You’ve got the basics down. You’re training hard and hitting your macros daily. Now – you’re looking for that edge to maximize results from your sessions. If you’re like most people, chances are, you’re thinking “What workout supplements should I take now?”
But do a simple Google search and you’ll quickly find yourself overwhelmed.
This begs the question. Where do you even start? Pre-workouts, post-workouts, creatine, whey protein, BCAAs – they all merge into a giant wall of confusion. And more importantly, how would you know which workout supplements are truly worth your money (i.e. proven to work)?
To help you out, I’m going to provide a full rundown of the few workout supplements that actually work (no matter if you’re a beginner or not), what they’re supposed to do, and how you can take them.
Let’s get right into it.
Workout supplement #1: Caffeine
Disclaimer: this is my favorite workout supplement.
Be it waking up to the intoxicating aroma of freshly brewed coffee or enjoying a quick pick-me-up cup of tea in the afternoon, these daily pleasures have a common ingredient most of us can’t live without: caffeine.
Now, you might only know caffeine as the life saver that gets you through your days. But did you know there are also benefits to getting caffeine before your workout?
What is caffeine?
Caffeine is a psychoactive substance that occurs naturally in the leaves, seeds, or fruit of more than 60 plant species, including:
- Coffee beans
- Tea leaves and buds
- Cacao beans
- Dola nuts
- Guarana seeds
- Yerba mate leaf
There is also synthetic caffeine (i.e. synthesized in a laboratory), which is typically added to some medicines, foods, and drinks.
And just so you know, ‘psychoactive’ refers to any chemical substance that changes a person’s mental state by affecting the way the brain and nervous system work.
Caffeine is also further classified as a stimulant.
What does that mean? Well, caffeine (literally) stimulates your central nervous system – which can increase your mental alertness and boost energy levels.
Now, I’m sure you already know this, but caffeine use is ridiculously common. It is the world’s most popular psychoactive drug and is completely unregulated throughout much of the globe.
How does caffeine affect workout performance?
Talk to a group of athletes, and you’d be hard-pressed to find one that isn’t supplementing with caffeine. Why? Well, because caffeine is one of the most research-backed workout supplements that enhances performance across an array of activities:
- Endurance: Research has consistently shown that pure caffeine can help endurance athletes cycle for longer and run faster (1, 2, 3). Caffeine enables this by reducing the perception of effort (i.e. the session becomes ‘easier’), thus helping athletes work harder for longer (4, 5).
- High-intensity: Caffeine can help improve passing accuracy in rugby, 500-meter rowing performance, soccer- and bike sprint times (6, 7, 8, 9, 10). That said, research currently suggests that caffeine’s beneficial effects on performance for high-intensity activities may only apply to trained individuals. There is typically little to no improvements for beginners or those who are untrained (11, 12).
- Power-based: The current body of research suggests that caffeine can improve muscular endurance (e.g. amount of reps performed at a certain weight) and is thought to be beneficial for power-based activities that use large muscle groups, repetitions or circuits (13, 14, 15).
Surprisingly, caffeine can also positively affect your workout performance in an indirect manner. And that is: reducing muscle soreness.
According to a study by the University of Illinois, study participants drinking coffee experienced less muscle soreness during and after workouts (16). Other research suggests that drinking coffee can reduce exercise-induced muscle pain by 50% (17).
On the whole, it seems that caffeine provides a two-fold benefit: first, in improving athletic recovery, and next in lessening the amount of time required for muscle recovery (18).
That means supplementing with coffee may allow you to ramp up your training intensity.
How should I take caffeine?
If you’re like most people, you probably don’t need to take caffeine because you’re already getting it from your coffee. But, from a workout supplementation point of view, here are a couple of points to consider to maximize your performance.
Caffeine dose is often based on body weight and set at around 3 to 6 mg per kg of body weight. This comes up to about 200 to 400 mg daily for most people, although some studies use up to 600 to 900 mg.
