Protein is an essential part of any diet but especially for athletes as protein serves as a transformative piece for performance and recovery. Implementing protein into your diet doesn’t require cooking or extensive meal prep… it’s as simple as throwing ingredients into a blender or having a pre-made shake on hand before/ after a workout. There are benefits to incorporating protein into your routine when it comes to performance and recovery. This blog is going to discuss the importance of protein, various types of protein, and the best time to consume protein based on your genetics and/or athletic needs. 

 To start, let’s go into the different types of protein and how they are useful in our bodies. The forms of protein encompass diverse properties that expedite muscle repair and recovery and help alleviate the risk of muscle loss during periods of energy restriction. The role of protein in promoting athletic performance is divided along the lines of how much aerobic-based versus resistance-based training is involved. Swimmers seeking to gain muscle mass and strength are likely to consume higher amounts of dietary protein than those who are endurance-based. Your genes play an important role in muscle performance and how your body responds to exercise, recovery, and nutrient absorption. Choosing the right protein can enhance your muscle performance and prepare your body for extensive training.  

While protein consumption is slightly dependent on training status and should be consumed during periods of high-intensity training, increased protein intake has advantages for both resistance and endurance-based athletes in preventing lean mass losses during periods of rigorous training. 

 Here are the most common forms of protein supplements and how they differ from one another. 

 1) Whey protein: Whey protein is a milk protein that your body absorbs quickly, making it useful before or after your workout. Whey protein is highly absorbable, ideal for muscle building and preservation, and promotes recovery, especially for those who are resistance-trained individuals. 

 2) Casein protein: Casein digests more slowly than whey protein and is primarily consumed in the evening or nighttime to increase protein synthesis overnight, boosting muscle repair and growth. Casein is dairy-derived and provides a slower release of amino acids over time to help promote muscle growth and recovery.

 3) Soy protein: Soy protein is one of the few plant proteins that contains all of the essential amino acids, making it a complete protein source for vegetarians.

 4) Pea protein: Pea proteins do not contain all of the essential amino acids, but combining them makes them a complete protein. They’re low-allergenic, making them appealing to those with egg, dairy, or soy allergies. Pea protein is easily digestible and high in iron and arginine which is essential for creating nitric acid and promotes blood flow/ oxygen exchange 

 5) Hemp: Hemp protein is also plant-based, high in Omega-3 fatty acids, and includes a high dose of fiber and essential amino acids.

 Each of these forms of protein is digested differently in your body and differs when it comes to how quickly your body absorbs them. This is why it is important to consider which protein to take and when. Whey protein is the most commonly used high-quality protein and contains all the amino acids needed in your body. Whey is considered particularly beneficial for increasing the production of new protein in your muscles and comes in two forms: isolate and concentrate. You might see these terms written on the labels of protein powders and wonder what this means. Whey isolate and Whey concentrate differ in the way that they are processed and slightly vary in their nutritional content.

Whey isolate has lower lactose content and can be a better choice for those who have lactose intolerance. Whey isolate also has more protein and fewer carbs which can be more beneficial for post-practice fueling as your body needs to restore muscle mass and replenish nutrients. Regardless of which type you use, whey is a high-quality protein that can help you reach your daily protein intake goals. 

Brand Recommendation for Whey Isolate Protein

As far as non-dairy options, plant-based protein powders are just as effective and offer slight differences when it comes to nutritional benefits. Pea, soy, and hemp protein are all plant-based variations of protein and contain higher amounts of fiber, less fat, and in some cases have higher protein content than whey/ other dairy-baed protein powders. While pea, soy, and hemp are all great options for plant-based protein, it does not match gram for gram the essential amino acids provided in milk protein. Pea protein contains all of the essential amino acids and only has very small amounts of methionine, one of the essential nine. On the other hand, whey protein powder is considered a complete protein because it contains all nine essential amino acids. It contains especially high amounts of the essential branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs) leucine, isoleucine, and valine. However, if you are consuming a variety of protein sources throughout the day and eating adequate amounts of protein, plant-based protein is a great substitution for those with dietary accommodations. 

Brand Recommendation for Plant-Based Protein

If you want to take protein before bed, you may consider taking a form of casein protein. Casein is digested slowly, which means it can provide the body with a steady supply of protein through the night. Make a casein shake before bed to absorb protein and get a sustained release of amino acids while you sleep. 

Brand Recommendation for Casein Protein

When to take Protein: The 30-min window or anabolic window is the period in which your muscles absorb protein the easiest. Protein helps prevent muscle loss and maintains metabolic function in your body. Adequate protein intake may reduce the loss of muscle mass during exercise and promote protein absorption. Your muscle’s ability to synthesize protein is increased after exercise, so this is a critical time for providing your body with the right nutrients to benefit from this enhanced muscle protein synthesis. It’s important to choose a protein shake that also has carbohydrates as carbs replenish glycogen stores and help stimulate an insulin response. Heavy amounts of protein before a workout won’t necessarily hurt your body but can make you feel dense and heavy in the water. Protein is most useful when taken after a high-intensity workout and offers the most benefits for your body after you’ve finished a practice/ lift. Carbs on the other hand are great to have before a workout and keep the body fueled to carry you through a strenuous workout. Carbs help boost performance by increasing available energy and preventing muscle breakdown due to a lack of amino acids. 

Protein & Carbs:

decrease muscle protein breakdown

increase muscle protein synthesis (growth)

restore glycogen stores

enhance recovery

Here are a few protein shakes/ powders to consider before and after your workout. Keep in mind that carbs and protein should be consumed in equal parts after a workout so when using a low-carb protein powder, be mindful of this and incorporate additional ingredients to increase carb content.

Protein Before Practice:

Orgain Organic Vegan Protein Powder (high carb, high protein)

Evolve protein (equal carbs and protein)

Protein After Practice:

Klean isolate protein (low carb, high protein)

Evolve protein (equal carbs and protein)

Bipro water (low carb, high protein) 

Truvani Plant Based Protein Powder (low carb, high protein, *not NSF certified*) 

No matter which protein you choose, be sure to fuel your body properly before and after a workout to get the best out of your training/ performance. Feel free to comment with your favorite protein powders, and protein smoothie recipes, or if you have any questions! 

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