When to Drink Protein Shakes for Weight Loss And Muscle Gain?

Time to clear up the old protein shake timing myth! The question when to drink protein shakes is one of the most common asked on forums and Q&A sites. As I'm a member of a few of those “respected” sites I can't help to notice how these keyboard jockeys with 5000 posts give out completely retarded advice based on zero scientific research or personal experience. I mean, dude if you are going to advise someone either do it from experience or at least have some studies that back up your claims.

I've decided it's about time someone puts an end to the bro-science surrounding the topic when to drink protein shakes and gives a guide for all the people out there. In this article you'll find the most common questions that people have when it comes to protein timing. Also I'm assuming that you are already having a protein shake straight after workout so I'm gonna cover those timings that are less known.

Should you drink protein shakes while working out?

Research has shown that there's an possible that intake of essential amino acid rich in L-Leucine during workout can boost muscle protein synthesis. You can read a study that supports these claims here.

This supplementation of protein during exercise goes more into the realm of hardcore fitness/bodybuilding enthusiast. By that I mean those who believe in min-maxing everything and not leaving anything to chance.

My take on this is to do it only if you can afford to supplement BCAA, EAA or whey during workout do it as it might help you gain muscle. If you are one of those then go for it.

Drink protein shakes or other amino acid supplements during workouts as there is no negative side-effects and you can only benefit.

As for the amounts it's sufficient to add 10-15 grams of BCAA in your gym water bottle. Try to roughly estimate the amount of water you drink by looking at your prior workouts and add an appropriate amount so the BCAA mixture doesn't go to waste.

Should you drink protein shakes before workout?

The answer is yes, it helps both fat loss and muscle protein synthesis. Study presented here suggests that timing your protein shake before heavy workout can increase your resting energy expenditure and help you burn more fat in the next 24 hours.

These findings go hand in hand with numerous studies showing that pre-workout intake of essential amino acids boosts protein synthesis which does take up some energy.

So basically what happens is that you build muscle and burn fat at the same time which is awesome. How to benefit from this?

  • Take 10-15 grams of BCAA 20 minutes before workout
  • Drink 1 scoop of whey protein shake with water 30 minutes before workout. If you are using isolate or hydro-isolate whey reduce that time to 20 minutes, if you are using whey concentrate do 30 minutes.

Is it good to take protein shakes before bed?

Protein Shakes Before Bed

The diagram on left compares the concentration of essential amino-acids in 2 groups of adults, one marked as “PRO”  took 40 grams of casein protein prior bed while the other just drank water.

Both groups had the same diet and fitness experience, as you can see the concentration of available amino-acids in the blood stream was significantly higher in the casein group

Further the researches also took sample of leg muscle tissue before and after bed to compare if there were any muscle protein synthesis and recovery benefits from casein intake.

And there was, seems that if you drink protein shakes with slow digesting properties like casein before bed you can boost recovery and muscle growth.

The study at http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22330017 confirms these claims and shows significant improvement not only improved protein synthesis rates but also net protein balance.

I suggest an intake of 30 grams of whey casein before bed with water. You could also use whey concentrate but it digests a lot faster than casein and won't stay in your blood stream throughout the night to give you all the benefits.

So when to drink protein shakes for best results?

Timing protein shakes sorted by priority

As you've seen above timing protein shakes does matter to a certain extent if our goal is to reach maximum muscle growth potential. Now it's time to set priorities for timing and I'm gonna give you mine.

  1. Post-workout – If you are still figuring out when to drink protein shakes this is absolutely the best time to drink protein in liquid form. Also this is the ideal time to add an appropriate amount of fast carbohydrates and creatine. My post workout shakes consists of: 2 scoops of whey isolate, 10 grams of purified creatine monohydrate, 10 grams of BCAA and 20 grams of dextrose.
  2. Pre-workout or before bed – I personally prefer pre-workout because of Lain gains style of eating before bed is outside of my 8 hour eating window but both are beneficial. Keep in mind that if you do pre-workout ideally choose BCAA while before bed you should be taking casein
  3. During workout – As you seen above there might be benefits of doing this but if you have to choose between this or the above 2 options I prefer the above.
  4. Meal replacement shakes – This is good if you don't have time for a solid meal and as we all know life is very unpredictable. In this case I prefer to have casein protein as it will reduce hunger more. The amount of meals you have per day doesn't really matter but total protein daily intake does. To avoid having to intake 150 grams of protein in 1 taking I'll rather have a shake sometime during the day.
  5. Between meals – I wouldn't do it because it makes no sense and no benefits to do it, if you can do 3 meals per day it's better to split your protein accordingly. You should be ingesting most of protein after workout or on rest days in the morning

Those are my priorities, they should help you decide when to drink protein shakes. Just to be clear what matter most here is the total daily intake which from my experience should be around 2 grams per kg when bulking/maintenance or 3 grams per kg if you are cutting. One more topic I'd like to quickly address is the effect of protein on weight loss and if you should drink protein shakes while dieting.

