Ah yes, protein powder. It’s the first supplement people typically turn to when they decide they want to lose fat, build muscle or just improve the way their body looks or performs in any capicity.
Of course, once the decision to use protein powder has been made, a lot of basic questions commonly arise. For example:
- What does it do? What are its benefits?
- Does it really work?
- What’s the difference between whey and casein? Which is better?
- How and when should you take it?
- Are there any potential side effects?
- What brand is the best?
So, let’s answer all of those questions (and more) right now…
What Is Protein Powder?
As one of the most popular supplements on the planet, you probably know what protein powder is. And if you don’t, I’m sure you can guess.
It’s just… protein… in powdered form. Surprise!
You know how foods like chicken, fish, and beef are high in protein? Well, think of protein powder as a much quicker and much more convenient version of those types of foods.
You just mix some form of protein powder (whey, casein, etc.) with some form of liquid (water, milk, etc.) and taaadaaa… you instantly have yourself a drinkable high protein meal (aka a protein shake).
What Does Protein Powder Do? What Are Its Benefits?
Technically speaking, protein powder doesn’t actually DO anything other than provide you with a quick and convenient source of protein.
Where the benefits lie are with protein itself. Protein powder just so happens to provide that protein in a high quality, tasty, low calorie, convenient form.
As I’ve explained before (What Does Protein Do?), your daily protein intake is the second most important part of every single diet plan (total calories are always #1).
Why is it so important, you ask? Well, here’s a quick recap:
- In terms of the overall health and function of your body, it plays a crucial role in the growth, repair or function of organs, bones, hair, skin, blood, and… oh yeah… muscle!
- In terms of building muscle, the human body just can NOT build (or even maintain) muscle if you don’t eat a sufficient amount of protein on a daily basis.
- In terms of losing fat, consuming enough protein each day is the dietary key to ensuring the weight you lose is fat and NOT muscle.
- Protein has also proven to be the most filling of the 3 macronutrients (more than carbs or fat), which means it plays the largest role in controlling your hunger and curbing your appetite.
- It also has the largest thermic effect, which means it requires more calories to be burned during digestion than any other macronutrient (again more than carbs or fat).
So basically, a sufficient daily protein intake is an absolute requirement for overall health, building muscle, maintaining muscle while losing fat, keeping you full and satisfied, and helping you naturally burn more calories each day.
Sounds pretty good, right?
Protein powder itself just serves as a super quick, convenient and easy way of ensuring you consistently eat your ideal amount of protein per day (which is the true key to actually getting the benefits listed above).
There’s no preparing or cooking. You take a scoop, pour in some type of liquid, mix for a few seconds (no blender needed) and drink.
In less than a minute you’ll have a low calorie, muscle building, muscle protecting, hunger preventing serving of protein with no real work, time or effort involved.
And besides just making it easier for you to consume the right amount of protein each day, there are certain times when protein powder may have some advantage over a normal high protein food. I’m of course referring to the PRE and/or POST workout meals.
Does It Really Work?
Yes. Protein “works” for various reasons, and protein powder supplies it. So yes, it definitely works.
Honestly, it’s kind of like asking if chicken works. Pretty silly, don’t you think?
However, if you’re asking if protein powder will do anything beyond what I’ve explained, or if it has some kind of magical benefits or super powered effects like many supplement companies like to claim… then the answer is a huge NO. That’s all bullshit 100% of the time.
Protein powder doesn’t cause fat loss or muscle growth or anything similar. It literally won’t do anything other than provide a quick and convenient source of protein. Everything else is always bullshit.
Is Protein Powder Safe? Are There Any Side Effects?
For the typical healthy adult, it’s perfectly safe.
Protein powder is definitely more of a food than it is a supplement. So again, it’s kind of like asking if chicken or egg whites were safe or had any side effects. They don’t and protein powder doesn’t either.
As long as you don’t greatly exceed your ideal amount of protein per day, and you have no preexisting health issues (in which case you should always check with your doctor before making any changes to your diet or workout), then you really have nothing to worry about.
Protein powder is probably the safest supplement there is.
What Type Of Protein Is The Best?
There are a few different types of protein powder available, but in terms of popularity and usage, there’s really just 2:
While both are derived from milk, there’s some differences between them you should know…
By far the more popular of the two, whey protein powder is known as the “fast” protein. This is due to the fact that it is the fastest digesting protein there is.
So, if there happened to be any times of the day when it would be ideal for protein to be digested and absorbed by your body as quickly as possible, whey protein powder would be the best possible choice.
And, as it turns out, times like this DO indeed exist. Specifically:
- Immediately before your workout (only needed if you’re consuming this meal less than 30 minutes before your workout).
- During your workout (only needed in certain situations, definitely not required).
- Immediately after your workout (the most common use of all).
Athletes, bodybuilders and regular people who just want to look great naked have known this for years and have therefore used whey protein powder as their protein source in the meals surrounding their workouts (especially the POST workout meal).
