Some bodybuilders say the timing of when you drink your protein shake -- before vs. after your strength session -- can make a difference. Scientific studies show mixed results, however. One thing is clear, though: You won’t benefit as much from strength training without adequate amounts of protein, so eat high-quality sources every day and space them out during the times that work best for you.
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How protein plays a part in your exercise plan may depend on your fitness level as well as your overall diet. One study shows that if you’re a beginner to exercise, when you get your protein won’t make much of a difference. In a 2012 study published in the “International Journal of Sport Nutrition & Exercise Metabolism,” participants who took whey protein both before and after starting an exercise program didn’t gain any more muscle mass than subjects who had a placebo. In a review article published in 2013 in the “Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition,” researchers reported that the single most important factor in the magnitude of muscular gain and synthesis was the amount of total protein consumption rather than the timing of that consumption.
One perk of downing some protein before your workout is that you’re unlikely to get hungry or experience low blood sugar levels while training. Protein is a more satiating nutrient than either carbohydrates or fat, so it can keep you full for long periods of time and continue to provide energy through a grueling workout. Plus, a study published in 2012 from researchers at the Australian Institute of Sport discovered that eating protein before exercise, even slow-digesting forms of protein, is just as effective at inducing muscle protein synthesis as eating protein after exercise.
If you can’t fit a high-protein meal or snack in until after your workout, don’t worry. Some research suggests that getting most of your daily protein shortly after exercise stimulates a significant improvement in muscle recovery. In 2010, the “Journal of Sports Science & Medicine” published a review study concluding that having protein within two hours of exercise produces “a net positive protein balance.” In turn, this enables athletes’ bodies to grow and repair greater amounts of muscle mass. The International Society of Sports Nutrition also cites studies demonstrating that athletes who consume protein right after exercise stay healthier and experience less muscular soreness.
Learning to Combine
Some sources of protein may not agree with your body as well as others, so it’s important to pay attention to what you choose to eat and how it seems to affect the way you feel before, during and after exercise. Fats generally aren’t as easy for the body to digest as carbs and protein, for example, so eating high-protein snacks that are also high in fat, like cheese and red meat, may weigh you down during your training. Experiment with a variety of nutritious proteins to find the times and sources that work best for you, and consult your doctor or a registered dietitian before you make any major changes to your current diet.