Should you take your whey protein shake before or after your workout?
Multiple human case studies have proven there is no difference in terms of muscle growth or strength gains no matter when you drink your whey protein shake.
The old idea there is an “anabolic window” has been long since disproven even though it was so deeply ingrained within the bodybuilding community for so long it’s still widely preached as fact.
However, there may be a huge benefit to drinking your shake pre-workout which scientist have not directly measured but we do have a strong insight as to why before your workout, is the best time to consume your whey protein.
Let’s dive into the human case studies and find out. First we will discuss the anabolic window myth.
When is the Best Time to Take Whey Protein?
It’s an absolutely proven falsehood that you need to consume your whey protein within 30 minutes after your workout to maximize bioavailability and muscle uptake.
Human Case Study 1
21 resistance trained college aged men were given 25g of whey protein either immediately before or after their workout for 10 weeks.
At the end of the study researchers saw no difference in muscle or strength gains between either group. (1)
Human Case Study 2
Another study on 26 elderly men was performed where the men were either given protein immediately before and after their workout or were given a placebo with no protein at all.
Researchers ensured that all of the participants consumed an adequate amount of protein throughout the day via food so there would not be a total protein shortage in the placebo group which would have skewed the results.
At the end of the 12 week study, all of the participants increased in strength and muscle size researchers found no difference between the protein group and the placebo group. (2)
In other words, even taking a protein supplement both immediately before and immediately after working out made no difference as long as total protein intake was adequate for the day.
Human Case Study 3
33 resistance trained men were separated into 3 groups.
- 13 men received protein immediately before & immediately after workouts.
- 13 men received protein in the morning and evening
- 7 men served as a control taking no protein at all.
At the end of the 10 week study all of the men saw positive increases, however, there was no difference between any of the 3 groups in strength, body mass or percentage of body fat. (3)
Again, as long as total protein intake was adequate, this was all that mattered and supplementing wasn’t needed at all as proven by the control group performance as well as both supplement groups.
Human Case Study 4 – Peer Review
There have been a couple of human case studies which have shown some potential benefits to drinking your protein shake at a particular time. (4)
However, in a massive peer review of both these studies and the studies showing no benefit (67 studies in total), the researchers discovered something significant.
“sub-analysis showed that discrepancies in total protein intake explained the majority of hypertrophic differences noted in timing studies.” (5)
What this means is that the studies showing any positive benefit, is probably because the participants not receiving a whey protein shake were protein deficient in their diet.
Obviously if you are not consuming enough protein in your day, you need a supplement to help you get there.
However, that has nothing to do with supplement timing and to skew the study to make it sounds as if it does, is an oversight at best and “fake science” at worst.
Whey Protein + Creatine + Dextrose
As you have seen from the human case studies above, consuming a whey protein shake alone before or after your workout will not encourage additional muscle growth or increase strength as long as your daily protein intake is adequate.
HOWEVER, consuming whey protein along with glucose (dextrose) and creatine before your workout may help increase both size and strength.
There are a handful of reasons for this and you can click on the links in the above paragraph to see exactly how dextrose and creatine may help take your workouts up a notch.
For the purpose of this article though I’m going straight into 2 human case studies on it.
Human Case Study 1
Resistance trained males were split into 2 groups and were given a combination of whey protein, creatine and dextrose before and after exercise, or in the morning and evening.
The men who received the supplement pre and post exercise vs in the morning and evening saw a significantly greater increase in both strength and lean body mass.
The pre/post group also saw a significant increase in total creatine levels as well as glycogen (dextrose) levels over their morning/evening counterparts. (6)
Human Case Study 2 – Carbohydrates Likely Need to Be Taken BEFORE Exercise
Glucose or Dextrose is a specific type of carbohydrate and has a very similar effect in the body to maltodextrin.
The big difference is that maltodextrin is released into the bloodstream at a slower rate so is typically the favorite marathon runners while dextrose tends to be favored by bodybuilders and athletes performing workouts under 2 hours.
