I am often asked the following question: should protein powders be taken before or after the gym? In this article, I want to clarify the concept of when to take the various types of protein powders and give you some personal suggestions on when and how to take proteins during the day.
Protein powders: what are they for?
Protein powders are to be considered as food, so there is no right time to take them! The hours before and after training are (albeit at different levels) equally important for the nutrition of a person looking for muscle mass gain or fat loss.
The main objective must be to have a constant supply of protein during the day, the so-called protein pacing. In fact, unlike carbohydrates and fats, proteins cannot be stored in the body for later use as is the case for the other two macronutrients. Protein synthesis is an unstoppable process, like an assembly line that never stops. This is why it is necessary to have a flow of amino acids or complete proteins as continuous and spread as possible throughout the day.
The difference in the various types of protein powders - which are based on meat, fish, eggs, whey protein, caseins (I do not consider vegetable proteins as they have little biological value) - differ from each other in the capacity that the human body has to use them, for their digestibility and their absorption.
Protein powder: when to take it?
Choosing the type of protein, based on the time of day is essential. For example, in the morning, when you wake up, it is good to take a source such as an isolated whey protein because the digestion speed is excellent and can, therefore, provide nitrogen material quickly after rest and night fasting, to stop the catabolism of the previous hours.
During the day
During the day, however, away from training, proteins that require slower digestion - such as egg proteins or meat proteins - will be significantly more suitable as they allow us to stay in the positive nitrogen balance for more hours.
When it will not be possible to take other food for several hours (for example, for work reasons or before going to sleep) we will need proteins with very long digestion such as powdered caseins, which will be the key to greater hypertrophy and less catabolism at night.
Before or after the workout?
In other critical moments, such as in the hours before training, in the peri-workout and in the hours immediately after training - where the body will be more set for the absorption of the nutrients that will restore the lost carbohydrate/nitrogen supplies during intense activity - it is advisable to use, together with carbohydrates, highly digestible proteins, peptides or essential amino acids.
In my pre-workout protocol, to make sure I have a steady stream of highly digestible proteins and carbohydrates, I use isolated whey protein about one hour before training. I mix proteins with a share of fats and carbohydrates so that amino acids and glucose are present in the bloodstream constantly and for a long time.
Protein before training
One hour before training, my pre-workout meal is made up of:
- 30g whey protein isolate,
- 30g of rice cream,
- 20g of almond cream.
In this way, I make sure I have a base of carbohydrates and amino acids in the blood deriving from proteins without having glycemic swings and/or annoying heaviness in the stomach. After 15 minutes from the start of the workout, I will start sipping my intra-workout which I will generally finish drinking at three-quarters of the workout.
Protein after training
About an hour from the end I will take a dose of protein combined with a higher carbohydrate dose. I use hydrolyzed whey protein to take advantage of the better the post-workout anabolic window that lasts up to 12 hours after training. Lately, I have started to introduce grass-fed beef proteins to have a different amino acid profile. The first feedback is really good!
After training, the choice of proteins to be used is much wider, especially if you have used the peri-workout shaker. We can, for example, choose:
- Hydrolyzed whey proteins. If we want an extra boost after a high volume and high-intensity workout, such as a more than one-hour leg workout.
- Isolated whey proteins (Whey). If we know that we won't be able to eat for a few hours after training.
Why is it important to take proteins after training?
After the immediately post-workout phase, it is right to take into consideration the following 8/12 h, as the protein synthesis and the synthesis of new glycogen increases up to 12h after the activity.
In this regard, I underline the importance of the second post-workout meal, which in recent years has assumed a fundamental role almost equal to that immediately after the activity. In this second meal, the ideal is to choose proteins such as:
- chicken breast,
- beef with the addition of essential amino acids or hydrolyzed proteins (15 /20g)
Adding an abundant share of carbohydrates, this time in the form of starches with the addition of fruit, such as pomegranate or mango to help restore the vitamins and minerals essential for the recovery process.
Very advanced athletes, who also undergo two sessions a day, can even have a third post-workout meal, useful if you train in the evening. In this case, if the meal coincides with the hours of sleep it will be appropriate to structure it with:
- isolated protein accompanied by oat powder or rice cream (30g)
A third light post-workout to not take more minutes from our precious sleep.
Highly digestible protein powders are one of the most important tools for fitness and have had a strong impact in the world of bodybuilding in the 2000s when the first proteins of the highest quality and efficiency appeared. The power of bodybuilding has evolved a lot, and it is only through such precision in the calibrated intake of nutrients during the individual moments of the day that we will be able to have more and more advanced athletes in the future.