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When to Drink your Post Workout Protein Shake if You Do Cardio Immediately After Weight Training

  Nov 27th, 2011

Whenever someone emails me with a question that I feel is something that a lot of people struggle with, I like to post it (along with my answer) here on


Today I received a question from one of my subscribers who was confused about when he should be drinking his post-workout protein shake.


Most people understand the importance of providing the body with protein immediately after weight training, but if you like to follow your weight training with some fat burning cardio (which is one of the best times to do cardio), it begs the exact question that I received today…


Sean’s Question:

Hey Craig!


I began working out at a local gym and just recently started doing cardio immediately after weights. One thing I’m very curious about is exactly when I am supposed to consume my post workout protein shake?


Should I drink it right after lifting weights, or after doing both weights and cardio?


I don’t want to leave my muscles starving for energy and I’m afraid that if I wait to drink it until after my cardio workout, my body would use the glycogen from my muscles to provide the energy for my cardio workout.


Also, I’m not sure if I were to take protein after weights and then do cardio, if my body would have enough time to absorb all of the protein in my shake before I do cardio? I hope my question makes sense!




My Answer:

Hi Sean!


It is great to hear that you have started going to the gym to get your workouts in. Many people put off joining a gym because they don’t want to pay the monthly fee, but there really is no better way to spend $20 or $30 each month.


Having access to a variety of free weights and cardio machines is well worth the money.


That is a great question regarding when to drink your post-workout shake!


The quick and easy answer is that you don’t want to consume any carbohydrates or protein in between your weight training and cardio sessions.


The reason for this is that you want your body’s blood sugar levels to be low when doing cardio so your will have to oxidize its fat reserves to fuel your cardio workout. This is why cardio workouts are the most effective at burning off unwanted fat when performed first thing in the morning or immediately following a weight training session.


These are the times when your blood sugar is typically at its lowest points throughout the day.


Your intense weight training will use up a large portion of the sugar energy in your blood/muscles and leave your body no choice but to burn fat to use as energy while you are performing your cardio workout.


You can rest assured that the body will only turn to breaking down muscle tissue as a last case scenario as it is much easier and faster for it to process sugar and fat. However, if your cardio workouts last for too long, the body will start to use its muscle tissue for energy.


This is why I don’t recommend doing cardio for any longer than 30 or 40 minutes at most. After a certain amount of time the body will be forced to enter a catabolic state in which it starts breaking down your muscles for energy and you obviously want to avoid this whenever possible.


However, if you keep your cardio workouts under 40 minutes, and make sure to ingest some simple carbs and protein right after your workout, it won’t be a problem.


The reason you don’t want to consume protein in between your weight training and cardio workouts is that your body will use the newly consumed protein to fuel your cardio workout and a large portion of the protein you will have ingested will never make it to your muscles for the purposes of rebuilding and recovery.


While protein takes longer for the body to break down and use for energy than carbohydrates, it is still much easier (and faster) to break down than fat and muscle tissue. As such, your body will use this newly ingested protein for energy instead of muscle growth/recovery, which you don’t want.


In short, you want to keep your cardio workouts under 40 minutes in duration and drink your post-workout protein shake immediately after completing your cardio workout (or as soon as you can).


I hope this answers your question and I look forward to hearing about the results that you achieve from all of your hard work and dedication!


Let me know if you have any further questions as I am here to help!


To Your Muscle Building and Fat Loss Success,

Craig –


I hope that my answer to Sean’s question has helped you to understand how to deal with the issue of post workout nutrition when performing your cardio workouts immediately after weight training.




3 Responses
  1. Kelly Felix says:

    Now you have me confused.I have always been told to do weights before my cardio and I used to do that.I recently have been doing cardio and then weights.But I am getting ready to switch back.I was told by a trainer to drink my protein after my weight workout not my cardio.But what I am confused about is I was always told to do at least 45 minutes of cardio to burn fat.I actually do 50 minutes now.I am actually trying to gain more muscle and cut up more.You said that you should only do 30 or 40 minutes of cardio.Then you said do under 40 minutes.Would it be okay for me to do 40minutes of cardio.Because I am a little obsessive I do not no if I could do less than that.

  2. Craig Leonard says:


    Drinking a protein shake before cardio will make your cardio exercise less effective at burning fat, which is obviously why you would be doing it in the first place. My recommendation to keep cardio workouts under 40 minutes is based on the assumption that maintaining muscle mass is a priority, which it should always be.

    You really don’t need to do that much cardio. As long as your diet is in check, 20 minutes of moderately intense cardio (or HIIT sprints) after lifting is sufficient.

    Intensity is also a factor, but I like to keep things simple whenever possible. In other words, you could use longer cardio sessions, but you’d want to decrease the intensity to prevent muscle atrophy. Obviously it’s more efficient to work a little harder over a shorter time span. My time is valuable, so every minute I can save is a plus.

    If maintaining muscle mass isn’t a priority for you (even though my opinion is that it should be), you can do cardio for as long as you want. This will allow you to burn additional fat (assuming the same intensity is used), but you will lose muscle mass as well.

    As an illustration, look at the body types of Olympic sprinters (or NFL wide receivers) compared to the bodies of those that run marathons. The sprinters use greater intensity for short durations of time and have lean and well developed bodies, while marathon runners are frail looking and have less muscle mass than most ten year old girls.

    These are extreme examples, but I think I’ve made my point 🙂

  3. Kelly Felix says:

    Thank you Craig and that does make sense.It is always hard to break out of old mindsets,but I am going to give it a try.Thanks again.

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