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When Is It Too Late to Drink a Protein Shake? (Earlier Than You Think)

Weight Loss & Diets | Written by Nathan | Updated on 5 August 2022

Most people who drink protein shakes have certain goals in mind and may have heard protein timing is important, so an important question that often comes up is “When is it too late to drink a protein shake?”.

Truth be told, it’s earlier than you think for most weight loss and muscle-building benefits but the type of protein and satiation levels (feeling of fullness) are factors that should be considered for optimal results.

Is it Okay to Drink Protein Shakes Late or Before Bed?

In connection with general health, drinking a protein shake late in the day, specifically right before bed, is not harmful. Calories in versus calories out and the metabolic rate of an individual is the formula that dictates what bodies do with food and drink, regardless of what it is and when it is consumed.1

For certain groups of people, such as those who are weight training or those with diabetes, a protein shake before bed can be beneficial because it can help alter certain metabolic components in the body. Also, knowing the difference between types of proteins will help decide when consuming each of these proteins is most beneficial.

What Happens if I Drink a Protein Shake Before Bed?

Generally, nothing earth significant happens when a protein shake is consumed before bed. There are various pros and cons when it comes to consuming any type of food or drink before bed, and these determinations depend on each person.

If one is prone to snacking and is typically hungry late in the evening, a protein drink may satiate hunger and ward off cravings.

For a different individual, drinking a protein shake before bed might not be satisfying and could trigger that individual to snack or eat additional calories, which could lead to negative consequences, such as weight gain.

Additionally, a protein shake before bed might aid in sounder sleep if it relieves hunger pangs in the middle of the night. Conversely, some might be uncomfortable with a shake sitting in their stomach as they try to sleep.

These pros and cons can vary per person and even situationally for the same person but are minor points overall when taking into account the population as a whole.

When is it Too Late to Drink a Protein Shake for Weight Loss?

Many studies have been conducted and opinions cited in regards to the effect of eating late in the day or at night. It is a commonly held belief that consuming calories before bed is unhealthy and leads to weight gain. This, however, is not true. According to a National Center for Biotechnology Information study, consuming a lower calorie food packed with nutrients can be beneficial in many ways, especially paired with exercise.2

Outside of dieting, it’s important to remember that food or drink before bed can affect individuals differently, especially in regards to sleep quality. Even if drinking a protein shake before bed is nutritionally beneficial, eating late has the potential for sleep interference in some individuals which can affect daily energy levels. This can adversely affect weight loss goals by causing one to lose motivation to exercise or focus on healthy eating.

Weight loss can also be affected by the number of calories consumed in a day. If a protein shake is added to a diet without removing other calories, it can be detrimental to weight loss efforts. If calories are being removed from a diet and subsequently replaced with a protein shake, then weight loss can be achieved.

Ultimately, when to drink a protein shake for weight loss has less to do with it being too late in the day and more to do with personal considerations such as the effect on sleep, caloric consumption, and nighttime eating habits.

How Late is too Late to Drink Protein for Muscle & Strength Gains?

The basics of gaining muscle include breaking down the muscle and then allowing the muscle to heal, which causes it to grow and become stronger. This is not an immediate process and, according to a study in the Journal for Strength and Conditioning, could take more than 96 hours for muscles to heal after a strength training routine.3

For muscle gain, a consistent daily intake of protein paired with routine strength training is essential. Preliminary studies have found that it is beneficial to consume protein shakes before bed due to the unique way muscles store additional amino acids at night. These studies have also found that this will not hinder the absorption of other protein that is consumed throughout the day.4

These studies support the fact that a protein shake consumed before bed will not be harmful, in fact, it is helpful as long as an appropriate amount of protein is ingested for the remainder of each day.

