You see people sipping on protein shakes at different times of the day. Some take them in the morning, some during a workout, some after a workout, and some at night. You’re confused. When should you drink protein shakes? We get it. This was a daily thought for us too when we first started our fitness journey. This article will answer that question, plus more. Let’s get started.
The rise in the protein supplements industry
In 2018, the global protein supplements market size was valued at $14bn, with protein powder making up a staggering 64.8% of this figure. Yes, we said billion…
(We know Sports Samurai is based in the UK, and these figures are in dollars, but it’s the most relevant study we could find).
This number is only going to rise in the years to come. More and more people are taking protein supplements, especially protein shakes. This is where the question of “When should you drink protein shakes?” has come from.
Why is protein needed?
Let’s start off with talking about protein itself. Protein is one of three macronutrients (fats and carbohydrates are the other two). Macronutrient means that the body needs a large amount of it (the clue is in the word macro 😉).
You’ll be surprised to know that your body doesn’t store protein, which is why it’s important to consume it.
Here are some of the reasons why you need protein (there are plenty more here if you’re interested):
- It’s a component of every cell in your body. Hair and nails are mostly made of protein
- It can help with weight management. Eating more protein can help you feel fuller for longer
- Your body uses it to build, maintain, and repair tissue
- You need it to make enzymes, hormones, and other body chemicals
- It supplies your body with energy
- It’s an important building block of bones, muscles, cartilage, skin, and blood (we left this one until last – building muscle is probably one of the reasons why you’re asking this question!)
What is whey protein (aka protein shakes)?
Now that we understand why protein is important, let’s talk about whey protein. What is it?
Whey protein is a liquid by-product of cheese. It gets separated during cheese production, and then goes through processing to become whey protein.
Whey protein supplements are sold in various forms, including protein powder, protein bars, protein flapjacks, and now, even things like coffee, peanut butter, cereal, and many more.
One of the reasons why whey protein is popular is because it is “complete.” There are 20 amino acids in your body’s proteins. 9 are these are essential to your diet because your cells cannot manufacture them (these are histidine, isoleucine, leucine, lysine, methionine, phenylalanine, threonine, tryptophan, and valine).
Whey protein contains all 9, which is why it’s “complete.” If you want to read more about whey protein, this article is a great place to learn more.
What are the different types of whey protein?
There are 3 different types of whey protein:
- Whey Protein Concentrate. This is the most common, and what most people use. It’s also the cheapest. The reason why is because it goes through the least processing. Therefore, it contains higher amounts of carbohydrates and fats from lactose. Protein content can be anywhere between 30% and 90%, although it is usually between 70% to 85%
- Whey Protein Isolate. This requires more processing (to remove the lactose), so is usually more expensive. The protein content is 90% or higher, so you get more for your money, so to speak
- Whey Protein Hydrolysate. Water is added to the production process to make digestion by the body easier. This comes at an increased cost and isn’t commonly used by many unless you have issues with digestion
To make things even more complicated, and we’re not going to go through this in too much detail, but whey protein is only one of the types of protein available. You also get caesin, soy, hemp, and pea protein. The last 3 have started to become popular for vegans in recent years.
Whey protein is still the most popular, which is why we aren’t going to go through the rest in much detail (plus… we haven’t even got to the question yet!).
How much protein do you need?
The basic recommendation is 0.36g per lb of body weight in healthy adults. For someone who weighs 150lbs, this equates to 54g of protein. For someone who’s 200lbs, this is 72g.
“That’s easy!” you say. It is. Consuming 50 to 75g of protein per day isn’t difficult. Most people get this without trying too hard. As long as you’re eating throughout the day, that is.
So why do people take protein shakes?
The figure of 0.36g per lb of body weight is only the minimum amount required to prevent protein deficiency. It’s a minimum threshold. For someone who exercises regularly, this requirement is higher.
If this is you, the required amount is between 0.8g and 1.2g per lb of body weight, depending on how active you are. Aim for the lower end if you’re moderately active, and aim for the top end if you’re extremely active.
Our 150 lb person would need between 120g and 180g of protein per day for optimal results. Now you understand why people take protein shakes!
What happens if you don’t have enough protein?
Even though this is uncommon, there is such a thing as not having enough protein. This is what could happen:
- Muscle tissue starts to waste away or shrink. For older people, this is something to bear in mind, as humans naturally start to lose muscle as they age. If this is you, ensure you’re consuming enough protein every day
- You may not grow quickly enough if you’re a child
- You may become anaemic. This is where you lack enough healthy red blood cells to carry adequate oxygen to your body’s tissues
As mentioned above, this is very uncommon. So don’t worry about it too much!
