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The definitive guide to protein: when, how much, and what kind

With all of the supplementation options you have at your disposal – BCAAs, creatine, betaine, pre-workout, and on and on and on – you, if you’re someone like me, might think that your protein is the last thing you need to worry about.

I mean, it’s everywhere. Protein is a major part of the Western diet. Is it possible you’re not getting enough? Or maybe you’re getting enough but not from the right sources or you’re not ingesting it at the right time of day.

Wait, what? That stuff matters?

Yes. It does.

If you’re looking to maximize your potential you need to consider the little things. And protein is a big little thing.

Because protein isn’t so simple, I want to help you navigate these tough waters and answer some questions you may have. Mainly, how much protein you need, when you should be ingesting it, and what sources you should stick to the most.

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But first, a little primer on protein synthesis and why protein is important for muscular adaptation to exercise.

Why you need adequate protein in your diet, especially with exercise

Muscle grows and adapts by being broken down and rebuilding. One of the things that causes muscle to break down is exercise.

Muscles, as most people know and think of them, are made up of muscle fibers.

Muscle fibers contain even smaller units called myofibrils that are made up of long proteins (it’s these proteins that work to shorten, or contract, the muscle fiber and the muscle as a whole).

In response to exercise (and the breakdown of muscle that happens with it), new myofibrils and new sections of protein units (called sarcomeres) are formed; both add to the contractile surface area of the muscle increasing force production ability and also the size of the muscle (science talk for stronger and bigger).

These new myofibrils and sarcomeres are made up of protein. If you want to make new things made up of protein there has to be protein around, right? You can’t build a brick house if there’s no bricks lying around.

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And all of that is why you need to make sure you have enough protein in your diet: exercise breaks down protein, which needs to be rebuilt.

How much protein is enough?

According to the Institute of Medicine, you need 0.66 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight to prevent protein deficiency if you’re an adult.

How much you need to facilitate protein synthesis after resistance are cardio training isn’t as cut and dry – it all depends on the type of exercise, how much muscle tissue was broken down, and how much needs to be rebuilt.

Here are some protein intake guidelines based on the type and amount of activity you may be doing (all numbers use a 150-pound person as an example).

  • For a recreational athlete

0.5 to 0.7 grams per pound of body weight (75-105 grams per day).

  • For an endurance athlete

0.5 to 0.8 grams per pound of body weight (75-120 grams per day).

  • If you’re strength training

0.5 to 0.8 grams per pound of body weight (75-120 grams per day).

  • If you’re a teenage athlete

0.7 to 0.9 grams per pound of body weight (105-135 grams per day).

  • If you’re an athlete building mass

0.6 to 0.9 grams per pound of body weight (90-135 grams per day).

  • If you’re an athlete restricting calories

0.9 to 1.0 grams per pound of body weight (135-150 grams per day).

** these values based on the recommendations of Susan Kunrat, a Registered Dietitian and Certified Specialist in Sports Dietetics **

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When is the best time to have protein?

If you’re not exercising that day, consume protein evenly throughout the day. Based on the recommended intake for a strength training athlete, you’ll be consuming 120 grams of protein per day – that means you should have 30 grams at breakfast, lunch, and dinner and split up the remaining 30 grams between your snacks.

Evenly distributing the intake throughout the day ensures there’s always protein available for protein synthesis.

If you’re planning on exercising that day (and we’re still using the strength training protein consumption guidelines as an example here), have 30 grams with breakfast and lunch, 20 grams with dinner, 20 grams 30-60 minutes before you work out (alongside 35 grams of carbohydrates), and another 20 grams (with 35 grams of carbohydrates) 15-30 minutes after you work out.

The pre-workout snack is enough to provide fuel to working muscles during exercise, and the post-workout snack stimulates the release of growth hormone – a critical anabolic hormone that stimulates protein synthesis.

Protein sources

The better the protein source, the more effective it will be. The quality of the protein source is dictated by the amino acids (the building blocks of protein) it contains and how easy it is to digest.

Complete proteins contain all the essential amino acids. Meat, chicken, fish/shellfish, eggs, dairy foods, and soy foods are all complete proteins.

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If you can’t hit your protein consumption goals with the foods in your diet, protein supplementation is a good option.

Go with something like Whey: it’s quickly digested, and it contains a complete amino acid profile. A good supplement will have at least 35 grams of protein per serving, be low in fat, and have relatively little carbohydrate.


That’s everything you need to know about protein and your diet. If you want to build more muscle, you need enough protein – it’s that simple. Now that you know that you can focus your energy on picking good protein sources and proper timing throughout the day and surrounding your workouts.

As always, be sure to follow the blog for a new article every week, follow Healthy Wheys on social media (Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter) and be sure to contact me: I’m here to help you live a happier, healthier, more prosperous life.







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