In a small, although well performed study on 9 men, using muscle biopsies to test for muscle protein synthesis (MPS) as well as muscle protein breakdown (MPB), researchers found no difference between those who took 25g of whey protein alone and those who supplemented with 25g of whey protein + 50g of maltodextrin after their workouts.
In other words, if you are going to add dextrose or maltodextrin to your whey protein, you need to do it BEFORE exercise not after.
What About Post Workout Soreness (DOMS)
I’ve written extensively how BCAAs are overrated and in my opinion a waste of money.
The only thing BCAAs seem to be proven to help with is delayed onset muscle soreness or DOMS when taken pre-workout.
As I pointed out in my article on BCAAs though, it would be much more beneficial to supplement with a whey protein drink before your workout over BCAAs as a standalone, since whey will provide you with the full spectrum of essential amino acids.
25g of whey protein taken pre-workout is going to provide you with all the BCAAs you need to help decrease muscle soreness and not only do you get a lot more benefits from it overall but it’s much cheaper than buying a BCAA supplement.
Plus whey protein offers the additional benefit of containing lactoferrin which is a multifunctional protein and has been shown to have an anti-inflammatory effect in addition to supporting a natural immune response to disease. (8)
Final Conclusion on When to Take Whey Protein
Whey protein, especially whey protein isolate is the most bioavailable form of protein you can buy and it provides a lot of health benefits in addition to being a great way to make sure you are getting adequate protein each day.
There is little to zero evidence you need to consume it at any particular time with the exception that taking it pre-workout will probably help decrease soreness.
And if you combine it with dextrose and creatine as a pre-workout staple there may be some additional benefits there.
For this reason I personally consume whey protein pre-workout along with both dextrose and creatine and I recommend you do as well.
- Pre- versus post-exercise protein intake has similar effects on muscular adaptations. Brad Jon Schoenfeld, Alan Aragon, Colin Wilborn, Stacie L. Urbina, Sara E. Hayward, and James Krieger. PeerJ. 2017; 5: e2825. – Link
- Protein supplementation before and after exercise does not further augment skeletal muscle hypertrophy after resistance training in elderly men. Verdijk LB, Jonkers RA, Gleeson BG, Beelen M, Meijer K, Savelberg HH, Wodzig WK, Dendale P, van Loon LJ. Am J Clin Nutr. 2009 Feb;89(2):608-16. – Link
- Effect of protein-supplement timing on strength, power, and body-composition changes in resistance-trained men. Hoffman JR, Ratamess NA, Tranchina CP, Rashti SL, Kang J, Faigenbaum AD. Int J Sport Nutr Exerc Metab. 2009 Apr;19(2):172-85. – Link
- Effects of resistance training and protein plus amino acid supplementation on muscle anabolism, mass, and strength. Willoughby DS, Stout JR, Wilborn CD. Willoughby DS, Stout JR, Wilborn CD. Amino Acids. 2007;32(4):467-77. – Link
- The effect of protein timing on muscle strength and hypertrophy: a meta-analysis. Brad Jon Schoenfeld, Alan Albert Aragon, and James W Krieger. Journal List. J Int Soc Sports Nutr. v.10; 2013 – Link
- Effects of supplement timing and resistance exercise on skeletal muscle hypertrophy. Cribb PJ, Hayes A. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2006 Nov;38(11):1918-25. – Link
- Carbohydrate does not augment exercise-induced protein accretion versus protein alone. Staples AW, Burd NA, West DW, Currie KD, Atherton PJ, Moore DR, Rennie MJ, Macdonald MJ, Baker SK, Phillips SM. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2011 Jul;43(7):1154-61. – Link
- Antiinflammatory activities of lactoferrin. Conneely OM. J Am Coll Nutr. 2001 Oct;20(5 Suppl):389S-395S; discussion 396S-397S. – Link