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Protein is an important part of a balanced diet. Some people consume protein to help them lose weight or gain muscle mass, but the best time to take that protein is not yet clear.

There is some evidence that consuming protein can help a person lose weight, and there is clear evidence that it can help people build muscle mass if they also exercise.

However, research has not yet clearly identified the best time to consume protein. It is also unclear whether there is a best time at all, why this is the case, and whether it is the case for everyone.

Most people in the United States get enough protein in their diet. Still, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) says that many people should vary the protein-containing foods they eat.

If a person is trying to build muscle mass, they may also take protein in the form of supplements to help them build muscle tissue after exercise.

This article discusses when to consume protein, suggests some products a person can consider, and answers some frequently asked questions.

A quick look at the best protein supplements

There is some evidence that eating protein can help a person lose weight.

Evidence suggests protein does this in part by increasing satiety, which is the feeling of being full.

For example, a 2018 study involving people with obesity and insulin resistance suggests that a high protein diet can suppress the hunger hormone ghrelin.

Additionally, an older 2016 study suggests that eating snacks that contain protein may reduce the number of calories a person consumes at their next meal.

However, the authors of the 2016 study also point out that studies demonstrating this are scarce and sometimes conflicting. The authors note that more studies are necessary to confirm their findings.

Researchers who performed a 2016 meta-analysis came to the same conclusion. They concluded that higher protein intake made people feel fuller. However, they noted that the results of the study may not be applicable in everyday situations or suggest an effect on health.

A 2019 review notes that higher protein intakes can help people prevent regaining weight they have lost.

Currently, there is little solid evidence regarding when the best time might be to eat protein to encourage weight loss.

Research on the relationship between protein and weight loss, including when the best time is to eat protein for this purpose, is still evolving.

Various studies have looked at whether there is a link between the time a person consumes protein and hypertrophy, which is how much muscle a person builds after exercise.

More research is necessary to determine whether there is a link between the timing of protein intake and the amount of muscle a person builds.

A 2017 review suggests that, while evidence is conflicting about the best time to consume protein after exercise, athletes who eat protein soon after working out are more likely to consume enough protein over the course of a day to build muscle.

The researchers conclude that there are no known downsides to eating protein before or after a workout. Also, if that helps an athlete get sufficient nutrients for their body to recover, then there is no issue.

The most explicit message from current research is that if a person wants to build muscle, then consuming enough protein is more important than the timing of consuming the protein.

Importantly, many of these studies assume that the person consuming the protein is an athlete doing many hours of intense exercise each week. The average person only needs to consume a balanced diet, supplementing this with more protein than usual if they are focusing their exercise on building muscle.

A 2018 review suggests that consuming protein before or after exercise significantly increases protein muscle synthesis, helping muscles recover and helping build muscle mass. This suggests that it may be best to consume protein before or after exercise.

A 2017 review also found that protein supplements helped build muscle after resistance exercises.

This review included studies in which participants took 4–106 grams (g) of protein supplements per day and 5–44 g of protein after exercise on training days.

The authors found that protein supplements caused significant changes in muscle strength and size during longer resistance exercise training sessions. They also noted that increased age increased the effectiveness of protein supplements during this type of exercise.

However, taking more than 1.6 g of protein per kilogram (kg) of body weight per day did not enhance these effects.

A 2022 review concluded that increasing daily protein intake produced only small improvements in lean body mass and lower body muscle strength.

Medical News Today chooses products that meet the following criteria:

  • Ingredients: MNT chooses products containing safe and high quality ingredients that are clearly labeled. Products must also confirm that they are free from pesticides, heavy metals, and mold.
  • Dosage: MNT chooses products that clearly state the supplement dosage.
  • Serving size: MNT selects products for which manufacturers recommend a safe dosage.
  • Third-party testing: MNT chooses products that undergo third-party testing for contaminants by an ISO 17025-compliant laboratory.
  • Available certificate of analysis (COA): MNT chooses companies that demonstrate transparency and share a product’s COA following receipt of its third-party lab results.

Below are four of the best protein powders a person can order online.

Please note that the writer of this article has not tried these products. All information presented is purely research-based and correct at the time of publication. Medical News Today follows a strict product selection and vetting process. Learn more here.

