You probably know that adequate protein is important for muscle building and fat loss. Research says that when and how you consume that protein matters more.

A protein shake is a quick, convenient, and portable strategy for muscle building and fat loss.

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A protein shake is a quick, convenient, and portable strategy for muscle building and fat loss.

Protein needs vary by individual based on age, gender, activity level, and health status. Protein is crucial for muscle building and fat loss and timing it just right can make or break your results.

1. A review of nearly three dozen clinical trials reported that taking a protein shake with meals leads to more muscle building and fat loss than supplementing between meals.

2. One of my top recommendations for fat loss has always been to consume a protein shake before a meal. Whey protein in particular is known to have appetite-suppressant properties and if you do this, I can nearly guarantee that you will eat less at your next meal.

You burn more calories digesting and metabolizing protein than you do with either fat or carbohydrates. This is known as thermogenesis and it provides a metabolic boost.

3. If your priority is muscle building, I also advise protein supplementation with a meal but in a different form and for a different reason. In this situation, you’d be better off with an essential amino acid (EAA) supplement rather than a protein shake.

The protein shake, with its liquid contents, provides too much satiety.  This is beneficial when dieting down but will make it difficult to get through your entire mass-building meal and it may be hard to hit your macros as a result. 

I suggest taking 3 to 5 grams of EAAs in the form of capsules or tablets at or near the end of a meal. This is also when I take my vitamins in an effort to avoid—or at least delay—any bloat or stomach distention that could otherwise ruin the meal.

Supplementing with a balanced amino acid supplement has the added benefit of making what you’re eating more of a muscle building meal. Certain protein sources lack several of the nine essential amino acids and are therefore considered incomplete. These include plant proteins, such as grains, beans, and nuts. This approach would obviously appeal to vegetarians and vegans.

Taking an amino acid supplement with these inferior protein sources will make the meal more balanced and provide a more effective muscle building and fat loss effect.

4. It’s still a good idea to drink a post-workout protein shake to jumpstart the muscle building and fat loss process.  A whey protein shake consumed on its own, away from a meal, will be taken in by your muscle cells much more quickly and efficiently.

Some protein sources are more effective than others for muscle building and fat loss. 

Photo by Fábio Alves on Unsplash
Some protein sources are more effective than others for muscle building and fat loss.

5. Finally, if you find it difficult to meet your daily protein requirements through consumption of whole food sources alone, then obviously protein supplements can be of value.

Keep in mind that participants in these types of research studies are often physique competitors or athletes. Protein dosage, timing, and frequency should be tailored to your individual muscle building and fat loss goals.