Do You Drink Whey Before or After a Workout?

Most people meet their protein requirements through diet alone and have no need to drink whey, even if they work out regularly. If your main goal is to build muscle mass and improve body composition, however, whey shakes may be able to help, especially if you drink them after strength exercise.

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Your body can rapidly digest the protein from whey after exercise. (Image: Liquidlibrary/liquidlibrary/Getty Images)

Post-Workout Protein

According to the National Strength and Conditioning Association, whey is one of the highest-quality protein supplements an athlete can consume, and it’s particularly beneficial during the 60 minutes after exercise. During this time, your body is able to repair muscle tissue and stimulate muscle protein synthesis to a greater degree than it is after more time has passed.

"Fast-Acting" Whey

Whey is especially helpful to drink right after exercise because your body digests it more rapidly than protein supplements that come from other sources. Regular whey protein powder is digested in under 30 minutes, and hydrolyzed whey is digested even more quickly, so your body is able to get to work on using those nutrients almost immediately. Although other proteins may offer equal or greater nutrition, their longer digestion times make them less suitable for promoting muscle protein synthesis in the time immediately after exercise.

Studies Show ...

Research shows benefits to drinking whey either before or after exercise. In one study published in 2013 in the "Nutrition Journal," resistance-trained subjects who supplemented with whey or rice protein immediately after training sessions for a period of eight weeks experienced comparable gains in lean muscle mass, strength and power, suggesting that any type of high-quality protein could produce similar results. In another study, published in 2010 in "Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise," trained subjects who supplemented with whey 20 minutes before heavy resistance workouts increased their resting energy expenditure 24 hours after completing the training significantly more than those who consumed carbohydrate. Resting energy expenditure refers to the number of calories your body requires to complete basic functions every day.

Your Protein Needs

According to registered dietitian Rebecca Scritchfield, whey supplements hold no advantages over other protein-rich foods except for convenience. If you can eat a carton of plain yogurt or a few pieces of lean meat or fish before or after your strength workout, for example, you'll stimulate muscle recovery and muscle protein synthesis effectively without a supplement. Protein timing and quantities do become more important if you're a competitive athlete who is training for a big event, like a marathon or triathlon, but the average active person has no need to fit regular whey supplements into a healthy eating plan.

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