Protein is one of the three macronutrients – the others being carbohydrates and fat. Of the three, protein is often the hardest one to consume in sufficient amounts, which is why a lot of people use protein shakes to boost their protein intake.
Protein shakes are one of the most popular supplements around and are used by exercisers and non-exercisers alike. The average protein shake provides 20-30 grams of protein per serving, and that can go a long way to ensuring you hit your daily target for this essential nutrient.
But what is the best time to drink a protein shake?
In this article, we’re going to reveal the most valuable, beneficial times to use a protein shake and whether different types of protein are better at different times.
Whether you use protein to build muscle, burn fat, or just to boost or maintain your health, you’ll soon know when you should be chugging down your shake.
The Best Time to Drink a Protein Shake
First Thing in the Morning
During the night, while you sleep, your body gets busy repairing the ravages and damage of the day. This process is called anabolism. To trigger anabolism, your body releases several anabolic hormones during the night, which increases protein synthesis. Protein contains amino acids, which your body uses like building blocks.
On waking, your amino acid supplies are depleted. After all, your body has just spent the night using them to repair things like damaged muscle tissue and worn-out cells and organs.
Consuming protein at this time replenishes your store of amino acids.
In addition, protein is very satiating and also boosts your metabolism for faster weight loss. Consuming a protein shake, especially instead of some kind of high carb, sugar-laden cereal, could help you reach your weight loss sooner and more easily.
The best protein for early morning consumption is whey protein concentrate or calcium caseinate. Both of these protein powders digest slowly, ensuring your body gets a steady stream of those all-important amino acids.
Immediately After Exercise
Exercise is one of the most catabolic things you can do to your body. An intense workout causes lots of microtrauma to your muscles, literally ripping them to pieces. While this undoubtedly sounds disturbing, it’s this breakdown that triggers increased fitness and strength.
With enough rest and the proper nutrients, your body doesn’t just repair this damage, it super compensates, and you grow back bigger, stronger, and more capable than before. This is the essence of fitness training; it breaks you down, and you bounce back better.
Taking protein after exercising provides your body with the amino acids it needs for the repair and recovery processes. Ideally, you should consume your protein shake as soon after finishing your workout as possible. Any delay could undermine your progress.
The best type of protein immediately after exercise is whey protein hydrolyzed. Also known as hydrolysate, this type of protein is partially digested, which means it’s very fast-acting and will enter your muscles sooner, kickstarting the recovery process.
Even the fastest acting protein shake still takes time to digest. Some fitness experts suggest that to get a jump on recovery, you should consume a fast-acting protein like whey protein isolate about half-way through your workout. That way, as you finish exercising, your muscles will already be getting their first delivery of amino acids.
While this approach can be useful for slow-paced strength training workouts, it probably won’t work for more energetic forms of training like CrossFit or high-intensity interval training. But, if you are a bodybuilder or weightlifter, consuming protein about half an hour before your workout finishes could give you a recovery edge.
Whether you want to build muscle or lose fat, drinking a protein shake between meals can help. For gaining muscle, extra protein can stop muscle breakdown and enhance recovery after your latest workout. For fat loss, the satiating and metabolism-boosting effect of protein could speed up fat loss while preventing junk food cravings.
Of course, if you are trying to gain muscle, you should consume a large serving of protein, say 30-40 grams, whereas, for weight loss, a smaller serving of 20 grams or so is more appropriate.
The best protein shake at this time would be whey protein concentrate because it digests relatively slowly. Calcium caseinate would work similarly well.
In Place of a Solid Meal for Weight Loss
While protein shakes aren’t explicitly designed for weight loss, they can still be used for this purpose. For example, if your lunch normally contains about 500 calories, replacing it with a lower calorie (around 100-200) protein shake would save you calories and could help you lose weight faster.
In addition, consuming protein will help ward off hunger and cravings while boosting your metabolic rate for faster weight loss.
