We all know how many protein shakes and supplements there are out there that claim to give you all the protein and other ingredients you need to bulk up and give yourself the most effective results from your workout however do you know when you should actually take protein shakes? Many people swear by the rule that they should be taken before a workout and an equal number of people say that they should be taken only after your trip to the gym; so, who is right?
Well, before we go too in depth into the discussion we should first look at the different kinds of shakes.
Firstly we have those protein shakes and supplements that call themselves isolate. The main difference between those shakes that are marketed as being isolate and those that are not is that the isolate version is processed for longer when being made; this means that the protein that is in this shake is purer and has a lower fat and lactose count. Furthermore, isolate protein shakes take the shortest time to digest. Concentrate is next and this is not as filtered or processed as much as isolate so it contains more fat and lactose and, as such, has a lower amount of pure protein (around 75% in concentrate usually whereas isolate normally has over 90%). The concentrate version also takes longer to digest than isolate.
The last version of protein shakes is casein. This is dairy based and takes longer than the other two to digest and sometimes it may take up to 8 hours for your body to fully process the caseinate based protein drinks.
So, now that we have covered the different kinds of protein drinks that are available, when should you take a protein shake: before or after a workout?
Basically, it depends.
While we all like to have clear cut and straightforward answers the fact is that when you take your protein shake depends greatly on the type of protein it is. Isolate shakes for instance digest the quickest as we have seen above and so they should be taken immediately after a workout. When you finish your workout you have what is normally referred to as an ‘anabolic window’ or rather a half an hour to 40 minute period where your body needs as much protein and supplements as it can get to fully ensure that you gain as much mass and muscle as possible. So, because the isolate protein shake digests the quickest then it should be taken right after a workout so that your body receives the maximum benefits from it.
However, what about concentrate? Because this takes a bit longer to digest and does not have as much pure protein as the isolate version then it is best to take a concentrate shake before your workout. This means that you will still get the benefits from the shake but if you were to take it after your workout then you would not get as much protein as you need. The optimum time to take the concentrate version is about 30 minutes before you start your workout. This allows it to digest a little bit before you begin however if you combine this with a isolate protein shake taken directly after your exercise then you will be getting a lot of protein and your body can digest both at the rate that it is designed to while you still reap the benefits.
Finally, what about caseinate? As we have already said, this takes the longest out of any of the shakes to properly digest – up to 8 hours. So the best thing to do with a caseinate based protein shake is to take it right before you go to bed. We all should be getting about 6-8 hours sleep so by taking this type of shake before you go bed means that you will be getting an intake of protein as you sleep and it is also recommended as a breakfast supplement as well so that it can continue to be digested throughout the day. In essence, a caseinate shake should be taken after a workout and after an isolate shake but before you go to bed.
The question of when to take a protein based shake is not as black and white as you would think and it really does depend on the type of shake you are taking. A basic rule to follow is if the shake has a high dose of protein (isolate drinks for example) then they should be taken after a workout so your body eats up as much protein as possible. Concentrate is best to take before a workout so that it digests when you are actually doing your workout and then combines with the isolate drink to boost your protein levels and a caseinate based drink is a bedtime supplement so that you can get an intake of protein overnight and also prevent catabolism.