If you lift weights, then of course you use a protein shake. It’d be madness not to.
Protein powder is a sure fire way of getting a good whack of raw muscle building material as and when you need it.
But when should you take it for optimal results? Is the “protein window” that the bro was talking about at the gym a thing?
And, how much should you take for best results, before you’re just pi$$ing money down the can?
I have the answers, or at least the current answers based on the most up-to-date meta-analyses of groups of individual scientific intervention studies…okay?
For the record, most of the studies conducted with protein supplements use whey protein. Now, there are different forms of protein powder, and even different forms of whey.
Some are more beneficial to take before bed because they are absorbed slowly. Some are fast acting and so useful for situations where you have to absorb protein within the next hour or die!
Obviously I’m kidding about the last part, but the point I’m trying to make is that whey protein is used in studies, but you can assume for the most part that other proteins will have close enough results for rock-n-roll.
Protein Powder – How Much?
One scoop, 2 scoops, 1.5 scoops? How many fudging scoops, man?!
First off, how many grams is the better question because not all scoops are equal in the world of protein powders.
Also, once you know the grams you need and you know how many grams of protein you have in a scoop, you can pretty much just eyeball it.
After all, it’s not your main source of protein for the whole day, which of course is your dietary intake.
Protein powder is something of a convenient necessity – it makes life easier and it actually helps you build muscle.
Still, how much?
The most important thing to get right is your overall protein intake because if you’re not eating enough relative to your workout intensity/volume, it will affect your rate of progress.
Quite a few studies have looked into nutritional protein intake in the context of resistance training (meta-analysis goodness here).
The upper limit for total daily protein intake is about 2.2 grams per kilogram of bodyweight. After that, any gains appear to tail off for even the biggest protein sponges amongst us.
Most people appear to lie in the 1.6 g/kg to 2.0 g/kg range.
So, after much doodling around with numbers, here’s a general rule of thumb to follow:
I) Consume enough protein to make 1.8 grams per kilogram of your bodyweight.
For example: for a 91 kg person (200 lbs), that equates to 163.8 grams of protein from your diet.
II) Then, after your workout or on non-training days, take the following amount of your protein powder, as determined by your bodyweight range:
- 140 to 169 lbs take 30 grams of protein post-workout
- 170 to 199 lbs take 35 grams of protein post-workout
- 200 to 219 lbs take 40 grams of protein post-workout
- 220 to 250 lbs take 45 grams of protein post-workout
If you are outside these weight ranges then try to consume a total of 1 gram per pound of bodyweight – including your protein supplement – if you do resistance training on a regular basis.
Again, these guidelines are for people looking to put some kind of figure to their “ideal” post-workout protein shake.
In reality you might not know the exact quantity of your total protein intake. However, research tells us that both muscle size and strength are enhanced with post-exercise protein supplementation.
Protein Window – What’s the Deal?
I feel like the protein window argument has gone to the point of absurdity and back so many times that people actually think it’s important.
Logic tells us that downing protein within an hour of a workout should enhance muscle gains.
Protein manufacturers are all over that like flies on sh!t. “Hells yeah, you should down protein after a workout, and for every damn hour you are ALIVE.”
Supplement companies like money, soooo that’s the objectivity safely removed from their stance on the matter.
Back to the logic bit though. There’s no context for the reasoning that necking protein shakes within the one hour, or the half-hour “window” post-workout is necessary/advantageous for optimal muscle growth.
That context is: total protein intake.
Sure if you are low on protein and you bomb a 45 gram protein shake after working out, that protein is going to matter for you gains.
However, if you’ve eaten enough throughout the day to provide an adequate protein pool for your muscles to draw on, the timing won’t make much difference.
In fact, the meta-analysis of the studies conducted on the matter say that strength doesn’t seem affected at all, and only hypertrophy is increased, but only IF the post-workout protein was additional to your regular intake.
So if you’re getting adequate amounts in your diet, including your protein shake then it doesn’t really matter when you take it.
If you are taking a protein shake to make up your protein intake due to working out, then take it within an hour of exercising.
Here’s the bit where I go back and say none of this matters.
For the sake of everyone who enters and re-enters this ridiculous debate: why not just drink your protein after a workout?
Does it take you four hours to get home? Are you incapable of mixing powder and milk/water? Does it stress you out to think about the complexities of shaking a cup after a workout?
Just do it. Who cares? Then, everyone is happy. Maybe different science will turn up one day and tell us we should be drinking it from the second we stop our last rep. Who’ll be laughing then?!