Best pea protein: Now Sports Nutrition Pea Protein Powder

  • Protein dose: 15 milligrams (mg)
  • Serving suggestion: Add 2 scoops to 6 ounces (oz) of cold water or juice daily.
  • Servings: 34
  • Price: around $22

This unflavored plant-based protein powder gets its protein from peas, a protein source that the manufacturer claims is easily digestible.

A 2019 study suggests that pea protein is just as beneficial as whey protein for building muscle and helping muscles recover after workouts.

Now Sports also notes that this protein powder is keto-friendly and suitable for vegans.

Each 2-scoop serving provides 15 g of protein, around 2,700 mg of branched-chain amino acids, and more than 1,300 mg of arginine.

The company states that its manufacturing process is CGMP certified. This includes its lab testing for product potency, stability, and formulation.

Positive online reviews mention that the powder blends well with drinks and that its pea-based protein does not irritate the stomach.

However, negative reviews criticize its flavor.

Some pros and cons a person may wish to consider include:

Pros

  • may be easy to digest
  • affordable
  • CGMP-certified manufacturing process
  • contains extra amino acids

Cons

  • lower dose of protein than some other products
  • some complaints about unpleasant flavor

A person can order Now Sports Organic Pea Protein Powder online for around $22.

Best for post-exercise recovery: Optimum Nutrition Casein Powder

  • Protein dose: 24 g
  • Serving suggestion: Mix 1 scoop with cold water or milk before bed.
  • Servings: 53
  • Price: around $75

Optimum Nutrition writes that this chocolate-flavored protein powder releases the protein over a few hours. The company recommends using it for overnight recovery from exercise.

The company also claims that the product can help a person feel full.

Each scoop contains 24 g of protein, which equals 48% of a person’s recommended daily intake. It also includes:

  • 500 mg calcium
  • 1.5 mg iron
  • 230 mg potassium
  • 85 mg magnesium
  • 11 mg zinc

It comes in Chocolate Supreme, Chocolate Peanut Butter, and Cookies and Cream flavors.

Positive reviews note that it helps increase feelings of fullness and that customers enjoyed the flavor.

However, some reviews say that it is too expensive and makes drinks too thick.

Some pros and cons a person may wish to consider include:

Pros

  • comes in a range of flavors
  • slow-releasing
  • works overnight

Cons

  • artificially flavored
  • contains sugar
  • expensive

A person can order a 3.97-pound (lb) bottle online for around $75.

Best for added amino acids: Momentous Essential Plant Based Pea and Rice Protein Powder

  • Protein dose: 20 g
  • Serving suggestion: Mix 1 scoop with a 12-oz cold drink.
  • Servings: 20
  • Price: about $47

Momentous writes that this protein powder is 100% plant-based, vegan-friendly, and gluten-free.

It also contains all nine essential amino acids. The company claims that this helps accelerate muscle recovery when people use the product after exercise.

Each 1-scoop serving contains 20 g of protein, 9 g of carbohydrates, and 140 calories.

The company claims that this product holds National Sanitation Foundation (NSF) for Sport certification. This means Momentous complies with strict manufacturing standards.

The product also holds Informed Sport certification, which means it does not contain substances that are banned in sports.

It comes in Vanilla Chai and Chocolate flavors.

Positive reviews say that this supplement makes people feel full, while negative reviews criticize the Vanilla Chai flavor.

Some pros and cons a person may wish to consider include:

Pros

  • contains added amino acids
  • safe for sport
  • GMO- and gluten-free

Cons

  • only two flavors available
  • 140 calories per serving
  • contains around 15% of a person’s recommended daily sodium intake

A person can order Momentous Essential Protein Powder online for around $47.

Best whey protein: Optimum Nutrition Gold Standard 100% Whey Protein Powder

  • Protein dose: 24 g
  • Serving suggestion: Mix 1 scoop with 180–240 milliliters of cold water or milk.
  • Servings: 28–141
  • Price: about $35–129

Optimum Nutrition writes that each serving of this gluten-free whey protein powder contains 24 g of protein, 5.5 g of naturally occurring BCAAs, and 11 g of naturally occurring essential amino acids.

