Step into any gym around the globe and you will most likely see someone with a protein shake. In fact, protein powder it is probably the most commonly used supplement out there (along with creatine). While scientific studies like this one helped debunk myths that protein powders cause kidney damage, most people are still confused about the proper use of them.  

Is A Protein Powder Absolutely Necessary To Build Muscle?

No. Even though your body requires more protein when you want to build muscle through strength training, this doesn’t mean you have to use protein powders (or any other protein supplement for that matter). As long as you reach your recommended daily protein intake you will be fine and see results. 
However, consuming enough protein every day can be tricky, especially when you don’t have time to prepare high protein meals all the time. That is why most athletes and bodybuilders use protein powders in addition to a balanced diet. So if you are crunched for time, a good protein powder can really make your life easier.

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What Type Of Protein Powder Is Best?

There are a lot of protein powders you can buy, but the most common ones are powders based on whey, casein or egg. You will also find vegan powders such as rice or other plant-based alternatives. Within the fitness and bodybuilding community there is always a lot of discussion about the best protein supplement. 
On any online forum you will almost certainly find people praising their protein powder due to its special amino acid profile or some other magic ingredient. What is often forgotten, however, is the fact that as long as you don’t get all your daily protein from supplements (which is never a good idea), you won’t notice the tiny differences among the different forms of protein. 
For example, many people believe that vegan powders are worse for muscle building than traditional protein powders. Not only is this false, because most modern vegan protein powders have a similar amino acid profile when compared to whey protein. But even if it were true this wouldn’t matter if the rest of your diet is balanced enough to supply you with all essential amino acids.
Go With Your Favorite Sort Of Protein 
This means that protein powder selection is more about personal preference and less about the actual source. With that being said, there is one form of protein that I don’t recommend to beginners: beef protein. 
The problem with beef protein is not so much the beef – after all it is one of the best whole food sources of protein – but the fact that most of the time you aren’t getting the real thing. Many beef protein powders are made from what is left after you take away the quality meet. This includes ligaments, joint or even ears and hoofs, which isn’t exactly what you had in mind when you bought it, right?

When Should You Take Protein Powder?

You have probably been told that you need to drink your protein shake right after your workout. If this has led you to run into the locker room and prepare your shake as soon as you got done with the last workout set, I have good news. Protein timing isn’t nearly as important as people make it out to be. 
Even though some studies show a positive effect of post workout protein on protein synthesis, others find no such relation. Overall it seems that as long as you meet your daily calorie and nutritional requirements through your normal diet (this includes eating a full meal within 2 hours before your workout) it doesn’t matter when you drink your protein shake.

How Much Protein Powder Should You Take?

This depends on how much total protein you need to consume per day (around 1 gram per pound of bodyweight works as a rule of thumb). The majority of your diet should always be based on whole foods, a rule which applies not only to protein but all macronutrients. So try to include fish, chicken, beef, eggs or any other quality protein source and use protein powder only as a supplement and not as a substitute.
Depending on your lifestyle, required protein intake and willingness to cook I suggest you get around a third to half (maximum!) of your protein from protein shakes. 

What Is The Best Liquid To Mix Protein Powder With?

Water is probably the most commonly used option here. Since it has no calories, water is ideal for any calorie restricted weight loss diet. The only drawback might be the thin consistency which can make the shake taste less “creamy”.  
Another option is milk, which will provide you with some additional protein but also leads to a higher calorie count. This makes it less of an option when wanting to lose fat. Obviously, milk is also not an option if you are lactose intolerant or have any other kind of milk allergy. 
Other alternatives include soy or almond milk. Unless you buy fat-free, soy milk is typically higher in calories than regular milk and often has added sugars. Of course, the disadvantages of soy protein which I talked about before also apply to soy milk. Almond usually has a lower calorie count if bought unsweetened and adds a bit more of a creamy taste.

How To Use Protein Powder – Summary:

  • The most common protein powder is whey protein, but as long as you follow a balanced diet any type of protein works (with the exception of beef and soy protein).
  • As long as you meet your daily requirements through your normal diet and eat an adequate pre workout meal, protein timing will have only small effects on your results. 
  • Try to get no more than a third to half of your daily protein from protein shakes.
  • Which liquid you choose is really up to you, as long as you track the calories and protein that you get from your shake. 

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