If you DO choose to replace solid meals with a protein shake, limit yourself to just 1-2 shakes per day. Also, make sure your real meals are nutritiously dense and contain plenty of vegetables, whole grains, and healthy fats. Using more than 1-2 shakes or otherwise eating unhealthily could lead to malnutrition.
The best protein for weight loss is whey protein isolate. It’s very low in carbs and fat, and that means it’s low in calories too. A 25-gram scoop of whey protein isolate should provide no more than 100 calories.
To defeat hunger and sugar & carb cravings
Hunger and cravings can ruin any diet. You might be able to ignore hunger and cravings for a few hours, or even a day or two, but if they persist, eventually, they’ll wear you down. When that happens, you will probably find yourself eating the very foods that caused you to gain weight in the first place.
Protein drinks often taste sweet and are flavored like the junk foods that are banned on your weight-loss diets, such as Snickers, birthday cake, and chocolate brownies. Treating yourself to a protein shake could be just the thing you need to beat hunger and cravings.
The best protein for defeating hunger and cravings is whey protein isolate. It’s low in calories, fat, and carbs but digests fast enough to halt those cravings in their tracks.
With a Solid Meal for Weight Gain
Some people find gaining weight a real challenge. They eat and eat but still struggle to increase their weight. In exercise terms, these people are called hard gainers. Often, hard gainers struggle to eat enough food because they quickly feel full up.
Increase your calorie intake without making your meals bigger by drinking a protein shake with or immediately after a solid meal. Even if you aren’t a big eater, this strategy should allow you to significantly increase your calorie and protein intake. You can add a shake to just one or two meals per day or, if you are very underweight, consume one with every meal.
You can consume any sort of protein shake when you combine them with a meal. That said, if you want to score as many calories as you can, whey protein concentrate is probably your best option because it also has carbs and fat.
Before Going to Sleep
Consuming protein before bed ensures that your body has all the amino acids it needs for repair and growth. Nighttime protein can also help with weight loss. A pre-bed protein shake could help ward off midnight cravings and snacks, as well as boosting your metabolism, so you burn more calories and fat while you sleep.
Of course, if you are dieting for weight loss, a small protein shake is all you need. However, for building muscle, a bigger shake is more appropriate. The best protein shake for before sleep is slow-digesting calcium caseinate.
Protein Shakes – Can You Have Too Many?
Protein shakes are mostly healthy. They contain beneficial nutrients as well as the amino acids your body needs for repair, growth, and a host of other functions. Many products are fortified with extra vitamins and minerals too.
But, despite this, protein shakes are not nutritionally complete, usually don’t contain much if any fiber, and may also contain things like artificial colors and sweeteners.
Because of this, most people should limit their intake of protein shakes to 2-3 per day. If you feel like you need more protein shakes than this, your diet may need an overhaul because, really, you should not need to supplement your diet so heavily to get the protein you need.
It’s also important to remember that there are different types of protein shakes to choose from, including several varieties of whey as well as plant-based (soy, rice, and pea, hemp seed, etc.) and beef and collagen-based protein powders too. Each one has advantages and drawbacks, including digestibility, protein source, cost, and taste.
Most people should consume between 1.25 to 2.0 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight, or about 0.5-1.0 grams per pound. The actual amount depends on things like exercise type and intensity, whether you are eating for weight loss or weight gain, and if you are following a low carb diet.
However much protein you need, consistently eating enough protein is not always easy. You may not have time to cook eggs for breakfast, or your boss may be unhappy if you eat chicken at your desk when you should be working.
Protein shakes make getting enough protein much easier. Mixed with water using nothing more than a shaker cup, you can use protein shakes to ensure you hit your daily protein target with ease. Ready in seconds, you can also make protein shakes in advance, and there are pre-made protein shakes available too.
Remember, though, that while consuming protein can help you build muscle and lose weight, you can have too much of a good thing. Habitually consuming more protein than you need could lead to weight gain. Excess protein is not automatically turned into muscle mass.
Protein shakes can be very beneficial, but they should be supplemental to and not a replacement for an otherwise healthy diet.
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