Protein shake with or without carbs after training?

Should I drink my protein shake with or without carbohydrates after my weight workout routine or another high intensity workout routine or after playing sports? This question arises in many people since they use to believe that the only necessary thing to achieve an optimal recovery in the post-training period and in the rest of the day is by only consuming proteins in this case referring to all kinds of sources (shakes And foods) containing this macro nutrient.

But in this article I'm going to focus on protein shakes or nutritional powder supplements that are simply known as "Proteins" (whey, casein and those also made from meat, soy, etc.), so for practical purposes when you find the word Protein with a capital P you will know I will be referring to these milkshakes or Protein powder nutritional supplements made from another sources of proteins.

Before I continue I want to emphasize that I decided to create this article thanks to the doubt that a reader asked when he showed me the link of a website page where they analyzed studies that said that the consumption of carbohydrates was not necessary to foment the synthesis of proteins, that only carbohydrates were responsible for making the person accumulate fat and that were irrelevant to the muscle and the nervous system recovery after training, and that only carbs worked when they were consumed as a pre-workout with the protein shake helping the person to perform better in the physical workout session.
In this case they said that a Protein must have a little more than 15 grams of carbohydrates per serving no more than 30 grams to avoid large accumulations of body fat.

Protein shakes intake

What we need to know is that we are all different, we all present different anthropometric data (weight, height, folds, etc.), we all perform different activities through the day and present different genetic potentials and for these reasons we will present very different basal energy expenditure totals, so in conclusion up to here we could simply say that although there are protein and carbohydrate standards to be consumed according to Proteins (the recommended measures on the back of each jar or packaging), resultss in terms of recovery and aesthetic factor (greater or less accumulation of body fat) will vary according to each person.

The other very important point to keep in mind is the fact of Caloric expenditure during the workout training routine given from the different energy substrates that exist, since when it is mentioned that for example "in X minutes performed of a Y exercise you can burn Z Calories" it is always thought that all these Calories are from the body fats (triglycerides).

Well, at least this is what people who do not study or read little or do nothing else but dedicate themselves to traing usually believe, and for this reason is usually recommend and applied the fact of drinking a Protein without carbohydrates or with very few carbohydrates after training time (post-workout period).

Protein shake with or without carbs after training
Well, what I just wrote in the last paragraph I don not want to say that during a high intensity workout routine with or without weights the body does not spend fat in the energy factor, because in fact it does, but the thing to keep in mind is that the higher the heart rate is (more beats per minute and closer to the maximum heart rate of each person) the less fat our body will require to use as an energy substrate when we are training at high intensity, because simply our body will be getting more and more in an anaerobic threshold where energy substrates required are those that do not need oxygen to "burn".

Protein shake with carbs after training

For this reason it is recommended to take a protein shake with carbohydrates after the end of the high intensity or anaerobic workout training session, and in the following paragraph I explain further why.

In this case (training in a anaerobic threshold) our body will be talking substrates like glucose from glycogen and phosphocreatine to produce energy (TPA). In highly trained people, some authors talk about 90% of anaerobic substrates and 10% of body fats (aerobic substrate) during the practice of high intensity training, when it is about those that involve acyclic structure exercises such as cyclic structure exercises (jogging, swimming, pedaling, etc.), so here you can see why it is important to take a Protein shake with some fast absorption carbohydrates in the post-training period.

Now, the use of energy substrates, talking about less-trained people, this energy percentage usage from fat burning by triglycerides could decrease by about 5% or less (age and genetic factor also influence this factor).

Another thing to keep in mind is that while it is true that carbohydrates are often blamed for causing a person to accumulate large amounts of body fat (around the waist, legs, arms, abdomen, etc.), proteins (the Calories this macro nutrient contribute) could end in that fat also if our organism requires it.

It is often believed that the only fattening Calories (which make a person accumulate body fat) are those provided from carbohydrates and fats, and that the Calories from proteins only take care of building muscle. Well, in fact it is sometimes believed that proteins do not contribute Calories and for this reason this term (gaining body fat) is usually only related to the two most feared macro nutrients (carbohydrates and fats).

This error can be observed even in the some technological devices that give a number indicating X Calories burned during Y minutes of physical workout, but these do not usually indicate from where these high or low amounts of burned Calories come from (proteins/aminoacids, Carbs/glucose, fats/triglycerides). And as people often relate the term Calorie only to fat then it is thought that these numbers are only related when burning fat.

