What Is the Best Time to Have a Protein Shake? Morning, Noon, or Night?

  • Medical Reviewer: Dany Paul Baby, MD
Medically Reviewed on 1/9/2023

How much protein do you need?

Protein is a valuable component of healthy diets. When a protein supplement is split into two parts in the morning and evening, it improves muscle strength as much as a protein supplement taken with the workout.
Protein is a valuable component of healthy diets. When a protein supplement is split into two parts in the morning and evening, it improves muscle strength as much as a protein supplement taken with the workout.

Protein is a valuable component of healthy diets. You must have enough of this essential macronutrient to maintain your body's growth, structure, and metabolic activities. You probably get enough protein from your diet, but you may need more under particular circumstances. In such cases, protein supplements or shakes could be useful. You may be wondering, though, when to drink protein shakes. 

When you eat protein, your digestive system breaks the proteins down into amino acids. These amino acids then circulate in the blood, and various tissues and organs use them. Almost half of the protein in your body (43%) can be found in the muscles. 

Your body uses amino acids and proteins to build needed proteins like enzymes, hormones, and antibodies, but protein can also be used for energy needs if other sources are inadequate. One gram of protein releases 4 calories.

Protein is crucial to your continued good health. Your body needs protein to build bones and cells, so a good supply of protein allows your body to grow and maintain itself.

People with a sedentary lifestyle need 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight a day. If you weigh 60 kilograms (132 lb), then, you need at least 48 grams of protein a day. However, physical activity increases your need for protein. Mild physical activity enhances your protein requirement to 1 gram per kilogram of body weight per day. If you are in an intense exercise program or competitive sport, you should have 1.6 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight per day.

Most Americans eat enough meats, poultry, eggs, nuts, seeds, soy products, and seafood to meet basic protein requirements. However, conditions like pregnancy, breastfeeding, sickness, injury, and growth increase protein requirements. For example, sarcopenia causes muscle mass loss that accelerates after age 40. Consequently, you need more protein (up to 1.5 grams per kilogram of body weight per day) to maintain muscle mass. You need even higher amounts of protein if you also have a very active lifestyle or are building muscle.

Timing of protein

What is the best time to have your protein shake? It depends on why you're drinking it. 

If you're sick, wounded, or recovering from surgery, you need more protein than usual. Your body is working around the clock to repair your tissues, so you should spread your protein intake throughout your day. Eat a lot of protein foods, and have your supplements divided into two or three parts.

If you're building muscle, on the other hand, you should take advantage of the "anabolic window." This is a period when exercise stimulates muscle protein building. The stimulus lasts for up to 48 hours but is strongest at the time of resistance exercise or immediately after. If amino acids are available in the blood at this time, your muscles will build protein. The muscles also receive additional blood flow, making more amino acids available. Having your protein shake just before (or within an hour after) your workout is advantageous.

What about the time of day? When a protein supplement is split into two parts in the morning and evening, it improves muscle strength as much as a protein supplement taken with the workout. The timing of the supplement doesn't seem to matter much. However, adding some carbohydrates to a protein supplement taken around the time of the workout improves results. The carbohydrates provide energy and stimulate insulin release, which is necessary for muscle protein synthesis.

Older adults might benefit from having their protein supplement at night since proteins are more likely to break down during the night. Having a protein supplement that is slowly digested and absorbed throughout the night can prevent muscle protein loss and stimulate protein building.

Additionally, your body maintains a pool of amino acids in the blood for synthesizing any proteins needed. The proteins in your muscles and other tissues are constantly being built and degraded. This process is known as protein turnover. The muscle protein built after your protein shake might be broken down, with the amino acids contributed to the pool. Consequently, the International Society of Sports Nutrition (ISSN) advises you to have protein before and after your exercise and also throughout the day. Such consumption should be divided between supplements and whole foods. 

The important thing is to have enough protein throughout the day. Even if you get your timing right and build muscle protein, it will be broken down if other body parts need amino acids. Apart from your protein shake, you should have enough protein in your meals to ensure there's never a shortage of amino acids. Remember to also have enough carbohydrates for your energy needs. This will spare the protein for muscle building and repair.


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Which protein is in your shake?

Not all proteins are the same. Proteins of animal origin, such as those in meat, eggs, and dairy products, are complete proteins. They contain all nine essential amino acids needed by your body. Consuming these proteins allows your body to make the proteins it needs.  

Most protein powders are made from whey, casein, soy, egg, or pea protein. Whey protein is rapidly digested and makes amino acids available in the blood soon after consumption. Casein is slowly digested and supplies amino acids to the blood for a prolonged time. Both result in equal muscle protein increase after resistance exercise.

If you're drinking a protein shake to build muscle:

  • The most potent stimulus for muscle building is resistance exercise.
  • The availability of amino acids is essential for muscle protein synthesis.
  • Drinking your protein shake just before or after exercise will stimulate protein synthesis.
  • The amount of protein matters. You should consume at least 1.6 grams of high-quality protein per kilogram of body weight daily to maximize intensive muscle building.

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Medically Reviewed on 1/9/2023

British Heart Foundation: "Protein: What you need to know."

British Nutrition Foundation: "Protein."

Clinical Nutrition: "Protein timing has no effect on lean mass, strength and functional capacity gains induced by resistance exercise in postmenopausal women: A randomized clinical trial."

Food & Function: "Dietary protein intake and human health."

Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition: "Protein timing and its effects on muscular hypertrophy and strength in individuals engaged in weight-training," "The effect of protein timing on muscle strength and hypertrophy: a meta-analysis."

Nutrients: "Protein Considerations for Optimising Skeletal Muscle Mass in Healthy Young and Older Adults."

University of California at Davis: "Nutrition & Health Info Sheets for Health Professionals - Protein Requirements."