You’ve picked out your protein powder and are all set to hit the gym. But before you start downing your workout beverage, there’s one thing you need to keep in mind: timing is everything. With the wrong timing, even the highest quality protein shake won’t be absorbed properly by your body. And in that case, what’s the point?
More people than ever are using protein supplements, which makes absorption a more common issue than ever. The global market value for protein supplements (led by protein powders) hit $12.4 billion in 2016, with a predicted growth rate of nearly 7% in a decade. In the U.S., protein shakes aren’t just being used by bodybuilders anymore. Nowadays, protein powders are pantry staples and pre-mixed protein drinks fill fridges across the country.
But are you getting all the nutrients you can be out of that protein shake?
A high-intensity workout results in minimal muscle tear. That’s a good thing, because it stimulates muscle growth and helps construct that perfect physique over time. But in order for your muscles to grow, your body needs amino acids and carbohydrates to step up to the plate. That’s where timing comes into play.
After a workout
The ideal time to consume your protein shake is when your body is still throbbing from a heavy-duty gym session. A shake with around 20-30 grams of protein within half an hour of your workout will help your muscles kick-start the recovery process. Your body has gone through all its nutrients at this point and needs to be replenished as quickly as possible.
If you ‘re on a pre-breakfast training routine, that protein shake at the end will make all the difference.
Before hitting the gym
The trick here is to work your meals around your gym sessions. This might seem unnecessary, but it’s vital if you want that sculpted figure. Glycogen fuels your workout, so make sure you eat a protein bar or load up on carbs 30 minutes before you enter the weight room. After your workout, you can down your shake in about 2.5 hours.
One study found athletes who drank a carbohydrate and protein drink while training took longer to reach their exhaustion limit. Muscle soreness was also greatly reduced.
What about the rest of the day?
Four meals with a moderate high-quality protein content of 20-30 grams is a good idea if you’re a regular gym-goer. As you get older, this habit of spreading out of your protein intake will ensure better muscle protein synthesis (MPS). Believe us, this matters.
Right before you hit the sack
According to the International Society of Sports Nutrition, optimal MPS takes place when your protein contains essential amino acids like leucine. If you’re out to build muscle mass, load up on 30-40 grams of casein protein right before you get into bed. This will improve your metabolic rate and overnight MPS. This protein takes time to be absorbed by the body, making it perfect for pre-sleep consumption.
Don’t believe the myth that too much protein is bad for you. If you’re working out regularly to build muscle, you’re going to be expending a lot of energy, and that extra protein will come in handy. One major advantage of consuming protein in-between meals is that it keeps your appetite in check and reduces the urge to reach for empty calories.
Protein consumption on a rest day
Consistency is key when it comes to protein drinks. Even if you’ve taken a day off from the gym, make sure you stick to your protein consumption timetable. Muscle recovery is an ongoing process, and your body needs all the protein it can get—even if you’re not pumping iron on that specific day.
A few thoughts on choosing your protein powder
But it goes without saying that choosing the right protein powder is nearly as important as when you take it. Make sure you choose a protein powder in tune with your body’s needs.
If you’re a meat eater, chances are you’re getting most of your nutrients through your meals. A protein shake will enhance your workouts and help build muscle mass. Vegetarians and vegans, on the other hand, need to choose a protein shake that makes up for lack of nutrients that aren’t present in grain or plant-based foods.
If you’re out to bulk up, a whey or whey isolate powder is your best bet. If you want to lose weight, make sure your protein drink doesn’t contain r added sugars. Vegans can choose from either hemp-based or pea-based powders, which can be nearly as effective as whey or casein.
The best protein shakes are ones that go easy on the additives and do what they’re supposed to with minimal fillers. If you’re ready to find the perfect protein supplement (and time it for optimal absorption), check out these comprehensive reviews of the best protein powders.