PROTEIN AFTER WORKOUT 2018-09-09 06:48


The importance of protein for improved performance and body composition is of little debate, protein helps us build muscle; reduce body fat and helps induce training adaptations.  For this reason increasing protein from a low to a moderate / high intake will provide the following benefits.

Increased satiety: This means you feel fuller sooner into a meal, helping control calorie intake of that meal, while also helping you feel fuller and more satisfied after a meal, reducing the risk of spontaneous snacking (1)

High thermic effect: this means that protein uses up more calories to be digested and absorbed then other nutrients. In short, the more protein you eat the more calories you burn breaking it down and allowing your body to use it (2)

Prevents muscle breakdown:  A higher protein intake saves lean muscle tissue when in a calorie deficit, this means that weight loss is more directed towards fat and away from muscle. This lowers body fat percentage (3)

Helps form neurotransmitters: Increasing your protein intake will help your make more dopamine, increasing dopamine may improve motivation, self-drive and reduce cravings for sweet things and stimulants (4)
However, what is currently up for debate is whether timing matters at all and if so, should you have your protein before or after a training session?

Aragon & Schofield who carried out a recent meta-analysis (i.e. pooling together and analysing all the data from lots of studies) that looked at whether timing of protein made any difference to muscle gain and adaptations to training, the key finding of this study was that total protein intake was a more significant factor to improving positive adaptation to training than when the protein was consumed (i.e. close to train or at any other time of the day (5).  As a result, the sports nutrition world started to question whether protein timing actually makes any difference and instead started to favour a more flexible approach of when protein was consumed focusing more on hitting the protein target rather than worrying about having it around training. Fast forward a couple of months and another study came out showing the exact opposite, that timing of protein did make a difference to training adaptation, especially if you are an experienced trainee (6). This is a classic case of science confusing us, and people not knowing what approach is best, however with that said, there is no reason why you cannot follow both approaches at the same time.

1. Consistently hitting your protein targets.
2. Timing some of that protein intake around training.

For us that turn up to the boxes and few times a week to improve our strength, power, endurance or just to look better, it really doesn’t matter whether we make our gains because of hitting the total protein target or by targeting the protein intake to when it may give us a slight advantage. If you focus on these 2 areas than we double our chances of making the gains we work so hard for on a daily basis.

So when should I have my protein? Before or After my workout?
The answer: ………………It Depends.

Both have benefits to consuming protein at that specific time and the key really context and how the rest of the diet is set up and how you feel training on a full or empty stomach. What we do know is that we perform better if there is protein (amino acids to be a little more specific) in the blood stream at the time of training, this means that Crossfit on an empty stomach first  thing in the morning in hope that it will burn more fat is not a great idea,  its actually been found that performing exercise after having a whey protein shake is more effective for fat loss than training on empty if fat loss is the goal (7) this also prevents the possible negatives of fasted training and muscle loss.

When we are training, blood flow to the working muscles increases to help deliver oxygen and nutrients that help power us through our sessions, this is the perfect time to provide amino acids (the building blocks of protein) to the muscles at a time where they are taking a bit of a battering from a barbell, kettlebell, wallball, concept 2 or bodyweight. Training causes a breakdown in muscle tissue, which the body sees as a signal to trigger new growth and adapt to the stressor that was placed on it………… this is how we make gainz.

If we can decrease muscle breakdown and increase muscle building the result is less soreness, more muscle and greater future recovery and performance (8). For this reason having a whey protein shake 60 minutes before training allows for blood levels of amino acids to start to peak during training and will continue to remain elevated even once the session has finished, this prevents excessive muscle damage during a session and kick starts the recovery process before a session as even started (9).

Of course supplements are not required to raise levels of amino acids in the blood pre training, whole food will do the trick too, however due to the longer digestion time a pre training meal should be eaten 2 – 3 hours before a session to allow for the amino acids found in the protein to be available for the muscles to ‘soak up’ during a session; also doing Fran or burpees after a large meal isn’t much fun.  Whey protein has certain benefits over other proteins with regard to pre exercise nutrition as:

1. It is digested quickly at a rate of around 8 to 10g per hours and is easy on the stomach, this is ideal for those early morning WODs (4).
2. It is high in the amino acid leucine which plays a key role of telling the body that there is enough protein and energy available to build new muscle (10)
3. It reduces the rise of the stress hormone cortisol during a session providing a positive hormonal environment for the body to recover from intense exercise (11)

