Which Proteins When? A Weight Trainer’s Guide to Protein Supplementation

Your How-To Guide for Protein Timing

Everywhere you turn, there’s a different nutrition expert telling us which type of protein is best for building muscle. Truth is, however, trying to pinpoint the preeminent protein for building muscle is about as futile as a barbershop debate over the greatest heavyweight boxer of all time. No matter how well you articulate your case for Marciano, ol’ Barber Clyde ain’t budging off Ali.


The fact is, each protein, like each of the past heavyweight greats, has its own special traits that make it great. For Ali, it was his jab. For whey, its ability to assimilate rapidly into the body. Marciano, his bone-crushing right cross. Casein, its sustained release of amino acids.

Here, we’ll briefly explore some of these characteristics and functional qualities of the different proteins. Based on these strengths, we’ll map out a logical application for using each of the various proteins throughout the day to maximize muscle gain and fat loss.Morning

Morning is second only to the post-workout window in the terms of protein absorption and utilization. Your glycogen stores are low. Your muscles have been catabolic for a few hours. And your body is ready to replenish and restore its protein and energy reserves.

To best accomplish this, consume a slow-release protein, like egg whites or lean meat or using a mixed protein source. A combination of whey and casein is optimal. This can be found in some of the higher-quality meal-replacement shakes.

Shoot for a protein dose of about one-fourth your daily requirement at this time and also make sure you’re getting about 30 grams of carbohydrates—low-glycemic carbs are optimal.


New research indicates that a pre-workout protein drink boosts protein synthesis, muscle growth and exercise performance with weight training. Based on the research, the protein choice here should be quickly digested to avoid cramping and blood shunting to the stomach during the workout. Antioxidant properties and high BCAA content would be a plus here also. The obvious choice is whey. About 15 grams 30 to 60 minutes pre-workout should do the trick. This pre-workout protein shot applies to both resistance and cardiovascular exercise.

During Workout

Research suggests that consuming complete proteins during weight training is usually not necessary. However, 5 to 7 grams of glutamine may be valuable for preventing muscle catabolism. Carbohydrate intake can also spare total-body proteins (especially BCAAs). This is easily achieved by sipping on a carbohydrate beverage (6 to 7 percent concentrated) during the workout.

Post Workout

If you’re looking to gain muscle mass and strength, and you’re only going to do one thing to help make that happen, consuming a post-workout protein drink is it. There is no more potent way to halt muscle breakdown and pump up muscle protein synthesis than consuming a high-quality protein plus carbohydrate shake immediately after your workout.

Multiple studies have shown that the uptake of amino acids and glucose into muscles is greatly enhanced by weight training. After workouts, damaged muscle proteins are broken down and recycled into new muscle fibers, a process called “protein turnover.” Since this process is not 100 percent efficient, an influx of amino acids is needed to replace damaged proteins. Post-workout protein also may increase anabolic hormones, decrease cortisol levels, increase gains in lean mass and speed fat loss.

Fortunately, during this period, the body is quite receptive to ingested protein. The protein choice would be rapidly absorbed, provide some growth factors and be high in BCAAs. Whey is an excellent choice for these reasons.

Most researchers agree that there is roughly a 60-minute window after your workout to take advantage of this increased uptake and maximize muscle recuperation. Not only do you replenish your fuel stores most efficiently with a post-workout carb/protein mix, but you also actually stimulate muscle building… immediately.

The most convenient and effective way to get your perfect protein-plus-carb punch following your workout may be a protein shake. A shake is convenient and will be delivered to your system more efficiently than whole food.

Before Bed

There are two fairly distinct stages of cellular metabolism that take place while we sleep. During the first half of the night, our bodies are focused on cellular repair and recuperation. Then in the wee hours of the morning, it begins to flip and our bodies begin to become catabolic, breaking down tissues to feed our waning blood sugar.

In order to optimize the recuperation stage of sleep, it’s vital that there is an ample supply of protein available to hungry muscles. For that reason, consume 25 to 30 grams of pure protein, little or no carbs in this dose, within 30 minutes before you hit the sack. And this shouldn’t be just any protein. Make sure to use a good source of casein. Either a quality powder or cottage cheese.

Why casein? First, it has the tendency to form a “gel” in the stomach, which slows its movement into the intestines and creates a “timed-release” effect. With casein, you get a nice, consistent supply of protein to your muscles over the first four to five hours of sleep. Casein is also a good choice because it contains a whopping 20.5 percent glutamine—the king of kings when it comes to muscle repair.

During the Night

As noted earlier, your body goes into a catabolic state sometime during the very early morning hours. It does this in great part because it runs out of the fuel and building blocks it needs to continue the recuperation and preparation process. So, what if you were able to supply it with what it needs to continue to recuperate all night long?

Many competitive bodybuilders have tested just that theory. They will awaken at 3 a.m., pound a pure protein shake, and go back to bed. Biochemically, it makes sense that this would help to enhance recuperation and muscle growth.

So, if you really want to get serious about your muscle-building efforts, drink around 30 grams of your favorite whey protein if you happen to wake up in the middle of the night. (Don’t set your alarm just for this purpose, however—it is probably more beneficial to your muscles to sleep the whole night.) We’d also suggest chasing it down with a full glass of water, as you are usually a bit dehydrated by this time of the evening and it will help the digestion and absorption process.

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