Is post-workout protein necessary to build muscle? Science weighs in

If you're religiously drinking your protein shakes immediately post-workout, but not seeing results, check the science

Protein powder
(Image credit: Getty Images)

Many of us reach for a post-gym protein shake immediately after finishing a resistance training workout, hoping it will help to rebuild our muscles. But is it just a myth, and does timing matter?

We've been told for years that eating or consuming protein after a workout is good for our bodies and muscles, helping to repair them when we've had a tough workout. Obviously, protein is very important and one of the building blocks of muscle – which is why the Black Friday protein deals are picking up steam this week. 

However, this is a question of timing. Some studies have showed that the timing of when we consume protein may not matter, and the long-held myth of the "anabolic window" is outdated advice. 

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A study by the University of Texas, in 2017, saw the researchers analyze a group of men while they participated in resistance training over a 12 week period. Two-thirds of the men were given different protein shakes (whey or blend) to consume afterward, while the other third didn't consume a protein drink. 

The research found that even though there was a modest increase in whole-body lean mass for those who drank the protein shakes, the studies' researchers concluded: "We propose that as long as protein intake is adequate during muscle overload, the adaptations in muscle growth and function will not be influenced by protein supplementation."

Woman mixing supplement drink

(Image credit: Lyfe (Unsplash))

Other fitness fanatics insist that timing matters when it comes to eating their protein-rich snack, supplement or shake, down to the hour or minute. But does it?

A 2017 study found that even if you're eating the protein before exercise, it will still have the same effect. The research, which concentrated on 21 men, who all performed resistance training, over a 10 week period, found that pre-and post-workout protein consumption had similar effects on building and repairing muscles. 

The study's conclusion was clear, with the researchers writing: "Across the range of measures, there were no meaningful results consistently attributable to pre- versus post-exercise protein ingestion. The implications of these findings are that the trainee is free to choose, based on individual factors (i.e., preference, tolerance, convenience, and availability), whether to consume protein immediately pre- or post-exercise."

So don't worry if you didn't pack a sachet or tub of protein powder on your way to the gym. It can wait until you get back to your kitchen – the total consumption of protein is more important than timing. As well as protein deals this week, you'll want to be keeping an eye on the Black Friday weights deals for more home resistance training solutions. 

Sarah Finley

Sarah is a freelance journalist who writes about fitness and wellbeing for the BBC, Woman&Home and Tech Radar. During lockdown she found her love of running outside again and now attempts to run around 50 miles a month. When it comes to other fitness, she loves a sweaty cardio session – although since she’s been working out from home she’s sure her downstairs neighbors aren’t too happy about it. She also loves to challenge herself - and has signed up to do hiking holidays, intense bootcamps and last year she went on her dream activity holiday: paddle boarding around deserted islands in Croatia. On her rest days, she loves to recover with a simple yoga flow session – the perfect antidote to her active fitness schedule.