Should I Take Protein Before or After Exercise?
Should I Take Protein Before or After Exercise?
(Written by Angela Oosterling, BSc Sports Dietitian , NSCA-CPT Strength Coach, ISAK Anthropometrist.)
What are proteins for?
Protein has been shown to be necessary for muscle mass building and maintaining. Protein helps to support muscle recovery after exercise. Amino acids, the building blocks for protein, are important for the building/maintenance of muscles, body cells, but also for enzymes, hormones and antibodies. In this blog we're discussing protein around your training and pre-sleep protein ingestion.
Protein before or after exercise?
In order to stimulate muscle protein synthesis (in short: process in which dietary protein is converted to muscle protein tissue) as efficiently as possible, it is suggested that, a daily high amino acid concentration (building blocks of protein) ánd considerable frequent physical efforts are required. In other words, your total daily protein intake in combination with adequate strength efforts are key to effectively support muscle protein synthesis.
Ideally, it is recommended, to evenly divide the total protein intake in a day over several servings, each with about 20-50g protein (when choosing plant-based consider using the upper range of 30-50g). (1,2,3) In addition, it is beneficial to plan such a portion around your training to prevent/minimize muscle breakdown. (3) Whether you choose to take protein just before, during, or just after your workout doesn't make much difference for muscle recovery (4). A 2017 study of Schoenfeld and colleagues showed us that it could be useful to have a protein-rich meal 1-2 hours around your training. (4) So, if it's your goal to build muscle and change body composition, you might want to opt for protein 1-2 hours before ánd after your strength training session.(4)
However, having a protein-rich meal right before or even during a higher intensity and more metabolically challenging ("cardio-like") training session could potentially affect the GI-tract. Complaints such as stomach ache/cramps, vomiting and diarrhea can follow and can have a significant impact on the quality of your training. A good guideline to prevent this is to choose to start with protein immediately after training (up to 1-2 hours after training) and opt for easily digestible carbohydrate rich foods before/during training instead (5).
During or right before a low-moderate intensity (strength) training the body can usually well-tolerate protein, but this differs per person and needs to be tested, preferably starting with lower doses of protein.
My advice is to have 20-40g of high quality protein 1-2 hours before and after strength training if it's your goal to build lean body mass as efficiently as possible, only if your GI-tract can tolerate this.
Protein before sleep
It has been suggested that a serving of +/- 40 gram of protein can increase muscle protein synthesis during the night and prevent muscle breakdown. (3,6) A 2019 Snijders et al update showed that when pre-sleep protein intake is combined with exercise performed on the same evening, overnight muscle protein synthesis rates could even be further increased. However, it is not clear if this effect is caused due to an increased total protein intake rather than by its specific timing, and warrants further research.(6)
Find what you can enjoy and adhere to. Don't stress over finding the "best way to eat for muscle building and changing body composition". You need to be able to stick to it, only then will you see significant results. If you can adhere to protein around your training, great. If you can adhere to protein before sleeping, amazing. But don't stress yourself over trying to reach perfection. The most important is to stay consistent with eating your daily protein recommendation. If this is something you can adhere to, then you might want to include these mentioned protein strategies to try improve muscle protein synthesis. Good luck!
- Rodriguez, N.R. et al. American College of Sports Medicine Position Stand. Nutrition and Ahtletic Performance. Medine & Science in Sports & Exercise 41, 709-731, 2009.
- Moore, D.R. et al. Ingested proteïn dose response of muscle and albumin protein synthesis after resistance exercise in young men. Am. J. Of Clin. Nutr. 89, 161-168, 2009
- Morton, W.R. et al. Nutrition interventions to augment resistance training-induced muscle hypertrophy. Frontiers in Physiologie. Vol 6. Article 245, 2015
- 2017. Pre- versus post-exercise protein intake has similar effects on muscular adaptations.
- Phillips, S.M. Defining Optimum Proteïn Intake for Athletes. Sports Nutrition, The Encyclopaedia of Sports Medicen XIX. Wiley Blackwell, 2014
- Snijders T, Trommelen J, Kouw IWK, Holwerda AM, Verdijk LB, van Loon LJC. The Impact of Pre-sleep Protein Ingestion on the Skeletal Muscle Adaptive Response to Exercise in Humans: An Update. Front Nutr. 2019;6:17. Published 2019 Mar 6.