Well, it is a funny thing because many people usually modify in their minds the calorie burned/activity ratio as they want, for example when it comes to accumulating fat the calorie ratio they think always is a result only from foods considered as carbohydrates and fats, but when exercising they usually do this relationship only in terms of fat, meaning they do not know that carbohydrates (which were stored as hepatic and intramuscular glycogen) also provide Calories to be burned (after degrading to glucose) when the body get into an anaerobic or mixed training (aerobic / anaerobic) threshold.

Protein with carbohydrates after weight workout routine and after high intensity sport practice

Well, I wanted to add the sports part because for example many people do not know if this kind of nutritional supplements known as Proteins of Milkshakes can be taken by them and they also think those are only for people who train with weights in a gym.

I must say then that these can be consumed by those who practice high intensity sports, especially those where the anaerobic component usually prevails or even if it does not is at least required during good periods of time during a game, such as Rugby, soccer, basketball, among others. Perhaps in volleyball or basketball also depending on the position of the player and the time he keeps playing.

And, in sports where you have to make a lot thinking, may be the glycogenic expenditure could be not very high unless you spend a lot of time (90 minutes or more) in absolute concentration (our brain does not require lot of energy to proper function, and in this case the one required by glycogen from the liver).

Having mentioned the related energy expenditure needed by our brain and nervous system, we must need to keep in mind that when the levels of hepatic glycogen go down (for thinking a lot, for example) our body will then need to begin to degrade muscle proteins to amino acids to their subsequent conversion to glucose and thus try to "cover" these energy requirements.

You are maybe asking why then does the body is not starting to use intramuscular glycogen in those cases to "feed" the brain and nervous system? Well, because this kind of glycogen is exclusive to skeletal muscle tissue.

Protein shake with carbs for better recovery after training

With all the above mentioned I must say that for an optimal recovery and to allow the proteins consumed from Protein (powdered protein supplement) to be used as such by our organism, and so that the amino acids that these contribute do not have to be converted to glucose to try to fill up the glycogen stores first, you must take a Protein with carbohydrates (whether it already contains them or adding them with a fruit, for example).

This is because simply our body first is interested in recovering the energy factor (otherwise you could get into a shock or die), and after that our body will be concerned about the aesthetic and improving part of the component of strength, hypertrophy and resistance Muscle (protein synthesis). Well, the synthesis of intramuscular glycogen does influence these aspects too.

However, consuming only proteins or rather taking a Protein without carbohydrates could also help to recover the glycogen spent / inverted during the high intensity training routine with or without weights, but in this case we would be talking about having to increase the scoops from the Protein so you can make part of the amino acids consumed by these proteins can be converted to glucose (to synthesize glycogen) and another part of these amino acids could help synthesized muscle proteins.

From the above, it turns out that what companies are interested in is that you spend more on what usually costs the most, because they often given too much value for what is believed more useful (proteins), and for this reason many Protein supplements without carbohydrates usually show on the back of the package a recommended intake of 2 or more scoops that usually add more than 40 grams of protein...

... while other protein supplements that do contain carbohydrates usually recommend the ingestion of a single one scoop which adds few more than 20 grams of protein and just under 30 grams of carbohydrates. Both options are viable, but keep in mind that the first Protein will be much more expensive (30% or 40% more expensive than the second Protein that does contain carbohydrates) and probably will last less (obviously if both Proteins have the same amount in pounds or kg).

Scientific Studies about Protein ingestion with and without carbs

In a study where the purpose was to determine the effect of 100 grams of carbohydrate intake after resistance training, the participation of 2 groups was used, one group was given a drink containing 100 grams of rapidly absorbed carbohydrates (One hour after the training session), and the other group was given a non-carbohydrate beverage (a placebo, of course they were not warned that this drink contained no carbohydrate at all).

The end results obviously demonstrated that the total protein balance in the bloodstream was higher in the group that ingested the carbohydrate beverage (if we consider that glucose can be converted to amino acids if the body believes it necessary, and for this reason we could say this would prevent more protein from being spent on the energy factor).