When to drink protein shakes to improve weight loss?

Here are top 3 reasons why you should be taking at least 30% of your daily energy from protein and the easiest way to do that is just to plan out when to drink protein shakes and follow the plan. Also make sure that most of your protein intake still comes from solid food like learn chicken breast, egg white or fish.

Reason 1 – Practical benefits of using liquid protein source

A while ago I decided to do a 6 month diet without protein shakes, basically this thought me that I need to spend more of my free time to eat solid food and get the same results as with supplements. Not to mention how this is not flexible for travelling, business meetings or other unpredictable stuff that happens in life all the time.

Those 6 months without whey my daily protein intake was set to 250 grams and it was insanely difficult to get all that from solid food. I was eating 40 egg whites every day and tons of lean chicken. Not only was it more expensive it was very hard to plan out my days. I'd have to ensure that my meals will have enough protein and always have at least 10 egg whites ready to eat (they don't smell so nice after a while).

Can't really imagine doing this regime now as I'm on 3 meals per day following the Lean Gains style of eating. Would have to eat roughly 150 grams of protein from solid food in my post workout meal, that would be more than 500 grams of lean chicken! That's too much chewing for me.

Reason 2 – Protect your lean muscle mass

A study that shows the power of high protein intake when it comes to lean mass protection was conducted by a team at School of Sport and Exercise Sciences, University of Birmingham. They took 20 healthy trained athletes then split up those athletes into 2 groups to do a 2 week cutting diet  with 35% calorie deficit. Group 1 continued ate 15% of calories from protein while Group 2 had increased protein intake to 35% of total calories.

Both groups continued to do the same training as before the only difference was the macro nutrient ratios in their diets. After 2 weeks both groups didn't show any difference in performance, hormones or other body function. Further, both groups experienced the same amount of fat loss. However the group with low protein/high carb intake lost 1,6 kg of lean body mass compared to 0,3 kg lost by the High protein group. Both groups lost around 1,5 kg of fat.

Reason 3 – Protein Satiety and Themogenic effect

From my own experience I can tell you that protein does wonders as far as satiety levels, normally after I have a high protein meal (50 grams of protein) it will take a minimum of 4 h for me to start feeling any hunger at all.

As for the themorgenic effect studies shown that a diet with 30% from protein had a thermic effect of 34 kj/hour higher than a diet consisting of 15% protein. The effect doesn't only work while training but also while resting so eating a high protein diet actually makes you burn fat while doing nothing.

If you are interested in scientific proof around protein satiety and thermic effect check out a study by Thomas L. Halton and Frank B. Hu, MD, PhD at http://www.jacn.org/content/23/5/373.full


To summarize, the timings do matter if you are looking to get the best out of your protein shakes. If you are deciding when to drink a protein shakes consider the priorities listed above and you should be good. My goal and I hope your goal too is to find something that works and stick by that. I hate changing my diet and it takes a lot of convincing for me to implement new things as I feel like I found something that is working. Thing I'm considering now is adding BCAA during my workouts and will probably test that to see if there is any difference.

I'd love to hear what you think about this topic so please leave a comment below.

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  • Nick Restrepo

    If I can meet all my macros with food alone does it really benefit me to drink protein shakes besides in convenience?

    • If you are doing a form of heavy resistance training for example weight lifting drinking your protein after has benefits. The digestion time of protein from solid food is usually slow and takes hours to completely brake down. To get maximum results after a workout you want to create Hyperaminoacidemia (having excess of amino acids in the bloodstream) which will boost muscle protein synthesis. Some studies have shown an increase of 33% of protein synthesis.

  • Derrick Nyakweba

    You have mostly mentioned using water, is it ok if i use milk? Especially if I am trying to bulk?

    • It’s fine if you can tolerate lactose just make sure you track your calories. I personally never drink milk as I prefer to take in my calories from solid food rather than liquids but yea it’s fine 🙂

      Go with the highest quality milk possible!

      • Derrick Nyakweba

        Thanks man.