Whey protein has remained one of the most popular supplements for quite some time. And it doesn’t seem to be going anywhere anytime soon.
Many health and fitness enthusiasts like to use whey protein for bodybuilding, athletic performance, recovery, and just general health.
In order to maximize the benefits of whey protein, there are also some key times throughout the day where it may have the greatest effects. And in this article, you’ll be able to see when the best time is to take whey protein in order to maximize its benefits.
Why Take Whey Protein?
Before getting into when to take whey protein, we want to go over why you should even take it in the first place.
Well, quite simply, whey protein is one of the most bioavailable protein sources out there. It’s high in all of the essential amino acids (EAAs), which you have to get from food because the body doesn’t produce them.
Among these EAAs, whey protein is particularly high in the branched-chain amino acids (isoleucine, leucine, valine), which are the most important for muscle protein synthesis (especially leucine) and can help boost muscle growth.
Another thing to consider is the convenience. Many people are away from home a lot of the day, and it can be tough to get protein-rich foods at every single meal. But whey protein can be easily taken with you and added to water or whatever liquid you want for a quick protein boost.
Not to mention the fact that it can be hard to eat enough protein from food alone, especially if you’re a competitive bodybuilder or high-intensity athlete.
We absolutely recommend eating most of your protein from whole foods such as chicken, beef, pork, fish, eggs, greek yogurt, nuts, and so on. But whey protein can help you easily reach your protein goals when you don’t feel like eating any more solid food and are tired of chewing.
When to Take Whey Protein
In order to maximize the effects of whey protein, there are some times during the day where it’s most effective. Particularly, whey protein is best when taken:
- At Breakfast
- In Between Meals
The most common time to take whey protein is post-workout. After your workout, your muscles are damaged. And whey protein helps to jumpstart the repair process by enhancing muscle protein synthesis, particularly due to its high concentration of leucine and other BCAAs.
Generally, it’s best to take a shake 30 to 45 minutes after the workout.
Now, consuming whey protein after your workouts isn’t absolutely necessary. And getting in enough protein throughout the day is just as important, if not moreso. But even still, doing this can provide a little bit more of a boost.
After all, just because something isn’t necessary, doesn’t mean that it’s not optimal to implement.
Some people may be surprised to know that whey protein is actually great to take before your workouts too.
When you take whey protein before a workout, it may help to promote muscle growth as it is rapidly absorbed and provides quick fuel for your muscles.
And when you combine pre-workout and post-workout whey protein supplementation, this may lead to greater benefits from resistance training, such as muscle mass gains and improved recovery.
30 45 minutes before training is effective.
Another great time to take whey protein is at breakfast. The main reason for this is that some people simply don’t feel like eating a lot of solid, protein-rich food at breakfast.
If you already have a protein-rich breakfast, such as with eggs, greek yogurt, turkey bacon, etc. then you’re probably fine.
But more often than not, many people’s breakfasts are filled with only carb-based foods such as fruit, cereal, toast, etc. And while these are good to include, it’s important to get a more balanced breakfast.
That’s why adding whey protein to your normal breakfast can be a great way to make it a more complete meal and assist muscle growth. This is especially important considering that you also went through the night without taking in any calories and protein too.
In Between Meals
Lastly, you may consider taking whey protein in between meals, especially if you have a large gap in between meals (e.g. 5+ hours).
Now, we’re not saying that you’re going to lose muscle if you don’t get in a whey protein shake in between your lunch and dinner, for example. But doing so can help manage cravings and hunger, and may give you the boost you need to get through the rest of your day.
Plus, it’s filling and makes you less likely to choose unhealthy snacks.
How Much Whey Protein to Take
In order to maximize the effects of whey protein, it’s also necessary to consider the dosage. Take too little and you won’t maximize results. But take too much and you might be wasting money along with causing digestive problems.
Most of the research shows that around 0.4g of protein per kg of bodyweight is effective for enhancing muscle protein synthesis. This amounts to roughly 20 to 40g for most individuals (weighing 50 to 100kg or 110 to 220lbs) for each serving.
You can take this multiple times per day too, if desired. Theoretically, you could take it even up to four times per day as this is in line with the amount of protein you need per day. But then again, most people prefer a well-balanced diet with a variety of protein sources. And the latter is probably a healthier choice too due to a balance of different nutrients.
Going over 20 to 40g per serving isn’t inherently bad. But you may not use all of it for protein synthesis. Plus, taking too much of anything can potentially put you over your calorie limit, which may also increase the chance of fat gain.
Considering Whey Protein Quality
Like any supplement, quality matters a lot too. And with whey protein, you want to make sure that the supplement basically only has one main ingredient (whey protein) with no fillers, additives, or artificial ingredients.
Natural flavors and sweeteners are also fine, as well as some natural emulsifying agents such as sunflower or soy lecithin
Also, consider how much you value animal welfare. If this is high on your list, make sure to choose a whey protein that comes from pasture-raised, grass-fed cows raised with humane practices.
Additionally, grass-fed whey protein may be superior in amino acid content, immune-supporting nutrients, and fatty acids compared to regular whey protein. This isn’t a deal-breaker but still important to know for people who are highly health-conscious.
Final Thoughts: When to Take Whey Protein
Whey protein is a very versatile and beneficial supplement. It provides the body with the building blocks that it needs to accelerate recovery, boost muscle growth, and improve performance. Not to mention it makes it easier to hit your target protein requirements, especially if you find it hard to eat a lot of food.
And when taken around your workouts, with breakfast, and/or in between meals, whey protein can have the greatest effects on muscle building and overall health, especially when used at a dose of around 20 to 40g per serving.
FAQ: Whey Protein
Is whey protein safe?
Whey protein is safe for most individuals. However, people with a lactose intolerance may not be able to take whey protein, especially whey concentrate (whereas isolate contains less lactose).
Also, it isn’t suitable for anyone with a milk allergy.
If you can’t tolerate whey protein, another good choice is pea protein or various other plant proteins.
Collagen protein is another option, although it doesn’t have all of the essential amino acids.
Do I need whey protein if I eat a high-protein diet?
Not necessarily. But it depends on what one defines as “high-protein”. Additionally, protein needs can vary greatly between individuals, depending on age, activity level, and goals.
For the general population not involved in weight training, simply getting around 0.5 to 0.6g of protein per pound of bodyweight is fine. Whereas athletes, weightlifters, and other individuals involved in weight training may require upwards of 0.7 to 1g of protein per pound of bodyweight (1.6 to 2.2kg). This number can get even higher (1.2+g per pound) for people in a strict fat loss phase, yet wanting to maintain muscle mass.
So, the best thing to do is take note of how much protein you need, based on these factors. And then analyze whether you’re getting enough through diet alone and/or if taking whey protein would make reaching your target goal easier.
Are there ways to enhance whey protein absorption?
Yes. Mainly, digestive enzymes (particularly proteases) may enhance protein absorption. These are found naturally in some foods such as papaya, pineapple, kiwi, and yogurt. Otherwise, digestive enzyme supplements can be used.
What types of whey protein are best?
Whey proteins typically are categorized as whey concentrate, whey isolate, and whey hydrolysate.
Whey hydrolysate is designed for the quickest absorption, followed by whey isolate and then whey concentrate.
Also, whey isolate is lower in carbs and fats compared to whey concentrate.
Any of these choices are fine. But if you want a particularly pure supplement, whey protein isolate is likely the best as it contains the highest amount of protein as a percentage of the total weight.