In this same vein, being familiar with the idea of protein synthesis is important, which is understanding how much protein can be absorbed at one time. If too much protein is consumed at one time, muscles will not reap the full benefits since the absorption rate of protein is around a maximum of 35 grams per meal. Studies have debunked the protein timing myth and confirmed that ensuring muscles receive a mixture of proteins evenly spaced throughout the day is the primary concern in weight and strength training.

When is it Too Late to Drink Protein Shakes After Working Out (For Building Muscle & Weight Loss)?

Anyone who has stepped into the gym for some time or had a friend who has lifted weights has likely heard, “You must drink a protein shake within an hour of working out”. Well, they’re not far off although some studies show an optimal eating window post-workout may be up to two hours.

While most of these studies revolve around building muscle or hypertrophy, a widely known fact is that the more muscle someone has, the more calories they burn. Thus, timing protein after working out is beneficial for building muscle which in turn promotes further caloric expenditure which can lead to weight loss.

In addition, protein consumption before a workout, as well, can increase calorie expenditure at rest for up to 48 hours after a workout.5 So at the end of the day, be sure to get an adequate amount of protein a few hours after working out as well as before working out for maximum results. And the same goes for timing carbohydrates before or after training.

Best Types of Proteins & When to Drink Them Based on Your Goals

Commonly known proteins used in protein shakes are whey, casein, and plant-based proteins. Both whey and casein are derived from milk and are considered complete proteins. Complete proteins consist of the nine amino acids that bodies require in addition to the eleven they produce themselves.6 Plant-based proteins, on the other hand, are incomplete sources of amino acids and must be combined to provide all the amino acids that muscles need.

A bag of protein with whey in it and a protein shaker bottle with casein protein in it.

Although whey and casein are both milk-based, they are fundamentally different. Whey protein is absorbed very quickly; in as little as 20 minutes. Casein protein, on the other hand, can take hours to break down.7

Whey is Best for Pre & Post Workout

For those with a goal of gaining and maintaining muscle, a protein shake containing whey can be highly beneficial directly before and/or directly after a workout. The short amount of time taken for muscles to absorb the amino acids in whey protein can essentially start muscle repair immediately if consumed in close proximity to a workout. Waiting to consume a whey protein shake past 120 minutes after a workout reduces the benefits greatly. 

Casein is Ideal Before Bedtime

As mentioned previously, it can take days for muscles to heal after a strength workout. The addition of casein protein in a late evening shake can help overnight recovery of muscles, thereby speeding up the process of muscle growth.8

The general suggestion for protein shakes is a limit of one per day unless powerlifting or participating in other extreme fitness. With a single protein shake as a daily goal, those looking to build and maintain muscle may wonder which protein will benefit them the most. Because whey protein is absorbed so quickly, reserving a whey protein shake immediately before or after a strength workout is most beneficial. A casein protein shake is ideal for days that do not include strength training. Muscle repair is still occurring, just at a more drawn-out pace, and energy from the shake can aid in cardio training.

Protein Timing for Satiation is Most Important for Weight Loss

As for weight loss, the way an individual is trying to lose weight is important when determining if a protein shake is beneficial, and, if so, which type. If a person is losing weight with diet alone, adding a protein shake to their diet regimen may not be helpful.

Although protein shakes are generally healthy, they still consist of calories. In this particular instance, casein protein may be a better option due to the slow breakdown of amino acids. The longer amount of time it takes to digest these nutrients will help individuals feel fuller for longer, in turn, helping control hunger, which is very beneficial in weight loss. Paired with strength training, this can help with muscle building as well.

Choosing which protein and when to consume it has many factors. The above goals give basic guidelines to make a decision, but other factors come into play. One should consider:

  • How much food is eaten throughout the day
  • How much food is consumed throughout the day
  • Social plans which could alter when a protein shake is consumed
  • Health issues, such as diabetes or insulin resistance, could alter how a protein shake affects one blood sugar

After breaking down different lifestyle goals and different protein sources, the question of “When is it too late to drink a protein shake?” can more easily be answered. Ultimately, the answer is dependent on the individual and could change from each circumstance to the next.