According to the label, this product has been tested for banned substances and does not contain artificial growth hormones.

It comes in a range of flavors, including Chocolate Peanut Butter, Mocha Cappuccino, and Vanilla Ice Cream.

A person can choose to purchase a 2-, 4.65-, 5-, or 10-lb pack.

Positive customer reviews note that it tastes good and blends well with drinks.

However, negative comments say that it is not suitable for people with lactose intolerance.

Some pros and cons a person may wish to consider include:

Pros

  • high number of positive reviews
  • free of banned substances
  • high dose of protein

Cons

  • contains milk and soy
  • contains sodium and cholesterol
  • expensive

A person can order Optimum Nutrition Whey Protein Powder online for about $35–129.

The table below compares the products in this article.

Now Sports Nutrition Pea Protein PowderOptimum Nutrition Casein PowderMomentous Essential Plant Based Pea and Rice Protein PowderOptimum Nutrition Whey Protein Powder
Protein dose15 mg24 g20 g24 g
Serving suggestion2 scoops daily1 scoop before bed1 scoop daily1 scoop daily
Servings345320 28–141
Priceabout $22about $75about $47about $35–129

A person can consider the following factors when choosing a protein supplement:

  • Type of protein: A person may wish to consider the source of protein in the supplement, which is typically either whey or plants. People who have lactose intolerance or follow a vegan or vegetarian diet may prefer plant-based protein, as whey protein contains lactose.
  • Amount of protein per serving: Some supplements deliver a higher dose of protein per serving. A person should consider their overall protein intake per day before choosing which dose to take as a supplement. Consuming too much protein can cause side effects.
  • Flavors: Brands sell protein supplements in a range of flavored and unflavored options. A person can consider what they would like to mix their protein supplement with before buying.
  • Size: A person should consider how often they want to take protein before buying a supplement. Some products come in larger quantities that can last for a month, while others come in single-serving packets.
  • Price: Protein supplements can be expensive, and a person should consider their budget and how many servings their chosen protein supplement will provide.

A person should not take protein if they have already consumed their recommended intake of protein for the day.

According to a 2016 review, eating more than 2 g of protein per kg of body weight daily can lead to health problems. Symptoms of ingesting too much protein can include:

A person should consult a doctor before adding more protein to their diet.

This is particularly true for people with type 2 diabetes, as protein consumption can increase insulin responses in the body.

A person should be aware of any added ingredients in protein powders, such as sugars or preservatives.

Additionally, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) does not regulate protein powders. This means that the FDA does not test these products to find out whether they contain what the manufacturers claim.

An advocacy group, Clean Label Project, found that of 130 top-selling protein powders, many contained bisphenol A (BPA), lead, mercury, cadmium, and arsenic.

A person should not take protein supplements that have not undergone third-party testing for safety.

Learn about the best heavy metal tests.

Below, we answer some frequently asked questions.

Is whey or plant protein better?

A 2019 study found that plant protein has similar benefits to whey protein. The two types of protein promote similar benefits for muscle strength, muscle growth, performance, and body composition. They also contain similar amounts of protein.

However, whey protein contains lactose, which makes it unsuitable for people with lactose intolerance.

Plant protein is suitable for vegans and those with lactose intolerance, so it may be a better option for some. Those with soy allergies may wish to avoid some plant-based protein powders.

Additionally, a 2020 review suggests that people should add more plant protein to their diet to reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease.

What time of day is best to consume protein?

There is limited research on the best time of day to consume protein. It may depend on a person’s reason for taking protein.

If a person wants to take protein to lose weight, they may benefit from having protein snacks between meals, as this can increase satiety and may lead a person to eat less at their next meal.

If a person is consuming protein to build muscle, they may benefit from taking protein after a workout.

Certain supplements are formulated to release protein content slowly. These are more suitable for overnight post-exercise recovery.

Research suggests that increasing the amount of protein in a person’s diet may be beneficial for weight management and for building muscle mass after exercise.

For professional athletes, marginal differences in muscle development may result in small but significant performance improvements. Therefore, they may benefit from experimenting with consuming protein at different times of day.

However, most people who are not athletes only need to consume enough protein to ensure that their diet is balanced.