Protein shakes are such an integral part of the fitness world that nearly every trainer will recommend them. Unfortunately, many people think “shakes will make me bulky,” but that’s not really true, depending on your goals. The benefits of protein shakes after workouts do include an increase in muscle growth, but they go well beyond that.
If you want to lose weight, protein will help. Following an endurance training plan? Protein helps.
But, which benefit claims are true and which are anecdotal?
Let’s find out.
5 Benefits of Protein Shakes After Workouts
1. Boost Lean Muscle Mass
One of the most “popular” benefits of drinking protein shakes after workouts is that it will increase lean muscle mass. An interesting study found that consuming even a minimally higher amount of protein over several months led to an increase in lean body mass.
However, there’s also an interesting systematic study on protein supplements that everyone needs to read.
The study found:
- Supplemental protein doesn’t impact lean mass or muscle in the first few weeks of training
- Protein may promote hypertrophy, leading to enhanced muscle gain over the long-term
So, there is a period in an untrained lifter’s journey where the protein supplement they’re taking doesn’t provide much benefit. However, as you continue to take the supplement, it may help with:
- Improvement in aerobic power
- Increase in anaerobic power
- Gaining strength
You just need to continue training and keep your diet adequate to achieve these results.
2. Protein Leads to Higher Muscle Strength and Size
Dietary protein supplementation was the focus of a meta-analysis of 49 studies with a total of 1,863 participants. The study found that protein supplementation helped:
- Improve muscle size
- Increase muscle strength
Interestingly, resistance-trained individuals experienced higher benefits than those without resistance training experience. This goes with our previous point, which shows that your muscles respond better to protein when you have experience in the gym.
However, you can enjoy the benefits of protein shakes after workouts even if you’re new to exercise. You just need to continue with your training and after a few months, the protein will make a difference in muscle size and strength.
3. Promotes Muscle Recovery
Walk into the gym or wherever you exercise, breakdown your muscle fibers and wait for recovery. For many people, this is the simplest way to explain how muscle growth occurs. When your muscles heal and recover, they come back stronger.
One recent study found that consuming whey protein after a workout leads to:
- Greater muscle recovery
- Greater recovery than a similar caloric drink
So, if you’re pushing yourself hard, lifting heavy weights and trying to really maximize your results, protein can help with recovery.
4. Satiate You Until You Have Healthy Food Options
The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition released a report in 2015 that was a massive meta-analysis of over 30 studies over the last 20 years. The conclusion was that people who consumed 1.2 – 1.6 grams of protein per kilogram, normally with 25 – 30g per meal, experienced improvements in:
- Weight loss
- Fat mass loss
It’s not uncommon for people to hit the gym and stop off for a burger on the way home because they’re starving. But, unfortunately, most people are starving when they leave the gym and then make poor dietary choices.
Protein shakes after a workout offer a healthy way to consume calories and stay satiated until you get home.
And if you workout at home, the shake will help fuel your body while you cook up something delicious to eat.
5. BCAAs Protein Muscle Protein Synthesis
Protein supplements may (depending on the product chosen) be filled with branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs). BCAAs have been thought to help stimulate protein synthesis for more than 35 years.
And there have been a lot of contradicting studies.
Studies in rats do show that BCAAs alone will:
- Improve muscle synthesis
- Remain limited by EAAs
Essential amino acids (EAAs) seem to be the limiting factor in the above study. However, when BCAAs are mixed with a high-end protein shake containing EAAs, it can help promote muscle protein synthesis.
Should I Drink Protein Before or After My Workout?
One study of note found that muscle gain was the same whether a person consumed protein right before or after their workout. While many in the fitness industry will promote the benefits of protein shakes after workouts as the only option, there are studies showing that the 30-minute anabolic window may be longer and others showing that pre- or post-workout protein shakes will provide similar results.
Note: If you don’t like whey protein or it’s difficult for you to digest, you definitely want to read our article on pea protein benefits.
