Workout supplements are confusing, and you might not even know what you're putting in your body.

There's so much different information about supplements that it's difficult to know what everything does or how it will help you reach your goals.

Both protein shakes and pre-workouts are used by gym goers, so it's not surprising that there's confusion between them.

To help make things clear, here is the full breakdown of pre-workout vs protein powder so you can determine which is best for you.

Although protein and pre-workout are used to support training and performance, they are made with very different purposes.

Protein powders help you rebuild muscle tissue and support your recovery, while pre-workout is designed to support your performance.

Ingredients List

The key difference between pre-workout and protein powder is in the stimulant.

Protein powder and protein shakes are designed to increase your protein intake. The protein within the powder usually comes from plants, eggs, or milk in the form of whey protein.

The chemical description for proteins is amino acids. Protein powders contain several essential amino acids, along with some nonessential varieties.

These are broken down by your body and are absorbed by your muscles, helping you to increase muscle mass and recover more quickly.[1]

Protein powder also usually contains sweeteners to improve the taste, thickeners to improve the texture, and vegetable oils to give some extra richness.

Pre-workouts contain many of the same amino acids used to increase muscle blood flow and allow you to work out for longer. They also tend to have creatine and vitamins (particularly B12), which gives you extra energy.

Pre-workouts usually contain a stimulant, often caffeine, designed to improve your mental alertness and focus. This allows you to get more from your workout, leading to greater muscle growth.

ingredients in pre-workout and protein powder

How Long They Last In Your Body

Whey protein can be broken down at an estimated rate of 10g per hour, meaning that a standard scoop of protein powder will be absorbed in about 2-4 hours.

So, how long does pre-workout stay in your system? Your average pre-workout supplement will remain in your system for about the same amount of time, depending on the exact blend.

Your body will break down the amino acids and absorb the caffeine quickly, but it should boost your session's performance and training intensity.

While both protein powder and pre-workout supplements will last for about the same amount of time in your body, the key difference is how much they'll impact you.

Protein supplements increase your protein intake and will largely be broken down behind the scenes like all food is digested. Because the amount of caffeine in pre-workout supplements are higher, it will have a noticeable impact on your body.

Best For Weight Loss

Neither pre-workout nor protein shakes are designed to make you lose weight directly.

Pre-workout is designed to help you get the most from your training sessions, and protein shakes and powders are designed to fuel recovery in your muscle tissue.

If your goal is purely weight loss, then protein powders could actually work against you. By increasing your body's protein intake, you will promote muscle gain, and more muscle can mean an increase in weight. 

This should also improve your muscle tone, so you look better, but it could mean you put on weight.[2]

So, is pre-workout good for weight loss? They can help you with weight loss because they'll give you the energy to push harder.

This can help you build muscle mass faster with more intense workouts but can also just mean you burn more calories. This, combined with a healthy diet, will allow you to lose weight more quickly.

Protein powder and pre-workout supplements are designed as a dietary supplement, not to replace any meals.

Even the leading pre-workout supplements won't give you the nutrition your body needs, so it's important to have balanced meals instead of relying on shakes or supplements for your complete protein intake.

Best For Fitness Goals & Strength Training

Both protein powders and pre-workouts will have a role to play in helping you reach your goals, and experts in the health and fitness industry know the value of both.[3]

Pre-workout will support your body to work harder during training sessions. The amino acids, nitric oxide, and stimulant mix will help you work out more intensely and improve your fitness.

This can improve your overall stamina, stimulate muscle growth, or focus your mind to help you achieve whatever your fitness goal is.

You can even get a specially designed pre-workout with a unique blend of ingredients to help support your individual goals.

Protein powder can improve your recovery time and help build muscle after your workout. If your goal is to put on lean muscle, then protein powder will help you achieve it, and it's why protein is the most popular bodybuilding supplement.

man lifting weights over his head

Best For Beginner Lifters

Both protein and pre-workout can benefit beginner lifters.

Protein shakes and protein powders will give you the extra amino acids to help you build new muscle fibers and improve muscle mass, while pre-workout will focus you, increase blood flow, and release adrenaline to help you work hard.

Pre-workouts will also help you to recover more quickly so you can get back in the gym with a shorter recovery period.

If you're a beginner, you're probably best using a pre-workout supplement because your muscles are still adapting to your new routine, so they need as much support as possible.

Related Article - Is Pre-Workout Natty?

Price & Availability

The average cost of protein powder per serving is between $0.60-$0.90, with some premium powders costing upwards of $1.30.

Pre-workout is more expensive at around $1.50 a serving, so protein powder is a more cost-effective way to support your exercise regime.

