Most people know that protein is essential for muscle growth, and is therefore a must for any bikini, bodybuilding or figure competition diet. However, one thing competitors may not be so sure about is when they should time their daily protein shakes to get the most out of a workout. Is it better to load up on this compound in preparation for an intense workout, or should you grab a power bar afterward to help your body recover? Earlier this month, researchers from Northern Illinois decided to get to the bottom of this issue by reviewing past studies on the subject in search of "conclusive evidence" about the impact of protein timing on weight training. The final report was published in the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition. "In general, protein supplementation pre- and post-workout increases physical performance, training session recovery, lean body mass, muscle hypertrophy and strength. Specific gains differ however, based on protein type and amounts," the study abstract states. For example, the researchers found evidence that drinking fat-free milk after an intense round of weight-lifting helped build up strength, as well as lean muscle mass and hypertrophy - i.e. an increase in cell size that can make them look more pronounced. Doing so also leads to a decrease in body fat, the source notes. The study authors also write that bodybuilding or figure competition supplements containing whey protein are best after resistance training - particularly in combination with glucose or maltodextrin - for the best results in terms of strength and muscle mass. Meanwhile, supplements with essential amino acids and dextrose are reportedly more beneficial before a workout. So, if studies have shown that most protein sources are best after a training session, what should you fuel up on beforehand? WebMD recommends meals that are familiar to your system, are moisture-rich and have low amounts of fiber and fat.