If you don’t eat enough protein no matter when you take it, your gains will be limited. But once you have had enough, the question becomes how to distribute it. Is three square meals and a snack enough, or do you need to add a protein shake here and there? If you are throwing a shake back, when is the best time to do it to gain an advantage and maximize recovery?
You may have assumed the answer was open and closed. It’s after training, right? Maybe not.
Proteins in brief
After resistance exercise, the rates of protein synthesis and breakdown are often high.[1,2] In other words, you both stimulate new muscle growth and remove amino acids from existing tissue. Without an increase in amino acids in the blood to fuel the synthesis process, protein breakdown will remain high and could lead to negative “protein balance”.
Think of the net protein balance as your gain count: if it is largely positive, you will build muscle over time; if it is negative, you will break down the muscle over time.
This is why most experts recommend consuming a protein shake or supplement after training.
Since whey and similar supplements are absorbed much faster than a full meal, consuming protein immediately after training can help amplify the protein synthesis response and increase the amount of new protein deposited, often to a greater degree than that of a simple resistance exercise. This tips the scales in your favor and can build muscle mass over time.[4,5]
Here’s where it gets interesting: If we know muscle protein breaks down during a workout – don’t panic, we all know it happens – it’s safe to assume that ingesting amino acids or a shake before exercise might also be beneficial. . As Krissy Kendall, Ph.D., explained in her article “Sore No More”, providing amino acids to the body in advance can actually reduce exercise-induced muscle breakdown. Add to that the increased protein synthesis that naturally follows exercise and you have a winning recipe for building muscle!
There is research to support this. A study published in 2007 found that when subjects were given a 20 gram protein shake immediately before lower body exercise, the net protein balance was positive both before and after exercise, and synthesis rates were positive. were significantly elevated from baseline measurements.
Time to shake it up?
The takeaway from the 2007 study seems pretty clear at first glance: a pre-workout shake is definitely better than nothing, and perhaps compares to a post-workout shake in its benefits. But it also raises more questions. For example, does the study actually show pre-workout to be a great time, or does it show that timing doesn’t really matter and any time is a good time? , as long as you sometimes shake yourself?
This seemed to be the conclusion of a meta-analysis carried out in 2013, when researchers reported that after controlling for other factors, there was no difference between different synchronization protocols on measures of force or d ‘hypertrophy. They concluded that if the net protein balance is positive, as is the case after protein ingestion, muscle will be built, period. Therefore, the more times you can stimulate this process during the day, the stronger your muscle building results should be.
There is additional research to support this notion. A study published in 2009 showed that consuming protein supplements before and after a workout did not produce greater increases in strength, hypertrophy or potency compared to shakes in the morning and the evening. However, both groups increased all of these factors to a greater extent than the control group.
Should I double down?
“Get enough protein” is still the dominant message here. But given the magnitude of the increase in muscle protein synthesis after resistance training exercise, I would say there is always room for occasional doubling up and shaking both before and after exercise, because the body is known to be more receptive to extra protein during this time. However, there is a caveat.
While anyone raising their hands would likely see an advantage in doubling up, it probably won’t be significant in most cases. However, you should consider it if you are in a particularly demanding training phase. In-season bodybuilders who are in a period of higher volume, or other weightlifters who may be in a peak cycle, could potentially notice better recovery by adding a shake before workouts.
Make sure you understand how your body handles protein, however. Protein takes a lot of energy to digest, so if you take in too much of it right before getting up, you’ll divert blood flow to the tissues that need it most. You may also experience gastrointestinal issues, especially with higher doses too close to intense training. If your pre-workout shake means you have to exert low effort in the gym for fear of throwing up, or if it makes you feel full and weighed down, then that hasn’t helped.
The answer: Start with a low dose, no more than 20 to 25 grams, and consume it at least 30 to 60 minutes before training. Once you’ve adjusted to this new routine, play around with the dosage and timing to see what works best for you. After training, stick with fast digesting sources such as whey, and feel free to increase the amount above what you took before training.
Find the perfect spot and you may find that better payback and better earnings are your reward.
- Biolo, G., Tipton, KD, Klein, S. and Wolfe, RR (1997). An abundant supply of amino acids improves the metabolic effect of exercise on muscle proteins. American Journal of Physiology-Endocrinology and Metabolism, 273(1), E122-E129.
- Phillips, SM, Tipton, KD, Aarsland, ASLE, Wolf, SE and Wolfe, RR (1997). Synthesis and degradation of mixed muscle proteins after resistance exercise in humans. American Journal of Physiology-Endocrinology and Metabolism, 273(1), E99-E107.
- Biolo, G., Maggi, SP, Williams, BD, Tipton, KD and Wolfe, RR (1995). Increased rates of muscle protein turnover and amino acid transport after resistance exercise in humans. American Journal of Physiology-Endocrinology and Metabolism, 268(3), E514-E520.
- Tieland, M., Dirks, ML, van der Zwaluw, N., Verdijk, LB, van de Rest, O., de Groot, LC and van Loon, LJ (2012). Protein supplementation increases muscle mass gain during prolonged resistance training in frail elderly: a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial. Journal of the American Medical Directors Association, 13(8), 713-719.
- Pennings, B., Koopman, R., Beelen, M., Senden, JM, Saris, WH and van Loon, LJ (2011). Exercising before protein intake allows greater use of amino acids derived from dietary protein for de novo muscle protein synthesis in young and old men. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 93(2), 322-331.
- Tipton, KD, Elliott, TA, Cris, MG, Aarsland, AA, Sanford, AP and Wolfe, RR (2007). Stimulation of net muscle protein synthesis by ingesting whey protein before and after exercise. American Journal of Physiology-Endocrinology and Metabolism, 292(1), E71-E76.
- Schoenfeld, BJ, Aragon, AA and Krieger, JW (2013). The effect of protein synchronization on muscle strength and hypertrophy: a meta-analysis. Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition, 10(1), 53.
- Hoffman, JR, Ratamess, NA, Tranchina, CP, Rashti, SL, Kang, J., & Faigenbaum, AD (2009). Effect of timing of protein supplementation on changes in strength, power and body composition in resistance-trained men. International Journal of Sports Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism, 19(2), 172-185.
- Burd, NA, West, DW, Moore, DR, Atherton, PJ, Staples, AW, Prior, T., … & Phillips, SM (2011). The increased sensitivity to amino acids of myofibrillar protein synthesis persists for up to 24 hours after resistance exercise in young men. The Journal of Nutrition, 141(4), 568-573.