Protein Powder: How to Best Use It For Muscle Growth (15 Studies)

how to use protein powder (whey protein and protein shakes)

If you want to learn how to best use protein powder to build muscle based on current research, then you need to read this article…

Protein powder is by far the most widely consumed supplement within the fitness industry, and for good reason. It’s convenient, contains high quality protein and it’s a lot more cost-efficient when compared to other protein sources.

And not only that, but it’s also one of the few supplements that’s heavily backed by research in terms of its safety, muscle building properties, and several other benefits.

However, despite the popularity of protein powder, most people are often left clueless when it comes to how to choose the best type of protein…

…and even moreso when it comes to how to best use it to build muscle.

And unfortunately, asking the sales guy at your local supplement store will likely just leave you even more confused or misinformed than you were to begin with.

But luckily, in this article, I’ll clear everything up for you and show you exactly how to maximize the effectiveness of protein powder by looking at the following points:

  • Best type of protein powder
  • When to take your protein shake
  • How much to take and how often
  • What to take your protein with

Let’s get started!

#1: Best Type of Protein Powder

When it comes to picking a protein powder, the sheer amount of options definitely can be overwhelming…

Just to name a few, there’s:

  • whey protein
  • casein protein
  • plant-based/vegan protein powders (pea protein, hemp protein, wheat protein, etc.)
  • egg protein
  • rice protein

And more!

But to keep it simple, research indicates that when compared to other forms of protein powder:

Whey and casein have the highest essential amino acid content and are the best at simulating muscle protein synthesis.

Meaning that they’re going to be your best options.

Now as for the difference between whey and casein and which one is better, it mainly has to do with their digestive properties.

Whey protein powder is a faster digesting protein that rapidly spikes protein synthesis for a short period of time:

whey protein powder

Whereas Casein protein powder is a slower digesting protein that gradually increases protein synthesis over a longer period of time:

casein protein powder

But generally, I’d advise sticking with Whey over Casein since it has a slightly higher leucine content AND because research, such as this 2015 literature review on the topic, tends to favour whey over casein when it comes to elevating protein synthesis and promoting gains in muscle mass.

More specifically, I’d recommend sticking to Whey Isolate since it’s the purest form of whey protein and contains the least lactose if that’s an issue for you.

However, with that being said, as you’ll see later on in this video, if you’re seeking to maximize your results then casein does have a unique potential application and may be something you still want to consider in addition to whey.

Plant-Based/Vegan Protein Powders?

As for vegans who can’t intake whey or casein, although research shows that plant protein powders don’t stimulate muscle protein synthesis as well as whey or casein does…

research also shows that this can be potentially compensated by ingesting a greater amount of plant protein and/or simply ensuring you intake adequate amino acids through various food sources. Something for you to keep in mind!

#2: When To Take Your Protein Shake

Although most people are firm believers that protein shakes are meant to be taken right after your workout, research actually doesn’t fully support this idea.

For example, as shown in this 2013 literature review on the topic:

Ingesting protein immediately post-workout doesn’t seem to be very important if you’ve already had a pre-workout meal with sufficient protein.

Multiple other studies support this idea by emphasizing that this “one hour post-workout anabolic window” may only apply to fasted training where there’s no pre-ingestion of protein.

Whereas if you’ve ingested protein sometime before your workout, it essentially renders the timing of your post-workout protein shake useless.

post-workout protein shake

Which just means that a post-workout protein shake isn’t as important as we thought it was if you’re in a fed state.

And in fact, if you haven’t had any protein before your workout, research even suggests that ingesting your shake before your workout is more beneficial than after.

For example, this study from the American Journal of Physiology shows just that. The researchers found that when subjects in a fasted state ingested protein before their workout, they experienced significantly higher muscle protein synthesis when compared to subjects who ingested their protein immediately after their workout!

protein shake before workout

Therefore, when it comes to the timing of your protein shake, I’d suggest the following:

1) If you’ve ingested protein at some point before your workout:

  • A post-workout protein shake doesn’t seem to be absolutely necessary
  • In this case, you can have your protein shake at any time during the day to simply boost your daily protein intake
  • But since a post-workout Whey protein shake is convenient for most people, is fast-digesting, and helps spread out your protein intake throughout the day, it may still very well be the ideal time for you to take

2) If you haven’t ingested any protein before your workout:

  • Ingesting your protein shake shortly before your workout is likely the best option to maximize protein synthesis

3) If you’re planning on workout out in a fasted state:

  • Ingesting your protein shake within an hour or so after your workout seems to be ideal

In addition to this, as mentioned earlier, to maximize your results you might also want to consider ingesting casein protein powder shortly before bed. This is because multiple recent studies have found that intaking at least 40g of a slow digesting protein before bed helps improve overnight muscle protein synthesis…

..which theoretically leads to better muscle recovery and growth overtime.

And since casein is a slow digesting protein that makes intaking this 40g of protein shortly before bed more convenient, it might be something you want to incorporate in addition to your whey protein.

#3: How Much Protein To Take & How Often?

As for how much protein to take at a time, multiple studies have arrived at the general consensus that:

20-25 grams of a high quality protein like Whey is sufficient for maximizing muscle protein synthesis.

Therefore, that’s a good minimum you’d want to aim for when taking it.

It’s also worth nothing though that having more than this might provide a small additional benefit..

With one recent 2016 paper concluding that intaking 40g of whey protein stimulated muscle protein synthesis to a greater extent than a 20 gram dose.

