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Should I eat protein before or after exercising?

Updated: Jun 8, 2021

Protein is scientifically proven to give you energy for workouts and it helps promote recovery post-workout. It's also an essential macro-nutrient for life, so it's important to make sure you're getting enough when working out.

Now you may be asking, is it better to consume protein (whether in the form of food or drink) before or after a heavy workout?

And the short answer is that it's up to your personal preference and it really doesn't matter as long as you get enough protein within the day. But let's break down this conclusion below.

So you might ask why we even need protein and this is fundamental to the question of when the best time of day to take it is. The answer is that the majority of your body is made up of protein, such as your hair, your muscles, your nails and so forth. In turn, protein is made up of 21 amino acids. Out of these, your body can create 12 but the remaining 9 must come from the food you consume which is why eating protein is essential.

As you can guess, the more you workout, the more protein your body looks for to recover as when you lift weights, you make tiny rips in your muscles which is where the term 'get ripped' comes from. And to repair these your body requires protein.

So what exactly happens when you eat protein?

When you eat protein, your body is sent

into a process called muscle protein synthesis which is when your body builds protein chains from the 21 amino acids. A 2014 study in The Journal of Nutrition shows that muscle protein synthesis increases when you consume a moderate amount of protein which is about 30 grams per meal.

The opposite process to protein synthesis is protein breakdown which is when the body breaks down proteins to get the amino acids back.

Protein synthesis and protein breakdown are usually always happening to some degree within the body but you really want to max out the protein synthesis as this will help you get the gains you want. When you have more protein synthesis than protein breakdown, you are in a state of 'positive protein balance' and this is the sweet spot! This happens when you exercise and eat protein.

Now in terms of how it's digested:

When you think in basic terms, protein takes about 1-5 hours to digest depending on what you ate. For example, a steak will take longer for the body to break down than say, a protein shake. Therefore, your body is in muscle protein synthesis for quite some time after a meal.

When you think about it, most of the time you will have eaten a meal before working out, which should contain an amount of protein. This means your body will already have protein ready for your workout as your body will possibly still be in a state of protein synthesis. And thus, there is no need to eat a protein hit before you head to the gym.

Now, if you gym first thing in the morning, it's probably best to get a protein snack in before your workout just so that your body has some amino acids to build protein, as it will have already digested all of the protein from your last meal the night before. In this case, it wouldn't hurt to have a shake before the gym as these won't make you feel too full or bloated before a workout. If you want a brand new fresh box of protein snacks, bars and whey each month, check out our store here.

So what about after exercising? Well your body is now in a state of fatigue. And studies suggest that eating protein at this point will mildly help you gain more muscle over time.

This is because your muscles are more receptive to protein building at this point, as well as the fact exercise promotes protein breakdown. To stop this breakdown, having a protein shake or something will help your body out.

The bottom line

If you don't want to go crazy overthinking when and where to get your protein in, it's simpler to just make sure you're having a protein rich breakfast, lunch and dinner so that your body always has some protein to use for your workouts. For bodybuilders and those working out, it's recommend that you get 1.8-2.2 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight. So as long as you're getting the right amount of protein for your weight on a daily basis, you're fine whether you eat/drink protein before or after a workout. Each has it's pros and cons but as long as you get the protein in within the day, you'll get the benefits.

And if you're worried you aren't getting enough protein, leading to fatigue and soreness, the solution is simple - throw a protein snack into your day and see what happens.

Looking for somewhere to try new protein snacks? Check out the Mean Protein subscription boxes here or have a look at some of our high protein recipes here.

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