The main variables to maximize protein powder results are the types of protein, amount of protein and protein timing. Protein supplements provide an efficient way to maintain your protein intake throughout the day when you're trying to gain muscle -- but they aren't a substitute for a healthy diet of regular foods. Research on protein powder results often focuses on muscle growth, and bodybuilders follow regimes of protein timing and varying their protein sources to maximize results.
Types of Protein Powders
Whey isolate is whey protein, a byproduct from cheese-making, with the fat and lactose removed. Whey concentrate is higher in fat, lactose and carbohydrates than whey isolate. Casein is a slower-digesting protein. Whey and casein come from milk. Protein from whole eggs and whey protein are the proteins used most efficiently by the body, according to the American Council on Exercise's overview of the 2010 symposium, "The Latest Scoop: Current Supplement Research." Whole egg or egg white protein powder -- also called albumen -- is safe for people who need to avoid lactose or gluten and supports muscle growth. Plant-source proteins have a lower bioavailability than animal proteins, but can still help you achieve results. Pea protein is a quality protein source that's lactose-free and gluten-free.
Protein timing refers to when you consume protein to maximize the benefits for building and maintaining muscle. For building muscle, key times to consume protein are when you first wake up, to replenish your stores after fasting during sleep; before your workout; post-exercise for recovery; and before bed. Carrying along a protein shake in an insulated bottle gives you protein when you're on the go, so you never risk missing a meal. Because casein protein powder clots in the stomach and absorbs slowly, taking it at bedtime can help to prevent muscle breakdown, a process called catabolism that occurs when the body's needs are higher than the available fuel.
Protein Powder Amounts
The most protein a strength-trained athlete can use is 2 grams per kilogram of body weight, but athletes may overestimate their protein needs, according to researchers from St. Louis University who published their results in the "Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition." Bodybuilders generally consume 1 to 1.5 grams of protein per kilogram, compared to the recommended daily intake of 0.08 grams of protein for adults, according to the Muscle and Strength website. There's no benefit to consuming excess protein -- excess calories from protein powder can be stored as fat, the same as excess calories from any other source.
Protein and Fat-Burning
In a study on middle-aged women, subjects who consumed a whey supplement containing 30 grams of protein after resistance exercise had lower levels of fat oxidation compared to exercisers who drank a placebo. Although calorie-burning wasn't affected, consuming whey protein diminished post-exercise fat-burning. The researchers concluded that it might benefit middle-aged women to delay ingesting protein after resistance exercise to maximize fat-burning. Although further research is needed, those who are using protein powder for weight-management or striving to reduce body fat before competition might improve their results by eating a piece of fruit after exercise for recovery and waiting an hour to consume protein.
- Muscle and Strength: How to Use Protein Supplements for Maximum Results
- The American Council on Exercise: The Latest Scoop: Current Supplement Research Overview
- Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition: Perceived Protein Needs and Measured Protein Intake in Collegiate Male Athletes
- International Journal of Sport Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism: Effect of Protein Ingestion on Energy Expenditure and Substrate Utilization After Exercise in Middle-aged Women