Whether you’re taking a protein supplement in pill form or a powder or shake, it’s popular to take these supplements before working out. While protein supplements can benefit your workouts, you might wonder what happens if you take a protein supplement and don’t work out.
Eating Protein Before You Workout
Many people struggle as far as knowing what to eat before a workout, but a number of studies show protein before working out can improve athletic performance. For example, eating protein alone or combined with healthy carbs can increase muscle protein synthesis.
One study uncovered a positive anabolic response after participants had 20 grams of whey protein before exercising.
Other benefits include improvements in muscle recovery, strength and lean body mass, and overall muscle performance.
It can also be optimal to have protein post-workout.
Each macronutrient, which includes protein, carbs, and fat, plays a role in your recovery following a workout.
When you exercise, it triggers the breakdown of muscle protein. How quickly this happens depends on the exercise and your training level, but even highly trained athletes experience muscle-protein breakdown. When you have enough protein following a workout, it gives you amino acids so your body can repair and rebuild your proteins. It also gives you the needed building blocks to build new muscular tissue.
Having anywhere from 20 to 40 grams of protein appears in studies to help maximize your body’s recovery ability after exercise.
What If You Don’t Work Out?
There are a few different scenarios where you could question what happens if you have protein without working out.
In one situation, you might be getting protein from the foods you’re eating. In this situation it doesn’t matter whether you’re about to work out. You need protein from your diet regardless of your workouts.
There are also protein capsules that some people take as a supplement. These are different from something like a protein powder or a shake. Protein capsules or pills tend to have much smaller amounts of protein, coming from sources like collagen and bone broth. Protein capsules are a convenient way to get certain benefits like improvements in joint pain.
The third scenario is when someone has a high-protein shake or powder specifically intended to be used before or after a workout.
Certain protein shakes and powders are workout supplements that supply muscles with amino acids. They’re needed to build lean muscle tissue. You stress your muscles when you do workouts, especially resistance training. That causes tiny micro-tears in the muscle fiber, and protein synthesis is the process your muscles use to repair themselves and build themselves back better and stronger.
If you regularly work out and especially if you strength train, you’ll have higher protein needs than someone who doesn’t. Typical protein powders will have 25 to 30 grams of protein in a serving and a few extra hundred calories.
If you take a protein shake, like whey protein, without working out, it will not help you build lean muscle. The muscle mass gains you might experience begin with the stress put on the muscle through working out. If you aren’t getting that part of the equation, then you aren’t going to build muscle even if you take protein or increase your protein intake.
Besides not helping you gain muscle, taking protein powders without working out can have negative effects.
The Risks of Protein Shakes Without Working Out
If you have a protein shake and don’t work out, it can cause weight gain from the extra calories if you’re not reducing them in other areas. Protein shakes can typically have around 300 calories. If you’re adding this to the calories you’re already taking in, there’s a real possibility of weight gain.
You also don’t want too much protein because it can negatively affect your kidneys. Protein metabolism occurs in your kidneys, so if you’re taking in more than your body uses, you’re putting stress on the organs.
Protein shakes may also have additives, preservatives, and unhealthy ingredients.
Unless you need to replace meals for some reason, such as a lack of appetite due to chemotherapy or a health issue, you shouldn’t take a protein shake or powder without planning a workout. If you’re getting protein from your diet or taking lower-protein capsules, it shouldn’t be an issue whether you work out or not.