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Protein powder is one of the most popular dietary supplements. While it is commonly associated with resistance training and muscle gain, high-quality protein powder can also help you reduce your body weight, if that’s your goal.
As a certified sports nutrition coach, I often get questions like, “What’s the best time to drink a protein shake for weight loss?” In this guide, we’ll examine just that, looking at available scientific evidence.
RELATED: Best-Tasting Protein Powder
Medical disclaimer: This article is intended for educational and informational purposes only. It is not intended as a substitute for medical advice. For health advice, contact a licensed healthcare provider.
How Does Protein Help You Lose Weight?
Protein is an important part of a balanced diet and for your overall wellness; it also happens to be a handy tool for weight loss.
Registered dietitian nutritionist Megan O’Connor, sports dietitian for the USA Weightlifting team, said in our guide Is Protein Powder Good For Weight Loss?, “Protein powder can be helpful while you’re trying to lose weight because it’s an easy source of protein without adding excess calories, and adequate protein helps you maintain lean mass while trying to drop mainly body fat.”
Let’s look at those benefits in more detail.
Drinking a protein shake may help you consume fewer calories without feeling hungry. It’s been well-established that protein is the most satiating macronutrient compared to fats and carbs, according to a research review in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition1.
May Help Reduce Cravings
Making you feel full is one way protein reduces food cravings. Additionally, dietary protein impacts multiple hormones that control hunger, including ghrelin, peptide YY, and cholecystokinin. Research2 has shown that higher protein intake can suppress appetite due to its effects on these hormones.
Helps Build Muscle Mass
Muscle tissue (sometimes called lean mass or lean muscle mass—in this sense, it all refers to muscle tissue) is a highly metabolic tissue. Some research3 suggests that muscle tissue has a metabolic rate almost triple that of fat mass.
Amino acids, the building blocks of protein, are critical for muscle growth. Protein shakes contain ample amino acids and, typically, 20 to 30 grams of protein per serving. Drinking one can help you reach adequate protein targets, which may help you build muscle if you are engaging in resistance training.
It also helps minimize muscle loss during periods of caloric restriction, which is really important for maintaining your metabolism.
Increases Thermic Effect of Food
Finally, protein itself requires more energy to digest than other nutrients. The “thermic effect of food” refers to how many calories your body burns each day just by digesting the food you eat. Studies4 have shown that protein increases thermogenesis, thereby increasing total calorie burn.
When To Drink a Protein Shake for Weight Loss
The most important thing is to get enough protein each day. The exact amount of protein your body needs depends on a lot of factors, including your current body weight, goal weight, what type of exercise you do, and how much exercise you do. Our handy guide, How Much Protein Do I Need?, covers how many grams of protein per pound of body weight you should consume.
Having said that, if you’re serious about getting the most bang for your supplement buck, you’re probably wondering when’s the best time to take your shake. You may be pleasantly surprised to learn that it doesn’t really matter.
In the early-to-mid 2010s, researchers proposed a potential “anabolic window of opportunity5” that exists after exercise, specifically strength exercise. The thought was that muscle tissue is more responsive to amino acids immediately after training. This, in turn, could help with weight loss by promoting greater muscle growth and thus a more profound impact on metabolism.
However, newer research has shown that muscle tissue remains more receptive up to 48 hours post-exercise, according to the National Academy of Sports Medicine’s Certified Sports Nutrition Coach Course6.
The International Society of Sports Nutrition’s (ISSN) most recently published stand on protein intake7 says explicitly that “The optimal time period during which to ingest protein is likely a matter of individual tolerance, since benefits are derived from pre- or post-workout ingestion.”
The ISSN goes on to say, “the anabolic effect of exercise is long-lasting (at least 24 hours), but likely diminishes with increasing time post-exercise.”
So, as long as you drink your protein shake consistently, you will receive the same muscle-building and metabolic benefits associated with an immediate post-workout shake.
Other than post-workout, you may consider drinking a protein shake:
- With breakfast, to keep you full throughout the morning
- In between meals to hold you over
- At night to keep cravings at bay
Best Protein Shakes for Weight Loss
Our expert product testers, who are certified personal trainers, nutrition coaches and sports nutrition coaches, and athletes, created a guide to the best protein powder for weight loss with the help of registered dietitians.
