Protein is one of the most important macronutrients that you can eat. In popular culture, it’s commonly eaten in fresh foods, in powder form like whey protein concentrate, or in supplement form, in conjunction with workouts. But did you know it’s also an essential building block in virtually every cell and tissue in your body, providing energy for storage or use later on?1
Read on to learn about your body’s protein needs, when to take whey protein and the potential benefits of whey protein supplementation. Of course, you’ll want to use a protein powder that doesn’t contain added sugar, artificial sweeteners, or artificial flavors. You’ll also want to talk to your doctor to be sure that whey is right for you.
The Many Types Of Proteins
The term “protein” gets thrown around a lot — but all proteins are not the same. When you consume foods with protein, your body breaks down the proteins into their component amino acids. These amino acids are then rebuilt into muscle tissue. About 80% of your muscles are made of amino acids.2
The proteins in your body are made up of two types of amino acids: non-essential amino acids and essential amino acids. Non-essential amino acids are produced by the body. Essential amino acids can only be obtained via food or protein supplements.3
Proteins come in two main varieties: animal-based and plant-based. Animal-based proteins are derived from sources such as whey and casein (from dairy), eggs, beef, and chicken. Plant-based protein sources include soy, pea, brown rice, and chickpeas. The benefit of animal-based protein sources, such as whey, is that most contain all nine essential amino acids. Now, most plant-based protein sources are missing at least one essential amino acid. Dietary supplements must be used to fill in the gaps. As an example, grains are low in the amino acid lysine, while beans and nuts are low in the amino acid methionine.4,5
This also means that if you don’t eat enough protein, your body may lose muscle mass.6
How Much Protein Does Your Body Need?
The current Recommended Daily Allowance for protein is 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight or about 0.36 grams of protein per pound. But this is considered the minimum amount of protein to remain healthy. In fact, your daily protein intake could safely be up to twice the RDA of protein per day, which comes out to about 15% to 25% of total daily calories.7
What Is The Best Time Of Day To Take Protein?
Deciding when to take whey protein depends on what you are using it for.
Is Pre-Workout A Good Time To Take Whey Protein?
The most optimal period for muscle growth and recovery time is dependent upon eating pre- and post-workout meals within 3-4 hours of each other. So, eating a protein bar 30 minutes prior to a one-hour workout means that you have 2.5 hours to drink a protein shake if you want to generate optimal muscle gain.8
Should You Take Whey Protein Post-Workout?
If you want to refill your body’s nutrients, but you can’t eat before the workout, take whey protein immediately afterward. For the best results, grab a whey protein shake with 20-30g of protein within 30 minutes of your workout.9
When To Take Whey Protein To Help Maintain Lean Muscle
To maintain lean body mass after resistance training, consider taking daily whey protein supplementation. All you need is about 30g of protein powder to begin the process of making new muscle protein. Take the shake with cold water or unsweetened almond milk within 30 minutes of completing your workout.10
Should You Take Whey Protein Before Bed?
A whey protein shake is best taken after a workout because it’s fast-acting. On the other hand, a casein protein shake before bed slowly feeds your muscles the essential amino acids needed for building new lean muscle mass after a major workout.11
What’s the Difference Between Whey Protein And Casein Protein?
Cow’s milk is made up of two major types of protein: whey and casein. Whey makes up about 20% of the protein in the milk, while casein makes up the remainder. Casein also contributes the white color to milk.12 These two substances are considered complete proteins because they contain the nine essential amino acids that your body can’t produce on its own.13 They also contain the minerals calcium and phosphorus.14 Both are great tools for muscle growth and repair.15
There are some significant differences between the two as well.
Whey protein is very flexible and can be turned into three main forms:
- Whey Concentrate: Whey protein concentrate is found in protein drinks, protein bars, and infant formula.
- Whey Isolate: This is often found in protein supplements, like bars and drinks. It may be used for people with lactose intolerance (but
not those with a milk allergy).
- Whey Hydrolysate: Since it is the easiest type of whey to digest, it may be found in specialized infant formulas and medical supplements.16
These types of whey vary mostly in their fat and carbohydrate content. Whey protein concentrate may contain a lower level of protein but more carbohydrates. Isolate and hydrolysate are more processed to achieve a higher level of protein with lower levels of carbs and fat.
Whey is also much higher in the amino acid leucine than casein. Leucine is required for muscle growth and muscle recovery. Therefore, whey is often recommended to take after a workout: Its benefits include preventing muscles from breaking down too much and stimulating the synthesis of new muscle tissue.17
Casein protein is digested more slowly than whey protein. As a result, it releases its component amino acids more slowly than whey. This makes casein especially beneficial to take when fasting or prior to bedtime.18
What Are The Potential Benefits of Whey Protein?
Whey protein is a complete protein, containing all nine essential amino acids. Its benefits include:
- Supported muscle growth: Whey protein may help to build muscle tissue.
- Skin Repair: The amino acids that make up whey protein may work to help with skin repair.
- Nutritional support: Whey protein supplements may be beneficial for people who require extra nutrition or who suffer from a lack of appetite.19
What Are Protein Bars Made Of?
Protein bars are often the go-to food for a post-workout, quick-fix energy boost. Ideally, they should have whole, real food ingredients and contain protein from high-quality isolates and concentrates (like grass-fed whey protein). However, they can often be more sugar-laden than protein-packed.20
In addition to sugars, like high fructose corn syrup and sugar alcohols, protein bars may also contain artificial flavors and hydrogenated palm oil (which is high in saturated fat), while lacking fiber. They sometimes also make dubious claims about the amount of actual whey protein.21
Rather than consuming protein bars, you could choose protein powders that don’t contain added sugar, artificial sweeteners, or artificial flavors.
Is It Bad To Consume Too Much Protein?
Like all things in life, consuming too much protein may be too much of a good thing. Eating a high-protein diet may be necessary for some. However, in the long term, it may be harmful. This is because the body doesn’t use extra protein efficiently. The protein source also matters: a diet rich in red meat may carry higher health risks than a diet rich in plant-based proteins.22,23
The Right Protein Can Go A Long Way
Whey is a very versatile form of protein. Knowing which type to take, when to take it, and what its potential benefits are can go a long way toward building lean muscle mass after workouts, maintaining energy, and reducing the burden on other parts of the body.
If you’re on the fence about which powder is right for you, talk to your doctor.