Best for… pre-workout
A pre-workout shake is most effective if drunk around half an hour before you start your session. If you don’t begin your workout until hours after you’ve downed it, you’re unlikely to see any real benefit. And don’t pick a shake that’s purely protein-based. “A shake with high protein and low carbs is not ideal, ” says registered sports dietitian Karen Reid. “A lack of carbs can leave you more at risk of muscle damage.”
Don’t expect your shake to do all the work for you, either. “In terms of maximising muscle accretion, your progress is driven entirely by your workout, ” says Ursula Arens, spokesperson for the British Dietetic Association. Use a shake to get pumped, primed – and push yourself that little bit harder.
Best for... post-workout
There’s a time and a place for fat, and after your gym session is not it. Again, a shake with some carbs is a good option, as carbs catalyse an insulin spike in your body. This speeds the movement of nutrients into your muscle tissue. You’ll want to pick the right shake too. One with a high proportion of whey protein, is best – it’s the fastest digesting protein there is and gets straight to work on your muscles.
Those exercising regularly and intensely should be looking to get two grams of protein per kg of their bodyweight per day – or even slightly more. But chugging endless pure protein isn’t a good idea. “Once you get to a certain point, having more does not help, ” says Arens. What’s most important of all is downing your shake as soon as you can after finishing your workout. “It’s all about hitting those time windows, ” says Reid.
Best for... before bed
A protein shake around an hour before you hit the sack is optimum, but some might find they need it a little earlier in order to sleep comfortably. A casein-based shake – which works through your body very slowly – is perfect. “You’ll be feeding muscle at a time when your growth hormones are elevated, so it’s a great time to get the best stimulus, ” says Reid.
If you don’t want to splash out on shakes, a large glass of milk and a banana are a fantastic inexpensive alternative. Milk contains a mix of whey and casein protein and will stimulate muscle growth through the night.
Words: Ed Vanstone
Get constantly evolving workout and nutrition plans personalised for your specific needs and training goals. Sign up to Men's Health's Personal Trainer tool now!