Best Protein Powder for Weight Loss
- Provides 22 g of protein
- 0 g fat and less than 2 g carbs
- Certified by Labdoor for quality and purity
- Available in 8 flavors
Pros & Cons
- Taste has positive reviews
- Mixes well
- Undergoes rigorous testing for quality
- Low fat and carbs
- Made in the USA
- Contains sucralose, which can cause digestive issues
- No images of product labels on Amazon or brand site
- Misleading/missing information about allergens
Our top picks are:
- Best Overall Protein Powder for Weight Loss: MyProtein Impact Whey Protein
- Best Protein Powder for Low Carb and Sugar Content: Jacked Factory Authentic Whey
- Best Casein Protein Powder for Weight Loss: Legion Athletics Casein+ Protein Powder
- Best-Tasting Protein Powder for Weight Loss: XWERKS Grow
- Best Plant-Based Protein Powder for Weight Loss: KOS Vegan Protein Powder
- Best Protein Powder for Weight Loss for Men: Kaged Re-Kaged
- Best Protein Powder for Weight Loss for Women: Cira Bright Whey Protein
- Best Whey Protein Powder for Weight Loss: Kaged Whey Protein Isolate
- Best Budget Protein Powder for Weight Loss: Optimum Nutrition Gold Standard Whey
- Best Protein Powder for Weight Loss for Meal Replacement: Quest Protein Powder
- Best Protein Powder for Weight Loss for Energy Boost: Garden of Life Sport Whey
- Best Unflavored Protein Powder for Weight Loss: NOW Sports Whey Protein Isolate
- Best Organic Protein Powder for Weight Loss: Legion Athletics Whey Isolate Protein
Our recommendations are low in calories, carbohydrates, and fats; high in protein; and rated positively for taste, texture, value, and transparency by our product testers.
Best Time to Drink a Protein Shake for Weight Loss: Final Thoughts
Ultimately, you need to be in a caloric deficit to lose weight; however, protein shakes or protein powder can be a powerful tool in the processes of weight loss and fat loss.
Consuming adequate protein daily is more important than drinking a protein shake at a specific time of day. That said, drinking a protein shake shortly after a workout may increase muscle protein synthesis, thus resulting in greater muscle growth.
Muscle, being a very metabolically active tissue, supports a healthy metabolism, which is important for successful and long-term weight loss.
Best Time to Drink a Protein Shake for Weight Loss: FAQs
Should you drink a protein shake before or after a workout?
You can drink your protein shake pre-workout or post-workout. Older research suggested that after exercise, the body is more receptive to essential amino acids and in a more anabolic state, but newer research suggests that it doesn’t really matter.
Whether your fitness goal is to build muscle or lose weight, it’s best to focus on getting enough protein throughout the day and drink protein shakes at whatever time works for you. Either way, protein intake enhances muscle growth, contributing to a speedier metabolism over time.
Should you drink a protein shake on rest days?
It’s perfectly fine to take a protein supplement on rest days. As long as you remain in a calorie deficit, it won’t contribute to weight gain. Drinking a protein shake every day, regardless of your exercise routine, is a good way to maintain adequate protein consumption.
Is it OK to drink two protein shakes a day?
If you’re trying to consume a high-protein diet and you’re struggling to get enough protein from whole foods, drinking two protein shakes per day can help. There’s no harm in doing so, so long as your source of protein doesn’t contain any ingredients you are sensitive to (such as artificial sweeteners that can cause bloating).
Using different types of protein powder may offer additional benefits. For instance, whey protein is fast-digesting so it’s ideal for post-workout nutrition. Casein, on the other hand, digests slowly and is great for appetite control and preventing cravings at night.
Is vegan protein powder as good as whey?
As long as the best vegan protein powder uses complementary proteins to create a complete protein (meaning it contains all nine essential amino acids), then yes, plant-based protein imparts the same benefits as whey protein. This is good news for vegetarians and lactose-intolerant individuals. Soy protein and pea protein are two complete plant proteins, but pea protein is low in the amino acid methionine, so it’s best to combine it with another, like hemp protein or rice protein.
These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any diseases.
- Paddon-Jones D, Westman E, Mattes RD, Wolfe RR, Astrup A, Westerterp-Plantenga M. Protein, weight management, and satiety. Am J Clin Nutr. 2008;87(5):1558S-1561S. doi:10.1093/ajcn/87.5.1558S
- Brennan IM, Luscombe-Marsh ND, Seimon RV, et al. Effects of fat, protein, and carbohydrate and protein load on appetite, plasma cholecystokinin, peptide YY, and ghrelin, and energy intake in lean and obese men. Am J Physiol Gastrointest Liver Physiol. 2012;303(1):G129-G140. doi:10.1152/ajpgi.00478.2011
- Wang Z, Ying Z, Bosy-Westphal A, et al. Evaluation of specific metabolic rates of major organs and tissues: comparison between nonobese and obese women. Obesity (Silver Spring). 2012;20(1):95-100. doi:10.1038/oby.2011.256
- Halton TL, Hu FB. The effects of high protein diets on thermogenesis, satiety and weight loss: a critical review. J Am Coll Nutr. 2004;23(5):373-385. doi:10.1080/07315724.2004.10719381
- Schoenfeld BJ, Aragon AA. Is There a Postworkout Anabolic Window of Opportunity for Nutrient Consumption? Clearing up Controversies. J Orthop Sports Phys Ther. 2018;48(12):911-914. doi:10.2519/jospt.2018.0615
- National Academy of Sports Medicine. Certified Sports Nutrition Coach (NASM-CSNC).
- Jäger, R., Kerksick, C.M., Campbell, B.I. et al. International Society of Sports Nutrition Position Stand: protein and exercise. J Int Soc Sports Nutr 14, 20 (2017). https://doi.org/10.1186/s12970-017-0177-8
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