FAQ

Should I Drink Whey or Casein Protein Before Bed?

Casein protein is the better option when drinking a protein shake before bed. Casein protein breaks down at a much slower pace than other proteins which can help satiate hunger, curb cravings, and aid in muscle repair.

What’s The Best Type of Protein Should I Drink After Working Out?

Whey protein is the ideal post-workout protein as long as it is consumed within 90 minutes post-workout. The amino acids in whey protein are absorbed within 20 minutes of consumption and can help muscles begin the repair process immediately.

What’s the Optimal Amount of Protein Shakes Should I Drink to Gain Muscle?

In general, one protein shake a day is ideal. While protein shakes have many healthy ingredients and benefits, there are many things they lack when it comes to a well-rounded diet. Consuming protein, carbs, and fat from whole foods is highly beneficial, and coupled with a protein shake can boost health. Exceptions apply to extreme athletes or bodybuilders who require a very large amount of protein.

For Weight Loss, How Many Protein Shakes Should I Drink a Day?

The ideal number of protein shakes for individuals looking to lose weight is between zero and one. If calorie intake is of concern, then adding a protein shake will be counterproductive in losing weight. If remaining in a calorie deficit can be achieved while adding a protein shake, a shake may help curb cravings and reduce hunger. If weight loss and strength training are done simultaneously, a protein shake can help build muscle, which can aid in weight loss when considering the dilemma of when is it too late to drink a protein shake.


References

1 Rutledge, T. (2019, October 16). Calories In, Calories Out. Psychology Today. Retrieved July 5, 2022, from <https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/the-healthy-journey/201910/calories-in-calories-out>

2Kinsey, A. W., & Ormsbee, M. J. (2015, April 9). The health impact of nighttime eating: old and new perspectives. PubMed. Retrieved July 5, 2022, from <https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/25859885/>

3Bishop, P. A., Jones, E., & Woods, K. A. (2008, May). Recovery From Training: A Brief Review. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 22(3), 1015-1024. <https://journals.lww.com/nsca-jscr/Fulltext/2008/05000/Central_and_Peripheral_Fatigue_after.00049.aspx>

4Frontiers. (2019, March 6). Bedtime protein for bigger gains? Here’s the scoop. ScienceDaily. Retrieved July 5, 2022, from <https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2019/03/190306081832.htm>

5Blair, M. & Cataldo, D. (2015). PROTEIN INTAKE FOR OPTIMAL MUSCLE MAINTENANCE. American College of Sports Medicine. Retrieved July 5, 2022, from <https://www.acsm.org/docs/default-source/files-for-resource-library/protein-intake-for-optimal-muscle-maintenance.pdf>

6Care/of. (2022). Complete vs. Incomplete Proteins: A Beginner’s Guide. Care/of. Retrieved July 5, 2022, from <https://takecareof.com/articles/complete-vs-incomplete-protein>

7Begum, J. (2021, June 22). Whey and Casein Protein: What’s the Difference? WebMD. Retrieved July 5, 2022, from <https://www.webmd.com/diet/whey-vs-casein-protein>

8Abbott, W., Brett, A., Cockburn, E., & Clifford, T. (2019, March). Presleep Casein Protein Ingestion: Acceleration of Functional Recovery in Professional Soccer Players. International Journal of Sports Physiology and Performance, 14(3), 385-391. <https://journals.humankinetics.com/view/journals/ijspp/14/3/article-p385.xml>

About the Author

Nathan

Nathan has been a fitness enthusiast for the past 12 years and jumps between several types of training such as bodybuilding, powerlifting, cycling, gymnastics, and backcountry hiking. Due to the varying caloric needs of numerous sports, he has cycled between all types of diets and currently eats a whole food diet. In addition, Nathan lives with several injuries such as hip impingement, spondylolisthesis, and scoliosis, so he underwent self-rehabilitation and no longer lives with debilitating pain.