Whether you follow our blog for our latest articles or you stumbled across this post while surfing the web, I’m willing to bet two things. Somewhere in your gym bag or tucked away in a cupboard is a shaker bottle and at one point or another you’ve scarfed down a protein shake. Not only is it the lifeblood of athletes and bodybuilders, but protein plays a vital role in every cell of all our bodies. Protein is a ‘macronutrient’ which means our bodies rely on large amounts of it. Among other benefits, protein “is an important building block of bones, muscles, cartilage, skin, and blood.”
So you’ve got your five pound tub of powder, your favorite superhero shaker bottle and...a dilemma. When do I take this stuff? Two scoops, twice a days with 6-8 ounces of water, just like the package says?
Let's be honest, it doesn’t matter your brand of protein, it’s not like we’re slamming down caramel frappuccinos from Starbucks to replenish our muscles. We work hard for our fitness and want to make sure our supplements are working hard for us too. As a result, it’s an age-old question, “When should I be taking my protein for optimum results?”
In college I struggled with this too, I had no idea when I should be taking my protein. Like a lot of guys in their twenties, my goal was to be as big and strong as possible. So, I took the shotgun approach. I literally drank protein mixed with whole milk all the time; breakfast, lunch, dinner, snacks and on either side of my workout.
My roommates and I didn’t stop there. We figured, on average, we sleep 7-8 hours a night…and that’s a heck of a long time without protein! So brilliant as we were, we came up with a solution and started setting alarms. Every morning at 3:30 am our house abruptly came alive. A blaring symphony of ringtones, radios, and alarm clocks accompanied us as we marched like zombies out of our rooms, huddled in the kitchen and slammed another 800 calorie shake before crawling back in bed. All the gym rats we told loved this idea and before long, we had a running call list of everyone that wanted a 3:30 am wakeup call so they could be a part of the infamous “Protein Time.”
This continued for about 6 months. During that time, I grew a lot stronger but I also gained about twenty pounds and developed some questionable sleeping habits. Eventually, I no longer needed the alarm clock. Strangely enough, I began to naturally wake up at 3:30 am every morning absolutely starving.
I am definitely not recommending you add 3:30 am “Protein Time” to your routine. However, the only way to grow larger muscles is through protein synthesis so if your goal is to be bigger and stronger there is no way around the shakes and a high protein diet. Since it’s such a commonly asked question, let's talk about some ways to optimize our protein intake.
Start your engine.
The first meal of the day is so important, it is literally a command to break our fast from the night before. Eating a healthy breakfast gives us energy and kickstarts our metabolism. Not to mention, there have been numerous studies that have linked eating a healthy breakfast to “better memory and concentration, lower levels of “bad” LDL cholesterol, and lower chances of getting diabetes, heart disease, and being overweight.”
Unfortunately, for most of us the morning is also the busiest time of day and unless prioritized, a meal in the AM is often overlooked. Keep in mind your goals. If you’re shooting for a high protein diet, then a shake in the morning is a no-brainer. Whey protein digests quickly, replenishes your protein stores that were depleted overnight and will curb your appetite to help you avoid that donut or bagel you're tempted with at the office. Couple your shake with some eggs, oats and fruit and you’ll be ready to tackle the day.
Your body turns carbohydrates into glucose which is immediately burned or stored in your muscles and liver as glycogen. Muscle glycogen is what powers our bodies as we crush our workouts so it’s important that we have carbs and protein prior to working out. At some point you have probably tried pushing through a workout on an empty stomach. My guess is that it wasn’t the most enjoyable experience and you definitely weren’t setting any personal records. When our body runs out of glycogen it will start breaking down protein to fuel your body which works conversely with protein synthesis making it harder to recover and build muscle.
To avoid this, fuel up with a half serving of whey protein along with a coffee, energy drink, or favorite pre-workout supplement about an hour before your workout. Whey protein is loaded with branch chain amino acids so depending on your protein powder, a half serving should still get you about 15 grams of protein and roughly 7.5 grams of branch chain amino acids. You will have the fuel to power through your workout and branch chains ready to rebuild bigger and stronger muscles.
It’s common knowledge that the best time for a protein shake is within thirty minutes of completing your workout. Why? Well, when you’re lifting weights you are actually causing small tears in your muscle tissue. As a result, your muscles are stimulated to repair themselves to become stronger. In order to do this, they need branch chain amino acids and carbohydrates.
Immediately after working out, your body is ready to begin its repair process and protein absorption peaks. Slam that 30 gram protein shake to replenish your protein stores and get the necessary amino acids and carbs to repair your muscles as soon as possible.
Sleep and grow.
Earlier we discussed that the only way to build muscle is through a process called protein synthesis. This requires two things, muscle stimulation and the proper nutrients. Most people sleep 6-8 hours, naturally with no added nutrients and protein synthesis slows during this time period. If your goal is to build muscle and grow stronger, try having a blended protein before bed such as a casein or egg based shake. Your body digests and absorbs blended protein at a slower rate than whey. Drinking a casein protein shake before bed will help keep your protein synthesis rates as high as possible throughout the night.
For decades, the common bodybuilding rule of thumb has been to consume one gram of protein for each pound of bodyweight. Use this as a guideline and adjust your servings and protein intake throughout the day accordingly. All this assumes that you are maintaining a healthy diet with consistent exercise. Do not expect any results if you are just slamming shakes and nothing else. You may gain size, but it will be in around your waistline and not your biceps.
Remember, there is no substitute for hard work. To naturally build muscle and grow stronger you need to be consistently in the weight room putting in the sweat, hours, and effort. Use our suggestions as a resource, but do your own research as well. If your goal is truly to become bigger and stronger don’t just be informed - you’re an ALPHA - become an expert!
Until next time,
Co-Founder and CFO, RAM
1. “Breakfast: Is It the Most Important Meal?” WebMD, WebMD, www.webmd.com/food-recipes/most-important-meal#1.