The Best Time to Take Protein Before a Workout for Maximum Results

Fueling your body before a workout is the best way to help ensure you have the mental energy to stay focused and the physical energy to complete your exercise routine. To figure out how much and what kind of protein to take in before your workout, look at what time you are exercising and what type of workout you have planned.

How Long Before a Workout Should I Take Protein? (Image: nortonrsx/iStock/GettyImages)

Tip

It is best to eat or drink some protein between 30 minutes and 3 hours before a workout. The larger the meal, the longer you can wait before working out.

Why You Need Protein

Proteins are made up of amino acids that can be formed and reformed in an almost endless variety of combinations, which is why they are often referred to as the building blocks of life. Consuming enough protein is crucial when you work out, according to the International Sports Sciences Association, because it is needed to repair and rebuild the muscle micro-tears caused by exercise. It's especially necessary if you are trying to build muscle. Protein also helps fuel your body, ensuring that your metabolism does not break down your muscle tissue for fuel.

Different Types of Protein

Protein can be either animal- or plant-based, and comes from foods such as eggs, dairy, meat, nuts, beans and soy, or through the use of protein powders.

The best type of protein to fuel a workout is one that contains branch chain amino acids (BCAA). These do not need to be processed by your liver, so they go straight into your bloodstream. According to Gavin Van de Walle, MS, RD, writing for Healthline.com the leucine, isoleucine and valine found in eggs, meat, dairy products and some protein powders can help speed up the rebuilding of muscle after a workout. These BCAA proteins are not enough on their own to provide your body with a complete set of the nine amino acids that your body cannot manufacture, though.

Eating — or drinking — whey protein before a workout can help increase the rate at which your body burns calories, according to Bodybuilding.com. The exact mechanism of this calorie burn is not known, but it may have to do with the fact that protein requires more energy to process than carbohydrates. Whey protein contains BCAAs as well as the other six amino acids you need. Ohio State University's Wexner Medical Center suggests that you check the labels for the "NSF Certified for Sport" sticker to make sure that the ingredients listed are actually in the protein powder.

When to Have Protein

It is especially important to have a pre-workout meal if bodybuilding or weight training, while lighter exercise can be done on an empty stomach. If you are working out early in the morning, a protein shake or very light meal can be eaten as little as 15 to 30 minutes before your workout. Make sure to include carbs before a workout, as well as protein, CNN recommends, so that you have enough glycogen to provide you with energy. If you eat a full meal that consists of protein, complex carbohydrates and unsaturated or monounsaturated fats, you can wait as long as three hours after eating to work out, according to Medical News Today.

Best Pre-Workout Meal

According to Jessica Jones, M.S., R.D.N., C.D.E, in the January 2018 issue of SELF Magazine, a small meal of actual food is better for you than a protein shake. Eating oatmeal before a workout, with chopped nuts and a bit of lowfat, soy or nut milk and a handful of fruit, provides a complete breakfast that does not take long to digest. An egg and a piece of whole wheat toast with a banana provide the same balance. Granola bars are a quick snack, but read the label to make sure they contain no processed sugar.

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