According to bro doctrine, you’d be stupid if you didn’t look forward to your post-workout protein extravaganza. It’s that key opportunity when monumental gains are supposedly more in reach than any other time of day. We twist open our five-gallon tub of protein powder and pour a heaping scoop into our Deadpool labeled blender bottle. Then we wait for hulk-like muscular adaptations to our well-timed nutrient digestion.

This has been the preferred ideology surrounding protein consumption and hardcore resistance training. Indeed, I religiously adhered to this belief, thinking I would end up on stage in a matter of weeks. Don’t be alarmed! There’s no need to ditch your favorite overpriced protein powder. In fact, research supports its importance given several factors.

Is Post-Workout Protein Needed?

The answer to this question is yes, but there is a catch. This only applies to the fasted state. If your training was done without adequate fuel beforehand, you need something to break your fast and crush catabolism. Despite training-induced increases in protein synthesis, your body will remain in a negative amino acid balance following exercise in the fasted state (Kumar et al., 2009).

Strictly speaking, this is a perfectly valid approach to maximizing muscle gains. Ideally, you should eat a balanced meal post-workout that includes carbs and protein for a total catabolism-reversing effect (Aragon & Schoenfeld, 2013).

MORE: Revisiting Post-Workout Carbohydrates

Some baffling research suggests that your body can accept protein 24 to 48 hours following exercise (Phillips et al., 1997; Tipton et al., 2003). Another study concluded that insulin sensitivity is increased 24 hours and beyond after an acute bout of resistance training (Koopman et al., 2005).

The way I see it, beefing up your general post-workout nutrition is the first step to discovering a more rational routine in supplementation. Your body is primed to accept more than just protein, so do not skimp on the added benefit of a well-balanced meal.

What About Pre-Exercise Nutrition?

Not much emphasis is placed on the importance of a meal before a workout. I never thought it offered as great a benefit on overall muscle gains because it seemed like a step in the wrong direction. These were all assumptions I wrongly made before I knew any better. In fact, consuming a meal before exercise compounds your potential for size. It is common to eat a meal about one to two hours before training to capitalize on muscle growth (Aragon & Schoenfeld, 2013).

Liquid supplements offer the same benefit if you don’t have time for a full meal. Taking about six grams of essential amino acids (EAA) can elevate blood and muscle amino acids as much as 130 percent. These levels can stay elevated approximately two hours after your workout (Tipton et al., 2001). This research was challenged by Fujita et al., 2009 suggesting no significant change in protein synthesis following EAA supplementation compared to a fasted group. Tipton et al., 2007 offered a solution by showing that 20 grams of whey protein ingested right before training will increase amino acid uptake 4.4 times that of pre-exercise levels. It stayed elevated up to three hours after.

If we take this into account, rushing for a protein shake after your workout is merely a redundancy. If your regularly scheduled diet plan has you eating a clean meal one to two hours after your routine, then there is no need for the extra hit of protein.

Is Nutrient Timing for Everyone?

Nope! Its importance varies on age and training status. Burd et al., 2009 suggested that advanced exercisers need to pay more attention to their post-workout supplementation than newbies. This is because protein synthesis favors the myofibrillar component in more experienced weightlifters. Newbies have the luxury of mitochondrial adaptations alongside their muscle growth.

If older adults want to reap the benefits of resistance training, they need to consume higher amounts of whey protein. Muscle protein synthesis increased in older adults when they drank 40 grams of whey protein as opposed to 20 grams (Yang et al., 2012). This is a result of “anabolic resistance”. This term refers to an increased resistance toward amino acids and weight training (Breen & Phillips, 2013).

What are the Concrete Guidelines?

This entire article can be simplified into one basic rule for optimal recovery and muscle gains. Take in about 20 to 40 grams of high-quality protein before and after your workout (Moore et al., 2008; Staples et al., 2011; Yang et al., 2012). It’s that simple. If you’ve got a larger frame, consume closer to 40 grams. You get the idea.

If you maintain some structure with your diet, the need for quick protein becomes less significant. Practicing moderation in all things lends itself to healthy proportions and clean food choices. These mitigate the stress of proper timing around a workout. All in all, it’s not the most important thing to hone in on.


