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Should You Have Protein before a Workout?

Stop forgetting this essential step to get the most from your workout.

 Man works out his biceps 

One common interest among people who workout regularly is to build muscle. Most of us aren’t trying to bulk up to the point of body building status, but we would like to replace fat with muscle in a healthy way. 

A key to building muscle is to ensure you are consuming enough protein. Protein helps to repair and rebuild muscle tissues and fibers. If you aren’t getting enough protein in your diet but you are working out regularly, you could be harming your body or increase risk of injury. 

Some people like to increase their consumption through protein shakes while others prefer peanut butter, chicken, or other sources obtained from solid foods. The benefit of using protein powder with a drink is the faster absorption. Our bodies can process the liquids faster than solids because the solids take more time to digest.

Is it better to eat protein before or after a workout? 

The best answer is both; eat protein before and after your workout. Some people focus on one or the other, but both are valuable. A study published in the US National Library of Medicine[1] found that a single scoop of whey protein before a workout increased calorie burning over the next 24 hours.

Related: Ten Simple Ways to Lose Belly Fat

Aside from burning more calories, “A moderate amount of protein before [a workout] could help with the ‘jump start’ of muscle building and recovery, but protein is also beneficial for building healthy blood cells, which help deliver the nutrients and oxygen to muscles,” said Liz Blike, a dietitian at Intermountain Healthcare.

Blike is an advocate of post workout protein as well. “Most muscle growth occurs after exercise during recovery; and the best recovery meal is a 3:1 carb to protein or 4:1 carb to protein ratio (e.g., chocolate milk). The deadline for getting this fuel in with the most benefit is 90 minutes, but the sooner the better,” said Blike.

Studies also show that our bodies process liquids faster than solids; therefore, drinking something high in protein close to a workout can help maximize efficiency. 

What if I’m not interested in bulking up? 

Regardless of whether or not you want to bulk up, getting enough protein is essential for your muscles to rebuild and heal. The key is to get sufficient protein for your workout style. That will vary depending on what your desired results are. If you don’t want to bulk up, try to fit protein in your diet in amounts that make sense (you probably don’t want three shakes per day).

How can I effectively bulk up?

To bulk up, experts recommend spreading out protein consumption through the day. “Spacing out protein intake may maximize its effects: A 2012 study published in Nutrition & Metabolism found that consuming 20 grams of protein (roughly the amount in a container of Greek yogurt) every three hours, four times a day was better at helping men build lean body mass than eating protein more often (10 grams of protein eight times a day) or less frequently (40 grams of protein twice a day),” according to menshealth.com.

If you want to increase muscle, you need to consume a lot of protein (at least 80grams per day) and consume it regularly throughout the day.

What else should I know about protein?

There are different types of protein powders and proteins in natural food sources. Experts commonly recommend whey and soy proteins as great supplements for workouts because of their amino acids.

How a world champion athlete uses protein

Kristin Armstrong, a world champion cyclist, works hard to get enough protein in her diet. “Protein is a critical part of my daily diet,” she said, “It especially becomes critical for recovery post workout and race. As I have gotten older, I don't seem to recover as quickly as some of my competitors.”

She continued, “Depending on my physical stress level on any particular day, I will include protein drinks and/or protein-based foods as part of my daily diet. I consume 20-30 grams of protein within 30 minutes of an intense workout or race. I also consume an additional 20-30 grams of protein right before I go to bed—since muscles do the majority of their repairs while we are sleeping.”

Armstrong uses a variety of drinks, which include protein powders as well as natural drinks with protein (chocolate milk).  Armstrong always checks ingredients and labels before using protein supplements to ensure they are safe for the body. For protein-based foods, she prefers plain yogurt with honey.  

Consider additional protein on your workout days. It could be just what you need to effectively build and repair your muscles and take your workout to the next level. 

Learn more about how to fuel your workouts and check out other healthy living articles here.

Related: 5 Stretches That Are Easy On Your Knees

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The content presented here is for your information only. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, and it should not be used to diagnose or treat a health problem or disease. Please consult your healthcare provider if you have any questions or concerns.



  1. Hackney KJ, Bruenger AJ, Lemmer JT “Timing Protein Intake Increases Energy Expenditure 24 hours After Resistance Training” US National Library of Medicine, May. 2010. Web. 1 Nov. 2016. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19997003

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Post Author

Bobby Macey

Bobby Macey is a marketer and writer by trade. He’s been published nationally and writes on myriad topics—particularly healthy living.