Post Training has traditionally been the time where people would consume a form of protein, typically whey to help start the recovery process. This is still a useful time to consume a source of easily digested protein as it:

  • Aids amino acid uptake by the muscles (12)
  • Leads to recovery and greater adaptation to training (13)
  • Is even more important for older athletes (14)
  • Improves our ability to store any accompanying carbs as glycogen (15)

For these reasons placing 20 – 30g of your daily protein target post training is an efficient way of using your protein intake in a way that may provide a slight advantage, especially if you are an experienced trainee. However, the days of needing to smash your protein shake the second after you have shouted ‘TIME’ or finished your last set are gone, the body is more sensitive to protein intake for longer than the magic 30 minute anabolic window that we once thought existed (16), this is especially true if you have had a decent pre training meal or shake as the amino acids will still be being released in to the blood stream and being delivered to the muscles that have been worked.

What about doing both?
One sure fire way to ensure your protein intake is used efficiently would be to bookend your training session with protein (and or carbs depending on diet set up). This allows the muscles to have a constant supply of available amino acids and has been shown to be a pretty effective at helping with increasing recovery and muscular gains by reducing muscle breakdown and helping muscle building (17).

Interestingly for us Crossfitters, a recent study looking at timed nutrition for Crossfit athletes carried out late last year (18) found that consuming a supplement containing amino acids, anti-oxidants and polyphenols pre-training and a second supplement containing carbs, protein (20g protein 40g carbs for women, 40g protein 80g carbs for men) post training for 6 weeks led to improvements in aerobic endurance and anaerobic power as shown by a 38 second improvement in test WOD 1 (500 m row, 40 wall balls, 30 push-ups, 20 box jumps, 10 thrusters for time) and 16 reps more for test WOD 2 (15 minutes to complete an 800 m run “buy in”, followed by a AMRAP of 5 burpees, 10 Kettlebell swings, 15 air squats compared to the subjects that didn’t receive the supplements, while improving fat free mass by 1.67% (which was deemed non-significant by the stats).

However it is important to take the results of this study with a pinch of salt and use it to explore timed nutrition for Crossfitters rather than taking the results as fact as the study had a few limitations such as a small sample size, no calorie matched double blind placebo, possible learning effect of the WOD’s for the rests (i.e. better strategy or pacing), all of which can affect the validity of a research study. So although improvements were made we can’t 100% be sure they were as a result of the timed nutrition.

So in short, it provides clues about how timed nutrition might help Crossfit athletes but doesn’t provide concrete information about the specific nature of how or why. Hopefully further studies will shed new light on this area in the future.

Putting it all together

  • If you have had a decent meal 90minutes – 2 and a half hours before training, then this will provide the body with amino acids during the session that will still be being digested post training.
  • If you have not eaten for 3 – 4 hours been longer, 30g of whey 30 – 60 minutes before training would be useful to ensure there are sufficient amino acids available to the muscles during training.
  • If training first thing in the morning 30g of whey protein 30 – 60 minutes may be more effective for fat loss than training on empty and reduces the risk of muscle loss.
  • Post training 20- 30g of whey helps promote a positive response to training, then aim to eat a solid meal containing protein 1 – 2 hours afterwards
  • If unable to eat a solid meal – 2 hours after a training session a shake containing 20g of whey protein and 10g of casein post training will provide a more sustained release of amino acids into the blood stream and prevent any additional muscle breakdown.
  • If training in the evening and a shake is going to be your last ‘meal’ of the day, have a shake made up of 20g whey and 20g casein, this will provide a much more sustained release of amino acids to the muscles at a time where levels will begin to fall (i.e when we are asleep and not getting any in coming nutrition)


  • Protein plays a huge role in providing in improving body composition and positive adaptation to training.
  • Total protein intake is likely more important that specific timing of protein intake.
  • Once total protein targets are consistently hit, specifically timing protein intake around training my provide an additional advantages, especially in experience, while using a protein shake may also help people hit their specific targets to.
  • Both pre and post timing of protein has a positive effect of performance and recovery, the context in which they are applied is likely to be most influenced by the likes and dislikes of an individual and their diet set up as a whole.
  • Bookending training sessions with protein is likely to lead to the best results, meal size and how close it is to training is a key factor that will influences how an individual applies this to themselves.
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