Is your gym bag in need of a change?
Where can you get protein from?
Below are the various sources of protein:
- Seafood, including salmon, cod, tuna, and more
- White meat poultry, including chicken, and turkey
- Red meat, including beef, lamb, and pork. However, it’s important to be careful with red meat, as it’s usually high in fat. Consider consuming lean portions of red meat, or reducing is completely
- Dairy products, including eggs, milk, cheese, and yoghurt
- Beans and lentils, including pinto beans, black beans, kidney beans, lentils, chickpeas, split peas, and more
- Nuts and seeds, including almonds, hazelnuts, mixed nuts, peanuts, peanut butter, sunflower seeds, walnuts, and more
- Other vegetarian sources, including tofu, tempeh, Quorn, and other soy protein products
- And of course…. whey protein. Well, that’s what the article is about, isn’t it?
Can you eat too much protein?
The simple answer is no. There’s no evidence that consuming too much protein is bad for you. That being said, you don’t need 500g of protein every day. More is not always better. 0.8g to 1.2g per lb of body weight is more than enough.
Some studies have suggested that higher-protein diets will have a negative effect on your bone density, and could hurt your kidneys. As far as we know, this isn’t true. There isn’t enough evidence to support this, although the effects of protein are constantly being studied.
We’ll let you know if anything changes!
How do you drink whey protein?
There are plenty of ways to take whey protein. Let’s go through some of the most popular:
- With water. This is a good idea if you want to keep your calories as low as possible. If you’re trying to lose weight, this might be a good shout. The only downside: some protein powders don’t mix that well with water, and the taste might not be great. Try different protein powder brands, and different flavours, to see which work for you
- With milk. Whether it’s cow’s milk, almond milk, soy milk, or any other type of milk, protein shakes usually taste better with milk. This is higher in calories, so might be a good option if you’re trying to gain weight (and muscle, of course)
- As a fruit smoothie. Add whey protein to a fruit smoothie to make it taste good. This is a good idea to get some vitamins and minerals in, as well as some protein. A great idea for a mid-morning snack!
- As a meal. Finally, you can use whey protein as part of a meal. For example, mixing whey protein in your overnight oats, or an oat smoothie works well. If you have more time, you could consider making whey protein pancakes or waffles. If you haven’t tried these, they’re a must
Do you need whey protein?
Whey protein (in whatever form, whether it’s protein shakes, bars, etc) isn’t necessary, as long as you’re meeting your protein requirements per day. As mentioned above, this number is between 0.8g and 1.2g per lb of bodyweight, for active people.
It’s difficult to achieve this amount through food, alone, however. For example, one egg has approximately 7g of protein in it. A chicken breast is roughly 20g to 30g. A portion of Quorn is around 12g.
You can see how this quickly starts to get difficult. And this is where whey protein comes in.
When should you drink protein shakes?
Originally, it was thought that you needed to have a protein shake within 30 or 60 minutes of working out. Some people also swore by taking protein first thing in the morning too, as your body hasn’t had any protein for 12 hours or more.
In recent years, these have all been debunked. The timing of protein doesn’t matter. What matters is that you’ve consumed enough protein in the day.
So the answer to the question “When should you drink protein shakes?” depends on whether you’re getting enough protein from other sources. If you are, the answer is never. If you aren’t, drink protein shakes whenever you like to meet your requirement.
Should you have whey protein before or after a workout?
As above – it doesn’t really matter, as long as you’re meeting your daily protein requirements. This is what matters the most.
Should you take protein shakes on rest days?
Yes, unless you’re getting enough protein from other sources. Otherwise, you don’t need them.
Your protein requirements are the same on rest days as they are on workout days. It’s still between 0.8g and 1.2g per lb of bodyweight, for active people.
In recent years, there has been a significant rise in the protein industry. This boom is on-trend to continue. This has left people asking questions such as “When should you drink protein shakes?” We understand. In this article, we’ve discussed why protein is needed, where you’re able to get protein from, your protein requirements, and more.
Pro Tip: Focus on meeting your total protein requirements, rather than the timing. Timing doesn’t matter – quantity does.
When do you drink protein shakes? Or do you not drink them at all? Let us know in the comments below.