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January 14, 2022 8 min read

Protein is vital for muscle growth, so it makes sense that protein powder supplements are great tools to help maximize gains, aid weight loss, and ensure that you’re hitting your macronutrient goals.

Whey protein and plant protein powders can be found online, or at any supplement or grocery store—but buyer beware. Not only will you have to look carefully for a brand whose quality you trust, but you will also want a game plan for how much protein powder you’re going to take, and when you’re going to take it.

The Anabolic Window

 

Clinical studies suggest that peak anabolism occurs about 45-90 minutes after working out, with a larger window of 3 hours. To maximize the potential of your anabolic window, you generally want to have some sort of protein and carbohydrate within an hour after your workout. 

Keep in mind that while 45-90 minutes is the peak anabolic window time frame, the good news is that truly have 3 hours to eat. This means that to build muscle, the most beneficial protein calories are digested within 45-60 minutes. After about 3 hours, muscle protein synthesis (MPS) drops back down to its baseline, even though blood levels of amino acids remain elevated.

What happens if you can’t eat within 3 hours of a workout?

If you’re doing resistance training, or anything high intensity, then you really want to prioritize some sort of scheduled post workout feeding within 3 hours. For those who are doing low-grade, zone 2 cardio exercises like walking or light jogging, thereby never passing the anabolic threshold, then the anabolic window is not as important or applicable.

Pre-Workout Protein

Can you avoid the catabolic effects of missing your anabolic window? To a certain extent, yes.

A  clinical study found that while pre-workout protein was beneficial in promoting muscle protein synthesis (MPS), an essential amino acid supplement is even better. For those who don’t want to work out with a protein shake in their stomach, this is a good option. Endurance sports, HIIT or CrossFit—anything that has a lot of running or jumping. Or maybe it’s a full belly of whey on the angled leg press.

Whether it’s resistance or endurance training, most athletes could benefit from a pre-workout EAA powder. The key takeaway is that both EAA supplements and protein powders may provide muscular protective effects when ingested prior to exercise.

Before starting a protein supplement regimen, you’ll want to decide on a source of protein.

The type of protein you choose may determine when you should take it. When deciding on a protein, amino acid profile should be of primary importance, however, it isn’t the only thing to consider.

Food tolerances and dietary preferences vary from person to person. 

Here are the three main types of protein powders marketed and sold as recovery aids:

  • Whey protein concentrates
  • Whey protein isolates
  • Plant proteins

Whey Protein Concentrates

If you decide to take whey protein, then you should know the difference between a whey concentrate and a whey isolate. Concentrates do not remove any of the lactose or casein. Whey concentrates are pure, unadulterated, concentrated dairy protein. Whey concentrate supplements digest more slowly, and may be appropriate for time released evening shake, for those who are bulking or struggling to put on muscle. 

Casein is an effective protein for muscle growth, if your body can tolerate it. Casein protein containing whey concentrates are not appropriate for everyone. Some people who cannot tolerate the casein in whey concentrates should consider switching to a whey isolate, or a delicious plant protein such as Veg-PRO.

Whey Protein Isolates

Whey Isolates remove the casein protein. Isolated whey proteins are very effective, and can be taken any time of day. A whey isolate will digest more quickly, and shouldn’t cause problems for those who generally tolerate dairy well. Some lactose intolerants may be able to tolerate whey isolate protein powders, however, plant proteins might be a better option for anyone looking to avoid dairy in their diet.WHEY ISO  is a pure, 100% whey protein isolate that digests easily and doesn’t clump up in your shaker cup. It comes in a variety of awesome flavors like Banana Pancakes, Snickerdoodle, and Butter Pecan, to name a few.

Healthy plant vegan food, veggie protein sources

Plant Proteins

Plant protein is an all-encompassing umbrella term used to describe any isolated or concentrated protein from a plant source. Plant protein can be used to describe the protein found in plants, but for the purposes of this blog we are only going to talk about plant protein powders. There are many different types of plant protein powders, some of which offer more complete amino acid profiles than others. 

All plants have protein.

In fact, all protein originally begins with plants. Animals accumulate protein through their feeding. A cow turns grass into a more complex and complete protein,  for example. It all starts at the bottom of the food chain. Animals turn plants into protein.

Some plants are so complete in their amino acid profiles that high quality, effective protein powders can be made from them—Pea, brown rice, hemp, soy, chia, water lentil, and pumpkin seed are all now common to see as protein powders. 

Before deciding WHEN to take your protein powder, you will also need to decide how much to take.

Protein supplements can be thought of as a protein insurance policy. Whenever you find yourself in a bind to find a nutritionally balanced meal to satisfy your gains, you can rely on a protein shake. Maybe you had a carbohydrate or fat heavy meal, and you need a quick shot of protein to get your macros where you want it to be.

