours. If you’re not an egg fan, consider cottage cheese or maybe some Greek yogurt. The key here is to beat the hunger, reducing the amount of food you need to ingest to feel content. The protein will give your body some immediate fuel, which is much needed in the morning.
A few hours later, it’s time for a snack. Some of the suggested snacks would be almonds, fresh grapefruit, or maybe some fresh broccoli with a little bit of peanut butter. These are all loaded in protein and low in carbohydrates. You’ll be good to go for another couple of hours, until lunch comes around. Then you can enjoy yourself a nice bean salad or maybe some grilled chicken and fish. Make sure it’s another delicious meal that’s naturally high in protein, low in carbs, and will give you plenty of energy for the home stretch until dinner.
Dinner time is the challenge for everybody. If you’re not really looking to lose a bunch of weight, specifically visceral fat, you can probably eat whatever you want for dinner. If you’re looking to keep up the muscle gain and fat reduction, it’s best to stick with anther high-protein and low-carb meal for the last one of the day. There are a lot of different recipes out there based around chicken, fish, and eggs. You can probably find a lot of different recipes you’ve never tried before if you want to change it up. The protein you consume during the dinner meal will keep your body from feeding on muscle while you sleep through the night!
The Answer to the Argument: When to Take Protein
As you’ve probably figured out, participating in protein supplementation is important in all three phases of an exercise regimen. It sounds like a cop out but it’s the truth. For those of us that are serious about maximizing our workouts and being the best we can be, there needs to be a good bit of protein supplementation before, during, and after workouts. The more intense the workout, the more serious the need. Note that there are other supplements that play very nicely with protein and should be considered in a stack. Make sure you do some diligent research and understand that some of these other supplements can’t be taken as frequently as protein can but should definitely be taken advantage up. Keep a log or physical cheat sheet guide to supplementation for yourself so that you don’t cause more harm than good and you can maximize your supplements to give you the best results possible for whatever your goal may be. Keep in mind that what you eat should also be taken in to consideration as some foods are high in protein and some foods don’t have any protein at all. Build your meal plans and supplement plans ahead of time and there is no doubt that you’re going to be able to receive all the benefits that protein supplementation and nutrient timing offer!