Pre-Workout Vs. Protein Powder

Both pre-workouts and dietary protein powders are great supplements, but they have different purposes. They also contain different ingredients and come in different forms.

If you want to know which one you should take for your fitness and bodybuilding goals, here’s a breakdown of Pre Workout Vs. Protein Powder.

Pre Workout Vs. Protein Powder: All You Need to Know

What is a Pre-Workout?

A pre-workout is a bodybuilding supplement formulated to increase your focus and boost energy levels.  Each ingredient in it powers you through your workouts.

You should take pre-workouts about half an hour before training, and they usually come in powder form to be mixed into a shake or drink.

A study about its effects on high-intensity workouts showed that combining it with high-intensity interval training (HIIT) leads to significant increases in training volume, lean muscle mass, and VO2 max. 

The study also details how they speed up the rate at which recreational athletes lose their body fat.

Ingredients to look out for in pre-workout supplements

  • B-vitamins

Look for pre-workouts that contain vitamins B1, B2, B5, and B6, as all of these play essential roles in energy efficiency and production. Vitamin B3 promotes healthier skin and boosts DNA repair, while vitamin B12 supports blood production.

  • Taurine

Taurine is a sulfonic acid with essential functions in the brain and heart. It supports nerve growth and boosts athletic performance by lessening muscle fatigue. Thus, it is one of the ingredients you should look for.

Another reason why this ingredient is vital is that it fights oxidative stress and improves lipid metabolism. It is a process where body fat is emulsified into particles and secreted by the pancreas.

  • No2 boosters

Nitric oxide is another vital ingredient in a pre-workout supplement. It is a molecule produced by the body and promotes proper blood flow. As a result, it reduces the time your muscles feel fatigued during an exercise. Additionally, it is involved in the fiber-type transition and muscle hypertrophy – the growth of muscle cells.

  • Beta-alanine

Beta-alanine is a non-essential amino acid that enhances performance by decreasing muscle fatigue and increasing exercise capacity. It also has anti-aging and immune-enhancing properties.

Just a caution, though, that consuming beta-alanine may cause a tingling sensation in some people. Such a feeling is entirely harmless, but others find it unpleasant.

  • Branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs)

Have been shown to decrease muscle soreness and increase muscle growth when consumed before a workout. Still, you can naturally find BCAAs in protein foods, so you may already be eating enough of them during the day.

What is a Protein Powder?

A protein powder or protein shake is a nutritional supplement designed to give your body the fuel to recover before and after a workout. Protein is a macronutrient that’s important in building muscles.

A protein powder is designed to be consumed after your workout to support muscle recovery. However, it doesn’t mean you can’t take it before a workout. Many fitness enthusiasts take it before going to the gym.

Interestingly, a study showed that it doesn’t matter whether you consume your protein shake before or after a workout. The time differences may not affect muscle size or strength. It means that you can choose the time that is most convenient for you.

However, it is worth mentioning not to consider protein powders or drinks as a replacement for an overall healthy lifestyle and varied diet. Instead, they simply work as a convenient way to up your protein intake whenever needed.

Most common types of protein powder

Protein powder is a convenient way to boost your protein intake when you can’t get enough from food alone. Here are the most common protein powders you can choose to blend into healthy protein shakes:

  • Whey protein 

Whey protein is a milk protein that the body absorbs fast. It is beneficial before or after your training. Since it contains bioactive proteins, it may also provide other health benefits.

  • Rice and pea protein

Rice and pea protein may have the lowest protein content than others, but they are both excellent sources of high-quality protein. Together, they support muscle growth, heart health, and weight loss.

Moreover, combining the two types of protein makes them complete proteins. They appeal to individuals with soy, dairy, or egg allergies because they’re low allergenic.

  • Soy protein

Is one of the best types of protein supplements. It is a plant protein that contains essential amino acids and is an excellent choice for vegetarians.

  • Egg protein

Is a new form of protein powder. It is made from egg whites and digested at a medium rate. Egg protein is also an incredible source of nutrients that help rebuild your muscles after training. 

  • Casein protein

Is found in milk. It digests more slowly, so it is a good choice for people who want to increase feelings of fullness or reduce appetite. It is also an ideal choice while you’re on intermittent fasting.

Can You Use Both Pre-Workout and Protein Shake Together?

Yes, you can use pre-workouts, and protein shakes together to get the desired result. Together, pre-workout and protein shakes will help you achieve your fitness goals faster. Or you may also use them separately. However, there are a few things you have to consider.

Both supplements are formulated for different purposes. I wouldn’t recommend taking both for an extended period unless you’re given the go-signal by your doctor or a bodybuilding or fitness expert.

FAQs About Pre-Workout and Protein Powder

Is protein powder better than pre-workout?

Not necessarily. Both supplements have different functions in the body. Protein powder is the best option to give your body protein to help with recovery. Meanwhile, pre-workouts are ideal for getting the most out of your workouts.

Can you use protein powder as a pre-workout?

Yes, you can use it as your pre-workout. As long as you drink protein around your training, it won’t matter whether it’s before or after exercise.

But when it comes to protein powder, the time you drink it is just as important as what you’re drinking. The right time to consume it depends on your fitness and health goals, schedules, and preferences. 

The gold standard is to take it after exercise because proteins deliver amino acids into the body when needed. As a result, it helps your tired muscles bounce back stronger and recover faster.

How long do pre-workout supplements and protein powders last in the body?

Pre-workouts typically last in the system for an hour or two. As for its effects, it depends on the ingredients and dosage of the product. Another factor to consider is whether you take it with caffeine.

Meanwhile, protein powders typically stay in your system 24 hours after consuming them. Since there is no protein storage in the body, it will break down into many things, such as BCAAs for building muscle.

TL;DR: Differences between Pre-Workout and Protein Powder

Pre-workoutProtein powder
Best ForThose who want to increase focus and energy in their workouts.Bodybuilders and athletes who want to build muscles
When to consumeUsually 15 to 30 minutes before an exerciseUsually 15 to 60 after an exercise
FormFlavored powderPowders, shakes, and bars
Contains stimulantsYes, to give you focus and energy for workoutsNot always

The Verdict: Which One Should You Take?

We hope this guide has helped you decide which one to take. In the end, it all depends on your specific goals.

Opt for a pre-workout if you want a supplement to support your training sessions. But if you need support for muscle recovery, go for a quality protein powder.

You may not believe the differences between these two, but if you do workouts, you will notice it in how you feel and look in the long run.

Whatever supplement you pick, begin with a low dose and gradually increase it. Before working up slowly, observe how your body reacts to the supplement. You can use both supplements together if it works for you.

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Nathan Lloyd, MSc

I’m a personal trainer, based in Boulder, Colorado.
I service clients physically in the Boulder area, mainly in the ONE Boulder Fitness Gym, but am also available for online consulting and coaching.

If you’re interested in my personal coaching programs, please contact me via the contact page.