Should You Consume Protein Before or After Exercise?

Should You Consume Protein Before or After Exercise?

You’re gearing up for your next workout session, feeling pumped and ready to conquer your fitness goals. But before you jump into the sweat-inducing action, there’s a burning question on your mind: should you fuel up with protein before or after exercise?

It’s a dilemma that’s puzzled even the most dedicated fitness enthusiasts, sparking endless debates and theories. If you’re feeling confused about all the different advice out there, don’t worry—we’ve done the research and are about to share the science-backed info we found.

Why Is Protein Important for Exercise?

Before we get into the nitty-gritty of when to consume protein, let’s take a moment to understand why this macronutrient is such a powerhouse when it comes to supporting your fitness endeavors.

Protein is one of three macronutrients—along with carbohydrates and fat—that you need in large quantities. It’s the building block of muscle tissue, the very stuff that helps you get stronger, faster, and fitter. When you exercise, especially during resistance training or high-intensity workouts, you’re essentially breaking down muscle fibers. It might sound counterintuitive, but this process of muscle breakdown is crucial for muscle growth and adaptation. 

Protein provides the essential amino acids your body needs to repair and rebuild those damaged muscle fibers, making them bigger and stronger in the process. Without an adequate supply of protein, your muscles would struggle to recover efficiently, which could hamper your progress and leave you feeling perpetually sore and fatigued. 

But protein isn’t just about bulking up those biceps—it also plays a key role in other essential bodily functions, such as supporting immune function, regulating hormone levels, and weight management.

What Are Protein Supplements?

Protein supplements are dietary protein products designed to boost protein intake, typically in the form of protein powders or protein bars. They’re convenient options for those struggling to meet their daily protein needs through whole foods alone or seeking a quick and easy way to increase their daily protein. 

These supplements are derived from various protein sources. Whey protein is a popular animal-based source, while soy, pea, rice, and hemp are popular plant-based choices.

Should You Take Protein Before or After Exercise?

The debate over the optimal timing of protein consumption has fueled countless discussions among fitness enthusiasts and experts alike. While some swear by the benefits of pre-workout protein, others argue that post-workout protein is essential. Let’s break it down.

The Case for Pre-Workout Protein

Proponents of pre-workout protein consumption advocate fueling up before exercise to provide your muscles with the necessary amino acids to kickstart the muscle-building process. By consuming protein before exercise, the idea is you’re priming your muscles for growth and repair, setting the stage for optimal performance and recovery.

The Case for Post-Workout Protein 

On the flip side, advocates of post-workout protein consumption argue that the immediate period following exercise, often referred to as the “anabolic window,” is the optimal time to refuel your muscles and kickstart the recovery process.

The thought is that during this time, your muscles may be particularly receptive to nutrients, especially protein and carbohydrates, which may help replenish glycogen stores and promote muscle repair and growth.

The Verdict

So, which is better: pre-workout protein or post-workout protein? The truth is there aren’t any large-scale studies on protein timing. But there are some smaller ones that can give us some insight. 

One study—involving 21 men who were divided into two groups—compared the effects of consuming pre- or post-workout protein on muscle strength and size.[*] One group consumed a protein shake containing 25 grams of protein immediately before their workout and the other immediately after. Participants engaged in a full-body workout regimen three times weekly for ten weeks.

Interestingly, the study revealed no significant differences in muscle mass or strength between the two groups. These findings suggest that the timing of protein intake relative to the workout—whether before or after—may not substantially impact muscle development.

Other research has found that the anabolic window, which was thought to span 30 minutes post-exercise, may actually be much longer—and may not be limited to only after exercise.[*][*][*] 

Overall Daily Protein May Be More Important 

While it doesn’t appear there’s much difference between consuming protein before or after a workout, some research has even questioned whether consuming protein close to your workout is necessary at all.[*][*] A few studies suggest it’s beneficial, while others demonstrate no significant effect.[*][*][*][*]

Overall, studies find that total daily protein intake is the strongest predictor of muscle strength and size, whether or not you consume it close to exercise or not.[*][*][*]

How Much Protein Do You Need Daily? 

The Recommended Daily Allowance (RDA) for protein is 0.36 grams per pound (0.8 grams per kg) of body weight. But, this is only the amount the average person needs to avoid a protein deficiency. It doesn’t take into account your activity level or if you’re trying to build muscle. In fact, research suggests that the RDA does not provide enough protein to support muscle gain and recovery.[*][*][*][*]

Rather, the literature suggests that people who routinely strength train may need 0.72 grams per pound (1.6 grams per kg), to support muscle recovery and growth.[*][*] That's double the RDA! That means a person who weighs 150 pounds (68 kg) would need a minimum of 109 grams of protein daily. 

Of course, the amount of protein you need varies from person to person, so it’s important to consider your unique body composition, workout routine, and goals.

Boost Your Protein Intake with IQBAR 

The bulk of your protein intake should ideally come from whole food sources consumed as part of your meals. Good sources of protein include: 

  • Fish, especially fatty fish like salmon that’s rich in omega-3 fatty acids
  • Lean meat, such as chicken and turkey
  • Legumes, like beans, lentils, and peas
  • Eggs
  • Organic soy, such as tofu and edamame  

But, it’s often challenging to meet your daily protein needs solely through food alone—especially for those with busy schedules or who are very active. This is where IQBAR comes in.

IQBAR provides a convenient and delicious way to supplement your daily protein intake. Each bar contains 12 grams of plant-based protein, which is a complete protein containing all the essential amino acids. IQBARs are also an excellent choice for those on low-sugar or low-carb diets, as each bar contains only 2-3 net carbs and 1-2 grams of sugar (hooray for no sugar crash!).

⛽️Whether you need a quick post-workout snack or a mid-afternoon pick-me-up, IQBARs are the perfect choice to satisfy your hunger and fuel your body with the protein it needs to thrive.

🧠Bonus? IQBAR contains brain-boosting nutrients, including magnesium, lion’s mane mushroom, vitamin E, MCTs, and flavonoids, all of which have been shown to support brain health and enhance cognitive performance.

😃Ready to give IQBAR a try? Choose from delicious flavors like Almond Butter Chip, Lemon Blueberry, Chocolate Sea Salt, Toasted Coconut Chip, Matcha Chai, and many others! Struggle with flavor commitment? Select our 7 Bar Sampler to find your favorites. 

The Bottom Line on Protein Timing 

While some people may steadfastly hold onto their beliefs about nutrient timing, the evidence does not support that it’s of much importance. Ultimately, what truly matters is the consistency of your effort and the quality of your choices. As long as you remain dedicated to moving your body and ensuring sufficient daily protein intake, the fruits of your labor are bound to blossom.


Written by Katie Koschalk, a health and wellness writer, certified holistic nutritionist, and certified personal trainer based in California.