Protein Powder: Everything You Need to Know

With more choice than ever before, using the right protein powder at the right time will build lean muscle mass faster.

If you’re putting in the hours in your gym’s weights room, lifting dumbbell after barbell after kettlebell, it’s only natural to expect bigger, stronger muscles. Unfortunately, if you’re not also making the same effort in the kitchen to ensure you’re eating the right food to support your workout regime, the effect of your exercise might be a little disappointing.

By the right food we mean protein, which is essential for repairing and rebuilding your damaged muscles after a tough session. The benefits of protein aren’t limited to building muscle, either: it’s required for a host of other critical bodily functions and also has the happy knack of making you feel fuller for longer, which diminishes the likelihood of you turning to sweet or fatty snacks to fill a hole.

Eating more protein is generally something people have no trouble signing up for, because it’s found in many delicious foods. However, getting the amount you need to support a heavy training workload is not always that easy. If you’re looking to hit the 1.4-2g of protein per kg of bodyweight per day that’s recommended for those trying to build muscle, it will probably take more than a chicken breast for lunch and dinner and a handful of nuts for breakfast. A lot more, in fact, and that can be as expensive as it is annoying to keep track of.

Protein shakes can be a handy way to ensure you hit your daily targets. They’re easy to make and quick to consume, and they’re certainly easier to get down after a savage training session than a plate of steak and eggs.

But with more protein shakes options now available than ever before, finding the right product for the right situation can be confusing. Here you’ll find out all you need to know about the options available, allowing you to make the right decision to get the results you want with minimum time, effort and expense.

Do I need a protein powder?

If you follow any sort of exercise programme, whether it’s based around weights, cardio, or endurance training, then you need more protein than the UK government’s current recommendation of 55g per day. Powdered protein offers a quick and easy way to increase your daily intake. A fast-digesting protein such as whey is especially useful after training when you might not feel like sitting down to a proper meal. Casein, a slow-release protein, is a great option before bed because it drip-feeds muscle-building amino acids into your bloodstream overnight to rebuild muscle tissue as you sleep.

It’s always important to remember the clue is in the name “supplement” – they are designed to fill in the nutritional gaps of a complete and varied diet. Getting most of your daily dietary protein from red and white meat and fish is the best way, because you’ll also consume more of the essential vitamins, minerals and other nutrients vital to health.

How should I consume protein powder?

You can drink it with water, mix it with flavored fluids such as milk or coconut water and blend it for a healthy fruit smoothie, or even use it as an ingredient to cook with – protein powder cookbooks are big business.

How much protein powder should I take?

Serving suggestions for most protein powders are typically around 30g, and with good reason. Research suggests that this is around the ideal amount to repair the damage done by training and initiate muscle protein synthesis, the process through which new muscle tissue is laid down. Research also shows that a high-protein diet can also help reduce body fat levels, so you’ll not only get bigger and stronger but leaner as well.

When should I take protein powder?

After a workout is the most obvious time to consume a protein powder because that’s when your muscles need it most. Drinking a shake of whey protein mixed with cold water or milk within 30 minutes of finishing your training session will initiate recovery by flooding your bloodstream with amino acids, which are quickly shuttled into your muscle cells to become new muscle tissue.

Protein powder can also be taken at other times. Blend a scoop of your favorite flavor with an egg and a banana then cook in a pan to make some high-protein breakfast or dessert pancakes. And it’s especially useful to have to hand to make a shake when you’re out and about all day and don’t have time to eat a proper meal.