Pre Workout vs Protein Powder
We’ve delved deep into the benefits of protein shakes after a workout, but what about a pre-workout? A pre-workout is often low-calorie and may not have any protein included at all. In fact, let’s take a look at the top-selling pre-workout on Amazon: Cellucor C4 Sport Pre Workout.
I’ve never tried this pre-workout, but it contains:
- 1g carbs
- Vitamin B6
- Vitamin B12
- Creatine monohydrate
Instead of focusing on muscle development, these pre-workout supplements are more about prepping the body for the workout and giving you a boost of energy. However, let’s take a look at a few other pre-workout options to see if they contain anything else:
Pre Jym, by Jim Stoppani, who is someone that offers great advice and programs, is another popular option. However, I have also never tried this supplement to have an opinion on it. But it’s well-rated and contains:
- Citrulline malate
- Creatine HCL
- Huperzine A
- Black pepper extract
- Beet root extract
So, as you can see, a pre-workout is a lot different than a protein shake. Ideally, you’ll use both if you’re trying to maximize your gains. Pre-workouts are good if you find yourself with no energy in the gym and want to give it your all during each set.
Also, if you want to improve your athletic performance while not increasing calorie intake by much, pre-workouts are an excellent choice, but they won’t help you reach your protein requirements.
Note: When we say “Pre workout,” we mean a pre-workout supplement and not a standard protein powder.
How Many Protein Shakes a Day Should You Drink?
You can drink 1 – 4 protein shakes a day, and I’m sure elite athletes are likely drinking more shakes. A general rule of thumb is two shakes per day is enough if you’re trying to maintain body mass.
But if you’re not getting enough protein from your diet, you may need to drink more shakes.
Athletes may drink three or four shakes a day. You also want to consider the type of shake you’re drinking. Isolate and hydrolyzed protein benefits are different. Additionally, you may want to mix it up:
- Whey protein
- Egg protein
- Casein protein
- Pea protein
Absorption rates are different. For example, whey protein will be digested within the first hour or two after drinking your shake. Casein can take six hours or longer to digest. So, many people drink casein before bed to continue feeding their muscles protein while they sleep.
Should You Drink Protein Shakes on Rest Days?
Yes. But it’s not 100% necessary. Protein is good for you whenever you consume it, and on rest days, you still want to consume a lot of protein to aid in muscle building and growth.
If you’re having trouble meeting your protein goals, drink a shake.
However, if your normal diet is high in protein and you can meet your protein goals without your shake, you can skip the shake on rest days.
Note: If you’re trying to lose weight, a protein shake will help keep you satiated, so it will help curb your appetite.
Can You Drink Protein Shakes Without Working Out?
Yes. Protein shakes can be consumed without working out and used as a dietary supplement. If you need dietary proteins or to increase your overall protein intake, shakes work well.
Do Protein Shakes Make You Gain Weight Without Working Out?
They can, but most shakes are low in calories. For example, let’s look at some of the top brands and see how many calories a serving contains:
- Premier Protein – 30g of protein and 160 calories
- Orgain Plant Protein – 20g of protein and 150 calories
- Optimum Nutrition Gold Standard Whey Protein Powder – 24g of protein and 120 calories
- Pure Protein – 25g of protein and 160 calories
You’ll need to drink a lot of shakes to gain weight. However, there are mass gainers that have a ton of protein and 1,000+ calories. Mass gainers are what you want to drink if you need to add mass, but for most people, they can opt for a low-calorie protein powder.
The benefits of protein shakes after workouts are substantial. Often, you just want to maximize your results and that’s what you’re doing when you drink your shake. If you’re doing drop sets, cheat exercises and exercising to failure, you must focus on recovery.
Protein is a small, important part of recovery that will boost your results.
Just like you should be warming up before a workout, you also need to focus on your nutrition. Protein is what your body craves and needs immediately following a workout, so feed it protein.