However, it is also mentioned in this study that the report on protein concentration in the evaluated muscle (leg muscles) was higher in an earlier study where a drink containing amino acids was supplied. Then of course this was to be expected since it would be providing a drink with a micro nutrient in its simple form and not only a nutrient that was expected could be converted and try to supplement the action of the other (Borsheim et al., 2004).

In another study simply attempted to demonstrate that pre-training intake of amino acids (component of proteins) with carbohydrates does not increase protein synthesis during training.

The protein synthesis during the training session and after 1 hour remained unchanged. For obvious reasons this is very true for the simple fact that we are preparing our the body for an energy expenditure and not to synthesize (we are going to train not to rest).

In other words, it was already synthesized what had to be synthesized between the time of consumption of the drink with carbs and amino acids and the time in which the training began, and for this reason during the session is not synthesized more since the blood will be no longer occupied in the digestive process but in the muscular part and its optimal performance, and for obvious reasons there will be no more synthesis even if there were nutrients in the digestive tract, which many times the body chooses to vomit since there is no blood available (or at least not enough) to continue digesting food.

In the same study they conclude that carbohydrate intake along with amino acids before training does not increase protein synthesis after training, compared to the group of this same study that was not given a drink of this type for the pre training period.

And this is more than obvious and something to be expected since the synthesis rates of those who took the drink were already very high compared to those who did not, and for this reason the change in protein synthesis rates will be much higher In those who were in a state of nutrient deficit (Fujita et al., 2009).

Another study simply shows that the intake of protein (whey protein shake with amino acids) and carbohydrates during training does not positively affect performance or posttrauma recovery. For this study a group of cyclists was used as population.

The basic explanation for this foundation is simply the fact that in an anaerobic state of training, our body will not have enough blood to be digesting proteins, even if what is consumed are amino acids (that is, the simple form of proteins). Something very different if when we consume glucose during training since this is an energy substrate par excellence so it directly to act in the bloodstream (Hansen et al., 2016).

In another study, three groups were used: one group given a non-carbohydrate whey shake, another group given a carbohydrate-only drink, and a third group given a combined whey protein shake with Carbohydrates. Participants in all groups were given the appropriate drink immediately after ending the high-intensity training session.

In all three groups there was a significant increase in lean muscle mass and strength, but of course in the group where only one carbohydrate-only drink was consumed, a lower reduction in percentage was observed of body fat compared to the other two groups (Hulmi et al., 2015).


To simplify everything mentioned so far, if you want an optimum post-workout recovery which can then lead to a better synthesis of proteins, and if you choose to drink a protein shake, this should contain a variable amount of Carbohydrates. I say "variable" because everything depends on the data of each person and therefore of the total and basal energy expenditure that it has. Based on these data and values ​​the rest of the nutritional plan should be raised with the aim of achieving the highest percentage of lean mass and the lowest of fat mass.

Protein shakes, whatever the chosen one, should be consumed always mixing them only in water for a better absorption of the nutrients that these usually contribute.

One scoop of a protein that provides 20 grams of protein and 20 grams of carbohydrates will be more economical and equal or more efficient than the recommended portion of a protein that is usually two scoops where each scoop provides approximately 20 grams of protein.


Borsheim, E., Cree, M. G., Tipton, K. D., Elliott, T. A., Aarsland, A., & Wolfe, R. R. (2004). Effect of carbohydrate intake on net muscle protein synthesis during recovery from resistance exercise. J.Appl.Physiol, 96(2), 674–678.

Fujita, S., Dreyer, H. C., Drummond, M. J., Glynn, E. L., Volpi, E., Rasmussen, B. B., … Volpi, E. (2009). Regulation of Protein Metabolism in Exercise and Recovery Essential amino acid and carbohydrate ingestion before resistance exercise does not enhance postexercise muscle protein synthesis. Journal of Applied Physiology, 1, 1730–1739.

Hansen, M., Bangsbo, J., Jensen, J., Krause-Jensen, M., Bibby, B. M., Sollie, O., … Madsen, K. (2016). Protein intake during training sessions has no effect on performance and recovery during a strenuous training camp for elite cyclists. Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition, 13, 9.

Hulmi, J. J., Laakso, M., Mero, A. A., Häkkinen, K., Ahtiainen, J. P., & Peltonen, H. (2015). The effects of whey protein with or without carbohydrates on resistance training adaptations. Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition, 12, 48.



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