Updated: Jul 20, 2021
There Are Many Types of Protein
When it comes to essential nutrients, protein sits atop the list.
It's a jack of all trades with many roles in the body. Protein is a source of energy, can help repair damaged tissue, is essential for growth and plays a role in preventing infection and disease (1Trusted Source, 2Trusted Source).
Protein is naturally abundant in foods like meats, fish, eggs, dairy products, grains, seeds and legumes. It is also available as a dietary supplement, commonly known as protein powder.
Here are some of the most well-known protein powders you can buy.
Whey protein: A dairy-based protein. It contains all the essential amino acids and is quickly absorbed (3Trusted Source).
Casein protein: A dairy-based protein. It contains all the essential amino acids and is slowly absorbed, which is why people often take it before bed (4Trusted Source).
Soy protein: A plant-based protein that contains all the essential amino acids. It has also been linked to some impressive health benefits (5Trusted Source).
Pea protein: A plant-based protein. It has low levels of the nonessential amino acids cysteine and methionine (6).
Rice protein: A plant-based protein with low levels of the essential amino acid lysine (7Trusted Source).
Hemp protein: A plant-based protein made from hemp seeds that has high levels of fiber and essential omega-3 and omega-6 fats. Hemp protein is low in the amino acid lysine (8Trusted Source).
Protein powders are a useful way to increase your protein intake if you’re always on the go. They are convenient, portable, and come in a variety of flavors.
To take protein powders, simply mix the powder with water or another liquid of your choice. Many popular supplement brands also sell ready-to-drink protein shakes.
SUMMARY Protein is an important nutrient that has many roles in the body. It is found naturally in foods and also available as a dietary supplement called protein powder.
When Is the Best Time to Take Protein?
People often wonder when the best time to take their protein powder is.
This depends on your health and fitness goals. You may want to consume it at a particular time of day, depending on whether you want to lose weight, build muscle, or preserve muscle.
Here are the best times to take protein based on your specific goals.
Protein is one of the most important nutrients for fat loss.
Eating a high-protein diet can help raise your metabolism and reduce your appetite (9Trusted Source).
Protein helps curb your appetite by reducing levels of the hunger hormone ghrelin, all while increasing levels of appetite-reducing hormones like glucagon-like peptide-1 (GLP-1), peptide YY (PYY) and cholecystokinin (CCK) (10Trusted Source, 11Trusted Source).
One study found people who ate a high-protein yogurt snack during the afternoon ate 100 fewer calories at dinner, compared to those who ate crackers or chocolate as an afternoon snack. The yogurt, crackers, and chocolate all provided the same number of calories (13Trusted Source).
To reap the most weight-loss benefits, aim to eat plenty of protein-rich foods throughout the day.
“Consuming protein-rich snacks between meals is ideal for fat loss. It may help curb hunger, which could lead you to eat fewer calories later in the day.”
Protein is important for building muscle.
The best time to consume protein for optimal muscle growth is a controversial topic.
Fitness enthusiasts often recommend taking a protein supplement 15–60 minutes after exercise. This time frame is known as the “anabolic window” and said to be the perfect time for getting the most out of nutrients like protein (16Trusted Source).
However, recent research has shown that this window is much larger than previously thought.
According to the International Society of Sports Nutrition, consuming protein any time up to two hours after your workout is ideal for building muscle mass (17Trusted Source).
For the average person, resistance exercise and consuming sufficient protein are more important than timing protein intake (18Trusted Source).
That said, people training in a fasted state, like before breakfast, may benefit from taking protein shortly after a workout, as they haven’t consumed protein in a while (19Trusted Source).
“To build muscle, aim to consume protein within two hours after working out. People who train in a fasted state, like before breakfast, should ideally take protein right after working out.”
Preventing Muscle Loss
Maintaining muscle mass is especially important as you grow older.
Research shows that people lose roughly 3–8% of their muscle mass each decade after age 30. Sadly, losing muscle is linked to a higher risk of fractures and shorter lifespan (20Trusted Source, 21Trusted Source).
Scientists recommend spreading protein intake evenly across the day to help prevent muscle loss with age. This means eating roughly 25–30 grams of protein per meal (22Trusted Source).
To help prevent muscle loss, aim to eat 25–30 grams of protein per meal. Taking a protein supplement at meals during which you consume less protein, such as breakfast, can help spread your intake over the day.
Exercise Performance and Recovery
Athletes often wonder when they should take protein for performance and recovery.
For endurance training, combining protein with a source of carbs during and after exercise may improve performance and recovery and reduce soreness (24).
For example, a study of 11 cyclists found that taking a protein and carb beverage during training improved recovery and reduced muscle soreness, compared to a placebo (25Trusted Source).
For most people, eating enough protein is more important than timing protein intake. However, athletes partaking in resistance training can benefit from taking protein either immediately before or after a workout (24).
Endurance athletes may see improved performance and recovery from taking protein with a source of carbs during and after exercise. Resistance-training athletes can benefit from taking protein either immediately before or after a workout.
Should You Take Protein Before Bed?
The elderly, as well as people looking to build muscle, increase strength, and improve exercise performance and recovery, can benefit from taking protein before bed (24).
In a review of studies, scientists concluded that taking protein before bed is an effective strategy to promote muscle building and help them adapt to exercise (27Trusted Source).
This is because protein consumed before bed is effectively digested and absorbed, increasing the availability of protein to muscles for recovery throughout the night.
Scientists from that study recommended consuming 40 grams of protein prior to bed to maximize muscle growth and adaptation through the night (27Trusted Source).
In another study in 16 healthy elderly men, half the participants consumed casein protein before bed, while the other half consumed a placebo. The study showed consuming casein protein before bed promoted muscle growth, even in less active elderly people (28Trusted Source).
If you want to take protein before bed, you may consider taking a form of casein protein. Casein is digested slowly, which means it can provide the body with a steady supply of protein through the night (29Trusted Source).
You can also get the benefits of casein protein from real foods instead of supplements. Dairy products like cottage cheese and Greek yogurt are high in casein.
Taking protein before bed may be an effective strategy to help build muscle, increase strength, and improve exercise performance and recovery. Elderly people looking to preserve muscle mass may also benefit from taking protein before bed.
Is Too Much Protein Bad for You?
There is a common myth that consuming too much protein is bad for your health.
Some believe that consuming too much protein can damage the kidneys and liver and cause osteoporosis, a condition in which people develop hollow, porous bones (24).
However, these concerns are largely overblown and not supported by evidence.
For example, a detailed review of more than 74 studies came to the conclusion that healthy adults don’t need to worry about how much protein they eat (31Trusted Source).
Most adults can benefit from consuming 0.6–0.9 grams of protein per pound (1.4–2.0 grams per kg) of body weight (24).
People who want to prevent muscle loss can stay on the lower end of that scale, while those wanting to lose weight or build muscle may eat at the upper end.
The myth that protein is bad for you is largely overblown. Plenty of evidence suggests that healthy adults can eat large amounts of protein without experiencing any harmful side effects.
The Bottom Line
Protein is an incredibly versatile nutrient.
Sufficient protein intake can aid fat loss, build and preserve muscle, and improve exercise performance and recovery.
What's more, taking it at the right time can further help you achieve your goals.
For example, consuming protein between meals may help curb hunger and reduce calorie intake later in the day.
Following some of the strategies above can enable you to better use protein in your everyday routine, helping you reach and maintain your health and fitness goals.
Written by Ryan Raman, MS, RD on February 6, 2018