Adding protein powder to your daily diet has numerous advantages. To optimize protein powder effectiveness when taking it as a supplement, you need to understand how protein works in the body, the actions of its various components, and the optimum times to ingest the protein. It is currently recommended to consume a protein shake prior to and following a workout, but this is only one part of the puzzle regarding the use of protein supplementation to achieve a healthy weight, build and repair muscle, and promote stable glucose (sugar) levels in the blood. [1]

Protein powder effectiveness is linked to quality

Not all protein is the same. This is equally true for whole food sources of protein such as chicken and beef as well as protein powders. Dieticians typically suggest that whole foods are the best source of protein, but difficulty often arises in terms of assessing the quality and amount of protein that you can gain from eating meat, chicken, or fish. Taking protein powders, on the other hand, provides a more reliable amount and consistent quality of protein delivery for important metabolic processes in your body. Among the protein powders that are currently available (pure protein powders only), whey protein delivers the most grams per pound of protein, followed by casein and then soy. [2]

Protein powder effectiveness is linked to absorption and digestibility

The three main protein powders contain base ingredients: whey, casein, or soy. These are all protein sources that are easily digested by the body. They offer an advantage over whole food protein sources (e.g., meat, eggs, chicken, and fish) by providing ample amounts of protein and decreasing the amount of work the body has to do to use the proteins. In addition, when using protein powders, a significant reduction in calories occurs due to consuming high levels of pure protein, as opposed to eating increased amounts of whole food protein sources which often contain saturated fats. Furthermore, protein powders are designed to be easily absorbed into the body, although each has a different rate of absorption. [2] Whey and casein powders, which are derived from cows’ milk products, are easily processed by the body. Casein protein has unique qualities that cause it to be absorbed more slowly than the whey form. Soy protein, which is plant-based, is absorbed the quickest and is also used the fastest by the body.


Protein powder effectiveness is linked to utilization and timing

Studies have found that protein powder effectiveness is influenced by the time at which you take the supplement [3, 4]. More specifically, proteins that are absorbed fast (e.g., whey or soy) work best when they are ingested just prior to or directly after a period of intense workout. [4] Proteins that the body absorbs more slowly, such as casein, are recommended for night or early morning supplementation. [2] In these studies, research scientists found that if you provide your body with a slow digesting form of protein while sleeping or at the start of your day, your metabolic system is stimulated and stabilized. The metabolic system slows down while you are asleep and taking a protein supplement before bed results in a constant protein fuel source for muscle repair and growth as well as weight loss. [5].


  1. Aguirre N, van Loon LJ, Baar K. The role of amino acids in skeletal muscle adaptation to exercise. Nestle Nutr Inst Workshop Ser. 2013;76:85-102.
  2. Tang JE1, Moore DR, Kujbida GW, Tarnopolsky MA, Phillips SM.Ingestion of whey hydrolysate, casein, or soy protein isolate: effects on mixed muscle protein synthesis at rest and following resistance exercise in young men. J Appl Physiol (1985). 2009 Sep;107(3):987-92.
  3. Tipton, K. D., Elliott, T. A., Cree, M. G., Aarsland, A. A., Sanfor, A. P., & Wolfe, R. R. (2007). Stimulation of net muscle protein synthesis by whey protein ingestion before and after exercise. Am J Physio Endocrinal Metab, E71-E76.
  4. Tipton KD1, Rasmussen BB, Miller SL, Wolf SE, Owens-Stovall SK, Petrini BE, Wolfe RR.Timing of amino acid-carbohydrate ingestion alters anabolic response of muscle to resistance exercise. Am J Physiol Endocrinol Metab. 2001 Aug;281(2):E197-206.
  5. Bonnefoy, M., Cornu, C., Normand, S., Boutitie, F., Bugnard, F., Rahmani, A., et al. (2003). The effects of exercise and protein-energy supplements on body composition and muscle function in frail elderly individuals: a long-term controlled randomized study. British Journal of Nutrition, 731-738.

Last reviewed by Kate Marie on 06-Jul-2016