Most gym-goers know that a well-formulated protein supplement is essential to build more muscle and boost recovery.

We also know the two most important times of day to consume a whey protein supplement are first thing in the morning and directly after training. Well, maybe not…

The best time to drink your favourite protein drink may depend on your goals, according to new research.

A systematic review conducted by researchers from Purdue University delivered a number of interesting insights into the effectiveness of protein supplement timing.

The research team, led by Joshua Hudson, reviewed over 2,000 relevant studies published before 2017 that prescribed a protein supplement and measured changes in body composition for a period of six weeks or more.

They eventually selected 34 randomised controlled trials with 59 intervention groups that met the review criteria and qualitatively assessed them. More specifically, the researchers looked at the effects of protein supplements consumed with meals versus between meals on resistance-training-induced body composition changes in adults.

What they found may have profound implications for those looking to alter their body composition.

Differences in timing

There are various scientific rationales that support different approaches to protein supplement timing. When supplementing for muscle gain or weight management, it is generally advised that protein supplement consumption occurs between meals, particularly after resistance training to create a positive net protein balance.

However, what the researchers found was that supplement timing influenced different body composition responses.

1. Between meals: This approach may decrease compensatory eating behaviours, which seems to increase energy intake and, therefore, body weight.

2. Twice daily with meals: This approach led to complete energetic compensation in adults who

The researcher take-outs

As such, the researchers determined that consuming protein supplements between meals had inconsistent effects on fat mass.

The researchers suggested that “consuming protein supplements with meals may lead to partial meal replacement that would displace the energy that would be consumed otherwise.”

They, therefore, concluded that: “Concurrently with resistance training, consuming protein supplements with meals, rather than between meals, may more effectively promote weight control and reduce fat mass without influencing improvements in lean mass.”

Getting lean vs gaining mass

Ultimately, regardless of when you drink your protein supplement in relation to meals, you’ll add muscle mass to your frame in response to intense weight training. The key message from this study is that a subtle difference in body composition can be achieved by shifting the timing of your shakes.

For those looking to improve their conditioning by adding lean muscle and reducing body fat, the research findings suggest that consuming your protein supplements with meals is the most effective approach.

If, on the other hand, you’re looking to bulk up a bit, rather drink up between meals as this approach may be more effective at increasing overall body mass.