People often have the questions of how often to take protein, how much to take, and if you should use it in supplement form. We decided to break down the truth about taking protein.
Which Protein Is Best?
First, before you take anything, you’ve probably read all the reviews on protein powders and maybe even a protein pills review. Still, do you know which protein is right for you?
Pills and powders are two main protein supplements, with powders being the most popular.
Protein powder does have a higher protein content than pills, and it’s what we traditionally associate more with a protein supplement. Pills are becoming an increasingly popular option, too, because they’re convenient, have fewer calories, and provide protein through different sources like collagen.
If your goals are to gain bulk and muscle mass, you might want to take powders simply because of the higher amount of protein. If your goal is to use protein to lose weight or fill in nutritional gaps, pills could be best.
Who Should Use a Protein Supplement?
Protein powders and similar supplements are among the most utilized in health and nutrition. Specific examples of when you might want to use a powder or similar supplement include:
- As a meal replacement. When you don’t have enough time to make a meal, a protein shake can be a convenient and healthy replacement. If you are going to use shakes as a meal replacement, you should include healthy fat, like nut butter. Women have different nutrition needs than men, so adjust your protein accordingly if you’re having a meal replacement shake.
- For a post-workout snack. If you have extra protein after a workout, it can help you increase your muscle and strength gains. Protein shakes can sometimes digest faster in your GI system and give your muscles the nutrients they need for a quicker recovery.
- Some people use protein to help them lose weight because it helps them feel fuller for longer. For example, a review in 2017 found supplementing with whey protein helped reduce total fat mass and body weight in people who were overweight and obese.
- Filling in nutritional gaps. Not everyone gets enough protein from their diet. People who might need supplements to fill in nutritional gaps include athletes and weight lifters, older people, vegans and vegetarians, and people with chronic illnesses. The recommended amount of protein to have each day for people over 19 years old is 46 grams for women. The optimal amount is 56 grams for men.
How Often Should You Take Protein?
There’s no one specific answer about how much protein everyone should have, at least as far as supplementing goes. Most Americans don’t necessarily need more protein than what they get from their diet.
If you want to take protein in pill form or use protein shakes, how often you take it will depend on your goals.
If your main goal is losing weight, studies show that having two or more protein shakes a day can be helpful, but you have to reduce your caloric intake in the rest of your diet.
In 2010, there was a study published in Nutrition Journal. In that study, obese people who drank up to five protein shakes a day and ate one standard meal lost significantly more weight and also body fat over 16 weeks than people who followed an eating plan based on food.
If your goal is to gain muscle, a moderate amount of protein is likely best when you do strength training. For example, a study from 2013 looked at healthy men who already did regular resistant training. They started supplementing with 48 grams of protein three times a week.
They supplemented after exercise on training days. After eight weeks, the subjects taking the protein on this schedule had gains in muscle mass, strength, and power.
Finally, if you want to supplement because you don’t get enough protein from your diet, you should base this on the nutrition recommendations we named above—46 grams a day for women and 56 for men. However you like, you can divide this amount throughout the day, and it doesn’t necessarily matter when.
If you’re very active, you might need more. If you’re active, you need 0.6 grams of protein per pound of your body weight, which, if you’re 150 pounds, would mean around 90 grams a day.
Ultimately there’s no one answer as far as how often you should take protein. Instead, base it on your personal goals. If you want to gain muscle mass, for example, you might end up taking protein several times a day.