Or maybe you’re cutting out or reducing your meat intake, and are looking to insure that you’re getting enough protein. Whatever the reason, there is no need to take more than 2-3 servings of protein powder per day.

For most people, one or two servings a day, preferably post workout, is enough. For bulking, you’re obviously going to need more. So the question of how much is dependent on what your goals are and what the rest of your diet is like. If you eat a lot of protein heavy meals, you might not need as much protein powder. Now the last thing you need to know before you start supplementing with protein is when to time your protein shakes.

How Much Protein Should I Take?

More protein is always better, right? Wrong! After a certain point, mega dosing on protein does not help you build muscle. Your body can only absorb a certain amount of protein at a time, so it’s best not to waste your calories and money. You want every bit of your protein powder doses to serve you. To make the most out of the protein you have, you’ll want to stagger your doses.

For healthy adults,  the current protein RDA is 0.8 grams per kilogram of bodyweight (That’s 0.36 grams per pound). 

For athletes and those doing advanced strength training, 1.2-1.7 grams per kilogram may be appropriate. The protein shake is an effective hack towards making every calorie count and securing your gains, but when should you take it? 

Studies suggest that the human body can only absorb up to  25 grams of protein in one sitting (1-2 hours). Protein synthesis is maximized in young adults around this point. For those larger individuals, or those who are who are bulking or athletic training, 30-40 grams of protein may also be appropriate.

This suggests that 2-3 protein shakes per day may be appropriate, but the servings should be spaced out throughout the day. For muscle growth on a high protein diet, protein shakes should be consumed apart from other high protein foods. A typical scoop of protein powder can range from 15-20 grams of protein per serving.  So, you might want to refrain from polishing off your steak with a VEG-PRO shake as dessert.

Keep in mind that your protein from food counts towards this protein usability rate.

One of the advantages of protein shakes is that it’s a faster protein, helping you build muscle faster. The body takes less time to break down a shake than it does steak.

Incorporating Protein Periodization

Since the peak of the anabolic window appears to be 45-90 minutes, it’s best to have a plan of when to ingest your protein within this window of time. Try to time your protein shakes strategically.

Great times to drink protein shakes include:

  1. Post-workout recovery: The most obvious time to take a protein shake is immediately after hitting the gym or training. Consuming protein within the anabolic window—the time frame after exercise where muscles are susceptible to degrading without proper fuel. It is believed that the first few hours after an endurance or resistance training workout are critical for getting enough protein and essential amino acids into you. Don’t stress out about the anabolic window, though. You don’t have to race home from the gym to ensure that you aren’t losing your gains. Truthfully, you have up to 3 hours. 45-90 minutes is the peak. Some people goes as far as to shoot for 30 minutes, there’s nothing wrong with that, but it probably isn’t necessary.
  1. Breaking a fast: If you’re training hard and watching your diet, you might feel hungry more times than not. If this is you, protein shakes make great breakfasts. As the most satiating macronutrient, a protein shake for breakfast will help stave off hunger, and can be an easy, delicious way to start your day. Protein shakes are easily transportable, making it a convenient meal replacement. For both low carbohydrate and high carbohydrate diets, protein powder can be included as an ingredient. Unless it is a weight gain powder, your protein powder should be relatively low fat and low carb.
  1. As a snack: Protein shakes make great snacks. Timing a shake out 2-3 hours in between meals will allow for optimal protein distribution and timing. For gaining muscle, 25-30 grams of protein every 2-3 hours may be ideal. It’s also a great tool to stave off hunger for a minimal caloric cost.
  1. As dessert: If you’re bulking and looking for a healthy way to get a calorie surplus in, then protein shakes are a good option. A calorie isn’t a calorie. Successful bulking attempts don’t come from downing pints of ice cream after the gym. You want those calories to count, and serve your gains. Where the calories come from matters. Taking a protein shake before bed, while you’re recovering, can be a great way to boost your gains. For those who are trying to cut or watching their calories, this timing may not be necessary or ideal.

Do Protein Powders Work as Well as Protein from Food?

Protein powders are food-based supplements with substantial impacts on your caloric intake and macronutrient distribution, however no supplement will ever take the place of whole-food nutrient sources. That being said, it is best to treat protein shakes as food, with the same caloric consequences. If you’re logging your food intake, you want to log your protein shake.

The majority of your daily protein intake should come from whole food, not protein supplements.

Protein supplements are just that—a supplement to help you meet your daily protein requirements, in accordance with your goals.For maximum muscle gain, the best time to take protein powder is about 45-90 minutes after working out. EAAs, BCAAs and protein powder may also be helpful prior to working out, to prevent the degradation of muscle tissue.