Whether or not whey truly is “better” than a normal high protein food in your POST workout meal is hard to say with absolute certainty (I tend to doubt it matters that much in the end).
Either way, whey protein is definitely the protein source that is most often recommended for this meal. And more often than not, it’s what I personally use in my POST workout meal, too.
Casein is known as the “slow” protein. This is due to the fact that it is the slowest digesting protein there is (significantly slower than whey), which is why casein is not recommended for the meals around your workout (we want fast/easy digestion then, and whey fits this description much better than casein).
However, casein IS an ideal choice when you don’t care about digestion speed, or when you just purposely want protein to digest slowly.
For this reason, casein (or a whey/casein blend) is a perfectly fine choice for when you need a non-workout related protein source. You know, like just during the day as part of any normal meal.
Of course, whey protein combined with a normal meal containing carbs, fat and/or other nutrients will actually slow down whey’s digestion to the point where it’s likely just as suitable as casein for those meals.
Having said that, there is still one time of the day when casein universally beats whey in terms of usage and recommendations: the last meal before bed.
It has long been felt that it would be beneficial to have some protein in your system while you’re sleeping and your body is doing most of its recovering/repairing.
Since you spend those 8 or so hours in a fasted state, it became a common recommendation to consume a slow digesting source of protein in your last meal of the day.
Now, are the benefits of doing this as significant as some people think? That’s hard to say for sure. However, just in case they are, casein protein is definitely the ideal slow digesting source of protein for this meal.
When and How Should It Be Taken?
Well, protein powder can really be taken any time of the day as needed to help you reach your ideal daily protein intake.
More specifically though…
- Whey protein powder is most ideal in your POST workout meal. Immediately before and/or during your workout is ideal as well if needed or preferred.
- Casein protein powder is most ideal in your last meal before bed.
- Whey combined with other foods, casein by itself, or a whey/casein blend is all pretty much equally ideal as a protein source for any of your regular meals at any other times of the day.
As for “how” to take it, it’s pretty damn simple…
- Take however many scoops you need and put it into some sort of cup or bottle.
- Add in as much liquid (water, milk, Gatorade, etc.) as you want for the best possible taste.
- If needed, add in whatever other ingredients you feel like adding. (This step is completely optional.)
- Mix for a few seconds. You can either stir it with a spoon or, better yet, get a shaker bottle (more on those in a minute).
- Drink your shake.
As for what liquid is best to mix it with, any liquid is technically fine as long as you are paying close attention to the calories and other nutrients that liquid is adding to your daily diet.
What Brand Is The Best?
As for the best protein powder brand, it all comes down to quality, taste and price.
I’ve probably tried about a dozen protein powders over the last 10 years, so I have a good idea of the differences in taste.
I’m also well aware of the differences in price. Not only between different brands, but also different stores (for example, GNC sells the same products for WAY more than most online store do).
I’ve also seen the results of 2 independent lab tests that checked various protein powders to see if they contained the right amounts of everything they should and none of what they shouldn’t. So, I also know some of the differences in quality.
Based on all of this, here is what I personally use and fully recommend…
- Whey: Optimum Nutrition’s 100% Whey Gold Standard
Optimum Nutrition is one of the most highly regarded supplement companies around, and their whey protein is always the best selling protein powder of any kind on virtually every website that sells supplements. Why? Because of its quality, easy ability to mix, and above all else… it’s the best tasting whey protein powder there is. They have an amazing variety of flavors, and I’ve liked every one I’ve tried. I highly recommend it.
- Casein: Optimum Nutrition’s 100% Casein Protein
Yup, another one from Optimum Nutrition, which really shouldn’t be a surprise. This is actually the only casein powder I’ve ever tried in my life, and I just never needed to try any after it. It’s equally high quality and once again comes in an variety of flavors that taste as good as it gets.
Recommended Protein Powder Accessories
I figured this would be the best time to also mention one super useful accessory you should get if you are planning on using protein powder.
It’s called a shaker bottle.
A shaker bottle is just a plastic cup with a cover and some type of “blending” piece inside. You just put something in it (like protein powder), add water or any other liquid, and then shake it for about 10-20 seconds.
And just like that, you have a fully mixed/fully blended drink, shake or smoothie.
It’s super cheap, super easy, super quick and super convenient. I use it for all of my protein shakes at home as well as for carrying my POST workout shake with me to the gym.
As for which one to get, I personally use and recommend the Blender Bottle.
Now that all of your protein powder questions have been answered, it’s time to move on to the next supplement that might be useful for you.
In this case, it’s fish oil, and it’s probably my favorite supplement of them all. Here’s why…
(This article is part of a completely free and amazingly awesome guide to creating the absolute best diet plan possible for your exact goal and preferences. Check out the entire guide here: The Best Diet Plan)