Should you use protein powder before or after a workout? Here’s what a sports nutritionist says

When is the optimal window to deliver that protein payload? We got the lowdown from an expert in the field

Person placing scoop of protein powder into a blender
(Image credit: Getty Images)

Everybody agrees that you need protein to build muscle, but there’s still some debate on when you should consume it. 

Sports nutritionist Roo Whelan says that the timing is actually less important than making sure you eat adequate amounts. Most studies also suggest that your muscle gains aren't affected by when you eat your protein-filled snack. 

That doesn't mean there aren't any benefits to filling up on protein before or after your gym session. We got Whelan to explain how it affects your body.

Roo Whelan
Roo Whelan

Roo Whelan spent over half a decade training as a professional athlete for Great Britain. He has a BSc in Sport Science and MSc in Applied Sports Nutrition and currently works as a trainer and nutritionist at Virgin Active. 

Benefits of protein before a workout

The main benefit of eating protein before a workout is that it could improve your performance. According to Whelan, downing a shake before you exercise can stabilize blood sugar and provide sustained energy levels.

Consuming protein before you exercise will also ensure that your body has easy access to the amino acids it needs to repair and grow your muscles. 

This could minimize muscle breakdown, which happens during strenuous training sessions, and also encourage your muscles to repair themselves during your workout.

Benefits of protein after a workout

According to Whelan, your body is in a heightened state of nutrient absorption after exercise. This means that it’s especially receptive to any protein you consume, using it to immediately repair damaged muscle fibers. 

If your protein shake also comes with a serving of sugar and carbs, your body can use this to replenish your diminished glycogen (energy) stores. 

It’s not clear how long this heightened state lasts for, but you probably have a few hours before your body returns to normal.

The other benefit of eating your protein after you exercise is that it's easier on your digestion. Who likes doing burpees on a full stomach?

So should you eat protein before or after a workout?

Studies suggest that there’s minimal difference between consuming protein before or after a workout when it comes to muscle gains. If you want to take advantage of all of the above benefits, you could try eating protein before and after you work out. 

But unless you’re a competing athlete, it’s important not to get caught up in the weeds here. If you are trying to build or maintain muscle, the main thing is just getting enough protein regardless of when you consume it. 

Looking to up your protein levels without drastically increasing your carb intake? Have a read through our guide to the best protein powders for weight loss

Dan Cooper
Freelance writer

Dan Cooper is an experienced fitness writer who firmly believes in the power of running. The hardest race he has completed so far was Tough Guy, the world’s oldest and most demanding OCR event. There he learned that you may be able to outpace opponents, but outrunning hypothermia? That's a different race entirely.