The world of sports supplements can be pretty confusing at first. Most people with at least a passing interest in fitness are at aware of whey protein and how it can help them build muscle, but there’s very little information on the packaging about how to optimise your intake.
There are two main questions that people tend to have when they buy their first tub of whey protein:
When is the best time to drink a protein shake?
How much should I take each day?
Both are excellent questions and neither have a definitive answer, but there is a lot of research in to nutrient timing and optimal protein consumption which we can use as a guide to help optimise our intake.
In The Morning
Overnight the glycogen stores in your body can start to run low, as you’ve typically gone between 7-9 hours without eating. When this happens the body can start looking towards amino acids to help fuel the metabolic process, which threatens to put the body in a catabolic state. Consuming a fast acting protein early in the morning can help mitigate this risk of muscle loss by delivering these amino acids to the body,
There are various benefits to having a high protein breakfast in the morning too. While there are plenty of excellent high protein breakfast ideas, some people just don’t have the time or inclination to cook eggs and bacon every morning. A protein shake and a bowl of porridge to start your day is a perfect way of starting the day with some protein and quality carbs (and you can even combine the two).
Whey protein in the morning is the ideal way of getting the nutrients your body needs to start the day properly.
After Your Workout
When it comes to the best time to take your protein shake, post workout is absolutely the most important. Weight training will cause muscle protein breakdown and protein synthesis, and failing to get sufficient protein in the post workout window will mean there is little difference between the two. The result is far less muscle growth than you would experience if you were to refuel properly.
Lifting weights causes the breakdown of muscle tissue – it’s the recovery period when the body repairs the damage and builds new muscle tissue. In the two hours following your workout, the body is the most responsive to the amino acids from protein consumption. In order to maximise muscle growth, look to fuel the body with a fast acting protein, such as whey protein, as soon as possible after your training.
Throughout The Day
While post workout and in the morning are the two most important times to consume whey protein, most people would benefit from an additional shake at some point through the day. While the benefits as not as pronounced as the main two, each has it’s own positive aspects.
While you should be fine if you’ve eaten in the two outs before you hit the gym, consuming a protein shake pre workout will help provide your body with the amino acids required to help fuel recovery and get through the workout.
With a Meal
Having your 3rd shake with lunch or dinner is a great way of adding some extra protein to your meals. It’s also pretty convenient, since you’ll be eating anyway. For those on a diet, consuming your shake before you start your meal can help fill you up and should prevent you from overeating.
As we mentioned earlier, you’re going a long time without eating overnight so having a protein shake before you go to sleep can help keep the body supplied with amino acids while you sleep. If you’re planning on taking this approach, use caesin protein instead of whey for your bedtime shake. It has a much slower digestion rate, so the body will be supplied with a steady stream of amino acids overnight instead of one big hit.
How Much Whey Protein Should I Take?
It’s pretty common for people, at least at first, to go a little crazy with their intake. Upwards of 5-6 shakes a day is not uncommon, however this is usually a waste of money and in some cases can cause bloating and pretty painful digestive discomfort. You need to get extra protein, but there’s a cut off point where taking more is ultimately a little pointless.
The optimal daily protein intake for people looking to build muscle is generally thought to be somewhere around 1g of protein per lb of lean body weight. There have been studies showing that getting around 0.6g per lb of lean mass is plenty for most people, so sitting somewhere in that region should be ideal. If you aim for 0.8g of protein per lb of total body weight, chances are you’ll be in the optimal intake range.
As for how much to include in your shake, studies have shown that the highest levels of protein synthesis occurred when 20g-40g of protein was consumed post workout. Most commonly available whey protein supplements will have between 16g-20g of protein per scoop, so blending two scoops with water should put you right towards the higher end of the optimum range.
By aiming to consume a 2 scoop shake in the morning, post workout and alongside a meal at some point throughout the day, most people should be well within the target daily protein intake range. The Western diet tends to have a decent amount of protein in there through food intake alone, so supplementing with 3 shakes a day should be plenty for the vast majority of people.