  1. Aragon, A. A., & Schoenfeld, B. J. (2013). Nutrient timing revisited: is there a post-exercise anabolic window? Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition10(1).
  2. Breen, L., & Phillips, S. M. (2013). Interactions between exercise and nutrition to prevent muscle waste during ageing. British Journal of Clinical Pharmacology75(3), 708–715.
  3. Burd, N. A., Tang, J. E., Moore, D. R., & Phillips, S. M. (2009). Exercise training and protein metabolism: influences of contraction, protein intake, and sex-based differences. Journal of Applied Physiology106(5), 1692–1701.
  4. Fujita, S., Dreyer, H. C., Drummond, M. J., Glynn, E. L., Volpi, E., & Rasmussen, B. B. (2009). Essential amino acid and carbohydrate ingestion before resistance exercise does not enhance postexercise muscle protein synthesis. Journal of Applied Physiology106(5), 1730–1739.
  5. Koopman, R., Manders, R. J. F., Zorenc, A. H. G., Hul, G. B. J., Kuipers, H., Keizer, H. A., & van Loon, L. J. C. (2005). A single session of resistance exercise enhances insulin sensitivity for at least 24 h in healthy men. European Journal of Applied Physiology94(1–2), 180–187.
  6. Kumar, V., Atherton, P., Smith, K., & Rennie, M. J. (2009). Human muscle protein synthesis and breakdown during and after exercise. Journal of Applied Physiology106(6), 2026–2039.
  7. Moore, D. R., Robinson, M. J., Fry, J. L., Tang, J. E., Glover, E. I., Wilkinson, S. B., Prior, T., Tarnopolsky, M. A., & Phillips, S. M. (2008). Ingested protein dose response of muscle and albumin protein synthesis after resistance exercise in young men. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition89(1), 161–168.
  8. Phillips, S. M., Tipton, K. D., Aarsland, A., Wolf, S. E., & Wolfe, R. R. (1997). Mixed muscle protein synthesis and breakdown after resistance exercise in humans. The American Journal of Physiology273(1 Pt 1), E99-107.
  9. Staples, A. W., Burd, N. A., West, D. W. D., Currie, K. D., Atherton, P. J., Moore, D. R., Rennie, M. J., Macdonald, M. J., Baker, S. K., & Phillips, S. M. (2011). Carbohydrate Does Not Augment Exercise-Induced Protein Accretion versus Protein Alone. Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise43(7), 1154–1161.
  10. Tipton, K. D., Borsheim, E., Wolf, S. E., Sanford, A. P., & Wolfe, R. R. (2003). Acute response of net muscle protein balance reflects 24-h balance after exercise and amino acid ingestion. American Journal of Physiology-Endocrinology and Metabolism284(1), E76–E89.
  11. Tipton, K. D., Rasmussen, B. B., Miller, S. L., Wolf, S. E., Owens-Stovall, S. K., Petrini, B. E., & Wolfe, R. R. (2001). Timing of amino acid-carbohydrate ingestion alters anabolic response of muscle to resistance exercise. American Journal of Physiology. Endocrinology and Metabolism281(2), E197-206.
  12. Tipton, K. D., Elliott, T. A., Cree, M. G., Aarsland, A. A., Sanford, A. P., & Wolfe, R. R. (2007). Stimulation of net muscle protein synthesis by whey protein ingestion before and after exercise. American Journal of Physiology-Endocrinology and Metabolism292(1), E71–E76.
  13. Yang, Y., Breen, L., Burd, N. A., Hector, A. J., Churchward-Venne, T. A., Josse, A. R., Tarnopolsky, M. A., & Phillips, S. M. (2012). Resistance exercise enhances myofibrillar protein synthesis with graded intakes of whey protein in older men. British Journal of Nutrition108(10), 1780–1788.

Ian MacKenzie MS, NASM started as a skinny kid simply looking to put on a few pounds. He applied much of what he learned to competing in the NPC for the men’s physique division and conducting multiple published studies as part of his master’s degree. His real passion is helping young individuals learn everything they can about becoming their own personal trainer through his fitness platform.