The fact that people use the term “take” protein powder, is a strong indication that the marketing strategies of the manufacturers has worked. We take Aspirin, and we take Antibiotics. These are medications with proven effects and measurable biochemical reactions. Protein powder, however, is not a drug – it’s just food. You can tell that people at the gym don’t think this is the case, the way they meticulously prepare their protein powder and mix it with water in exact quantities, then proceed to drink it with a studious expression. Protein powder is not an anabolic steroid, and will not yield magical results.
As mentioned above, the correct way to think about protein powder, is just as normal nutrition. This means that you should consume it instead of, or together with a meal during the day. The only real difference between protein powder and regular food, is that the protein is faster acting and more concentrated in the powder. This means that if you consume protein powder during a sedentary period during the day, or just before going to sleep, your body will not put the protein to any use. Rather, it will just be flushed through your system and expelled as urine. Furthermore, if you eat protein powder this way, it could be harmful to your kidneys in the long run, because these have to break down and filter the protein. If your kidneys have to process a large helping of isolated protein on a regular basis, they may develop problems. Studies have already shown that people who have pre-existing medical conditions with their kidneys should avoid protein supplements, as these are too taxing for the organs.
So when should you consume protein powder? The best time is right after a strenuous weights work out, when your body is demanding amino acids – the body’s building blocks – to repair the micro tears in your muscle fibre. It is precisely this process that leads to effective recovery and subsequent muscle growth over a period of several months. It is not advisable to eat protein powder after cardio, as this does not lead to the same demand for protein as a weights workout. It’s a good idea to take a portion of dry powder with you in a bottle to the gym, and then mix it with water according to the instructions on the label, and drink it right after you’ve finished your routine. This will supply your muscles with the short-term material to recover from the workout, and will avoid your system running out of building blocks.
How much protein powder should you eat? This depends greatly on your age, weight, gender and level of exertion at the gym. For a young, male hobby bodybuilder, about 30-40g of isolate protein is a reasonable portion. For the good brands this will correspond to about 23-27g of pure protein. Whey isolate is recognized as one of the best types of protein powder. Go for one of the big brands, and avoid packaging that promise unrealistic results such as instant muscle growth. As you advance, you may find that you require a larger or smaller amount of powder, depending on your constitution. Bodybuilding is very much an individual journey, and in the end only you know what’s right for yourself.