In terms of availability, there are a lot more protein powders available on the market.

This is partly because they've been regarded as a more mainstream supplement used for post-training recovery for a lot longer.

In comparison, pre-workout has only recently made it into the mainstream as a way to improve training performance, so there are fewer on the market.

However, pre-workout and protein shakes are readily available online or in stores with various varieties supporting different diets (including vegan-friendly supplements), so you should be able to get ahold of them reasonably easily.

Shelf Life

Protein powder tends to last 12-24 months, depending on the exact ingredients used.

Whey protein will last 9-19 months, whereas pea protein will probably last 16-24 months if stored correctly, while most pre-workouts expire after about 2 years.

Pre-workout and protein will both generally last for the same amount of time, but it's important to check the instructions and store them properly to maximize their shelf life.

protein powder in scoop

When to Use Pre-Workouts?

Pre-workouts are designed to increase energy levels right before you train. The beta-alanine and other amino acids are broken down and help to increase the blood flow to your muscles.

They also contain a stimulant that wakes you up and keeps your mind focused so you can focus on your exercise program.

You should look to take pre-workout 30-60 minutes before you train.

This gives enough time for the ingredients to be broken down, and the caffeine will help to maintain metabolism rates after your workout, so you keep burning as many calories as possible.

Related Article - How To Cycle Pre-Workout?

When To Use Protein Shakes?

Protein shakes are designed as dietary protein, which supplements a balanced diet and gives you some extra amino acids to aid muscle growth.

Taking it regularly after training will aid muscle recovery and maximize the benefits you get from lifting weights. It's even been linked to reducing your body fat cells and is used as an aid in weight management.

Fitness experts recommend taking protein shakes 15-60 minutes after you finish a workout.

This is described as the anabolic window, and it's the best time to ensure your body has enough protein to feed your muscles.[3]

Research shows that this isn’t conclusive, but trying to take your protein powders shortly after a workout is a good idea.

per-workout vs protein powder

Can I Take Both Pre-Workout & Protein Powder?

One of the key things raised by fitness people is the question, 'can you mix pre-workout and protein powder.' They aren't typically blended into one packet, but that doesn't mean you can't take them both.

Pre-workout and protein powder do very different things, so yes, it's perfectly safe to take them both. Your protein shake should be taken after a workout to aid recovery, whereas your pre-workout should be taken before your workout to transfer energy into improving your performance.

Both pre-workout and protein powder contain protein to help support your muscles. Your body can only process so much of this at a time, and if you take them simultaneously, you could be wasting some of the fuel your body needs as it will pass through without being absorbed.

Taking your protein shake a few hours after your pre-workout is probably best to maximize the benefit to your body.

Frequently Asked Pre-Workout Vs Protein Shake Questions

Are there any pre-workouts with protein powder?

Yes, many pre-workouts contain protein powders, and you can even mix your own protein powder to make your own blend if you want.

Do protein shakes reduce belly fat?

High protein diets are an effective way to lose weight and body fat, and having a protein shake will help you do that. However, spot reduction of belly fat doesn't really happen, and it isn't a magic powder that can burn through all your fat without major lifestyle changes.

Can I drink protein shakes without going to the gym?

Yes, you can drink a protein shake to give your body some extra protein without going to the gym. Some flavored powder is actually just really nice to drink.

How long does it take for pre-workout to kick in?

It usually takes 20-30 minutes for pre-workout to kick in, but it's worth checking the instructions when you start using a new supplement.

Can I dilute my pre-workout?

Yes, pre-workouts are designed to be diluted in water, and the flavors will be too strong if you don't dilute it.

Conclusion

Pre-workout and protein powder are both beneficial and can help you reach your strength and fitness goals.

Pre-workout is designed to improve your training performance and increase your energy levels by releasing beta-alanine and caffeine into your system.

Protein powder is designed to give your body more of the building blocks it needs to develop lean muscle.

Both supplements are useful, and there are a lot of potential benefits.

If you're a beginner, you're best using pre-workout first, and then once you're in a good routine, you should introduce protein shakes to help you build muscle.

recommended pre-workout!

Transparent Labs BULK Pre-Workout

Ingredients

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References: 

1. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/32496725/
2. https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/weight-loss/expert-answers/protein-shakes/faq-20058335
3. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6142015/

Miloš Lepotic

Miloš Lepotic

Meet Miloš, a certified sports nutritionist and self-taught supplement expert whose pharmacological background and nearly a decade of gym experience make him the perfect guide for optimizing your health and athletic performance through supplement reviews and practical advice rooted in factual, science-backed information.