When to Take Whey Protein: How Important is Timing?

The benefits of protein, and particularly whey protein, are well proven in several scientific studies. While they tend to agree on the benefits of protein intake, there is still a debate about the ideal time to consume whey protein. This article breaks down the current research on when to take whey protein for muscle gain.

What is Protein-Timing?

As the name suggests, protein-timing can be defined as specific timeframes for protein intake. 

The typical time-frame for whey protein, recommended by many, is 30 minutes to an hour post-exercise. Some also choose to consume it pre-workout. Others argue that protein-timing is irrelevant for overall muscle growth.

So what does the actual research tell us? 

Protein Before Workouts: Everything You Need to Know

Before delving into whey protein and timing, a quick overview of nitrogen balance and its relation to muscle growth is in order.

A positive nitrogen balance in the body is essential for tissue repair. In the simplest terms, a positive nitrogen balance means you are consuming more protein than your body is using. This is the optimal state to help promote muscle repair and growth post-workout.

Research shows that whey protein has a positive effect on nitrogen balance. Because of this, many suggest taking it pre-workout to ensure muscles have adequate fuel. 

This may be beneficial advice, but not because there is any magic pre-workout timing window. To date, there is only one concise study available comparing whether or not protein is best pre or post-workout. 

Here is the research. This study divided men into two groups. One group consumed whey protein pre-workout and the other one post-workout. Both groups adhered to the same resistance training schedule. 

The results? There was no significant or measurable difference between the pre and post-protein-consumption groups. Both groups practically had the same beneficial increases in muscle growth and gains. 

Yet, protein consumption pre-workout may be beneficial because it increases the protein intake. As the above research suggests, overall protein intake is more important than specifically taking it prior to working out. 

Protein Post-Workout: What Are the Benefits? 

As the above study suggests, overall protein intake may be more important than specific timing windows. That being said, many studies still show that consuming protein post-workout is beneficial to muscle growth. However, the timing window may be much longer than the suggested 30-60 minute anabolic window. 

This medical overview breaks it down. Protein ingestion both pre and post-workout is beneficial. The anabolic window is much longer than the typically quoted hour, however, it is likely that it does diminish with time post-workout. This suggests that it is ideal to consume protein directly after a workout. 

The medical overview also suggests that optimal protein intake is 3-4 hours apart during muscle growth periods. In other words, one should eat and consume protein every 3-4 hours. 

When To Take Whey Protein? 

Whey protein is considered to be a fast-acting protein because it is absorbed quickly by the body and causes a spike in amino acid levels.

Consuming whey both before and after workouts is beneficial. Studies have found that the anabolic effects of resistance exercise last long, perhaps longer than 24 hours. However, they have also found that it likely decreases with increased time post-exercise. 

Coupled with the fact that whey works quickly, this suggests that if you are taking whey protein, it should be shortly after your workout. 

Based on the current research, though, overall protein consumption is more important than rigid protein-timing. Because of its high nutritional and amino acid content, whey will help achieve muscle protein synthesis whether it is consumed post or pre-workout.

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