40g vs 20g whey protein

And this finding was significant regardless of the subjects’ body weight and lean body mass.

But generally, it seems that sticking to a dose of anywhere between 20g-40g is likely your best bet – with 40g providing a slight edge in terms of protein synthesis.

Now as for how often to take protein, this just ultimately depends on your own total daily protein requirements.

You generally want to prioritize in taking your protein from food sources since they provide a variety of other amino acids and nutrients, and then use protein powder to supplement this if needed.

For example, we know that sticking to a protein intake of roughly 0.73-1g/lb of bodyweight is ideal:

So let’s say a 170lb individual requires 170g of protein a day, and can comfortably intake 130g of protein from real food sources. They could then take one 40g scoop of protein daily regardless of if they worked out or not to help them reach their daily goal:

how often to take protein example

And if you needed to take more than this to reach your goal, that’s perfectly fine. Whatever helps you hit your daily protein target conveniently and consistently is what will be ideal.

 #4 What To Take Your Protein Powder With

To keep it simple, multiple studies have shown that:

Although co-ingesting protein powder with additional carbs and/or fat does slow down digestion, it does not increase nor decrease muscle protein synthesis rates.

Simply meaning that you can feel free to take your protein with whatever you’d prefer: whether that be milk, water, or something else.

However, in my opinion, if you’re focusing on gaining weight then it can be helpful to take your protein with dairy milk for the additional 100-200 calories and extra protein it provides.

protein shake to build muscle

Whereas if you’re focusing on losing fat, it might be best to take it with something like almond milk or water, which just helps you conveniently save an extra couple hundred calories or so.

protein shake to lose weight

Key Takeaways

So to sum the article up, here are the key takeaways:

protein powder summary

One thing I want you to keep in mind though is that as with all supplements, protein powder is not anything magical and is by no means necessary to see results. However, if you struggle to hit your daily protein intake through food alone, then this is where it becomes useful and something for you to consider!

That’s it for this article! Hope this helps out. Let me know if you have any questions down below – and give me a follow on Instagram , Facebook , and Youtube where I’ll be posting informative content on a more regular basis. Cheers!

22 thoughts on “Protein Powder: How to Best Use It For Muscle Growth (15 Studies)”

  1. Great article. I really like the links to the literature reviews/meta analyses as it gives us a chance to see what you saw in those articles so that we can understand your conclusions. Keep up the good work.

  2. I love the article very well written. My own body completely agrees with everything that you have written down. I’ve experimented and protein before workouts does work best for me. I wish you would have looked at chicken bonebroth protein as I believe that is the healthiest and gives the most bang for the buck. I believe it is also extremely easy to digest but not quite as quick as whey, but you hang on (actually digesting and your body absorbs all of it) to more protein with chicken bonebroth than you do with whey or casein. You do not pass as much ” when you go to the bathroom”. Chicken broth your body absorbs 100% so although it might only have 22 grams of protein per serving you get all 22 grams were as whey or casein may have 40G you’re lucky if your body absorbs 15 to 20 grams. Also chicken broth is good for your bones and ligaments which is crucial when it comes to weight lifting. Just a thought would love to see you an article on chicken bone broth protein. Thanks again for the article great read!

  3. As usual, your articles are very informative Jeremy. I typically work out in a fasted state, and never ingest protein first, always after. I will try ingesting before, thanks!

  4. Great article. I have always wondered when and how much. All the different shakes and supplements have a lot of peoole bewildered and confused on how much we need to take and what is actually necessary and how much is useless and unnecessary. It all costs money which a lot of people can’t afford.

  5. With the Whey Protein be advisable to use in elderly people in order to possibly increase muscle strength. And use as a supplement to ensure enough protein is in their diet for lack of eating properly

  6. What about Potassium in the process of absorbing Protein in the cells ? Is it the main mineral that transfer protein into the cell ?

  7. Typically, for a pre-workout meal (roughly 1 hour before start of workout), ill have peanut butter and banana on toast, then have my protein shake post workout. Should I just skip the peanut butter and banana on toast and just take the protein shake before the workout for better muscle growth?

  8. I really like, and agree with the tip about using casein proteins before bed. I find that doing this, especially after heavy lifting days leaves me less sore the next day. Additionally, as someone who usually wakes up hungry, having casein before bed with milk allows me to wake up with normal/mild hunger (which I prefer).

  9. Great read! After reading your articles, I feel like I have a better grasp on the science behind muscles and how to get the most out of my time in the gym. Didn’t think about the protein part of it and this article made me rethink my protein intake. I’m one of the people who has always just taken their protein shake after the workout. My question to you is what would you consider a fasted state? I start my workouts anywhere from 5:45-6:15PM and have a usual protein rich lunch anywhere from 1:00-3:00PM.

    Any insight would be greatly appreciated! Keep up the great work!

  10. Love your work Jeremy!
    How do you feel about protein blends? Half whey half casein? Would the serving size need to be 40g to get the 20g of whey required?
    Thanks

  11. Thank you for this informative article! I’m just beginning to use protein powder and was clueless, but you’ve shed light onto me! I hope others find this helpful aswell!

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  13. I heard that taking whey right after the workout , will minimise the muscle damage.
    So if I’m taking 30g of protein with some carb food 1 hour before the workout will maximize the protein synthesis & minimise the muscle damage ?
    Kindly advise .

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