That said, you can start feeling the effects of caffeine with as little as 0.3 mg/kg of bodyweight (roughly 20 mg). Especially if you’ve never used it before.
It’s important to note that your body can develop a tolerance to caffeine.
In other words, the effects of caffeine decrease over time with regular consumption. So, whenever possible, you want to have as little caffeine as possible that still allows you to experience its benefits, but without developing a high tolerance for it. Yep, it’s a fine line.
I hear you asking – “Ok, now tell me about timing. Do I take caffeine before my workout or after? And how much should I take?”
Because caffeine levels in your bloodstream peak approximately 60 minutes after consumption, you should take it 30 to 45 minutes pre-workout. A crucial thing to note is that caffeine has a relatively long half-life of about 6 hours.
That means that if you take a 200 mg caffeine pre-workout supplement at 6 pm, you’ll still have half that amount in your body at midnight. And this, in turn, can affect your sleep cycle! Thus, bringing us to the next point: caffeine’s side effects.
Are there any side effects?
At first glance, 400 mg of caffeine a day (roughly the amount you’d get in 4 cups of coffee) may seem like a number you are unlikely to hit. But even if you ‘only’ have 2 cups of coffee a day, it’s worth pointing out that caffeine can show up in other things like energy drinks, chocolate, and protein bars.
Meaning that you could be taking in more caffeine than you intended on a daily basis. And that can increase the probability of you experiencing caffeine-related side effects, including:
- Increased heart rate
- Insomnia or sleep disruption
- Stomach discomfort
Also, note that caffeine is addictive. You can experience withdrawal if you habitually consume more than 200 mg of caffeine a day. Withdrawal symptoms can last for 2 to 9 days and include headaches, anxiety, depression, and cravings.
If you ever do find yourself struggling with caffeine withdrawal symptoms, you can alleviate them by weaning off the dosage until the desired amount is reached.
On a related note, avoid taking caffeine if you have high blood pressure or a heart condition.
And more importantly, you could die from overdosing on extremely high amounts of caffeine. So please do not confuse milligrams with grams!
Regardless, it’s clear that caffeine – when taken in appropriate dosages – provides more benefits than risks.
Sources of caffeine
Studies show that whether you take caffeine as a pill or drink it makes little difference to exercise performance. However, there are some additional health benefits when taking it from natural sources.
Let’s examine why through some of the most common sources of caffeine.
- Coffee: Arguably the most popular source of caffeine, this delivery system is loaded with antioxidants that can lessen the oxidative damage your muscles experience. But caffeine levels vary widely depending on types of beans and preparation methods (19, 20).
- Brewed coffee: 1 cup of brewed coffee (8 oz) contains about 95 mg of caffeine on average.
- Espresso: One shot of espresso (1 to 1.75 oz) generally contains about 63 mg of caffeine.
- Instant coffee: Usually contains less caffeine than regular coffee, with one cup containing roughly 30 to 90 mg of caffeine.
- Tea: As with coffee, tea is loaded with antioxidants. And similarly, the amount of caffeine in tea can vary significantly depending on the origin, type, and preparation of the drink (21, 22).
- Black tea: An average cup (8 oz) of black tea packs 47 mg of caffeine but can contain as much as 90 mg.
- Green tea: An average cup (8 oz) of green tea delivers 20 to 45 mg of caffeine.
- White tea: Delivers 6 to 60 mg of caffeine per cup (8 oz).
- Energy drinks: Typically provide you with 75 to 120 mg of caffeine per 8 oz. While convenient, energy drinks are typically loaded with sugar (unless you opt for the sugar-free variants), which can throw you out of your calorie deficit if you’re not careful.
- Dark chocolate: Typically delivers 12 mg of caffeine per oz. Other than its caffeine content, dark chocolate is also loaded with nutrients that can positively impact your health (e.g. lower the risk of heart disease). That said, be sure to choose a product that’s at least 70% cocoa. Otherwise, it’s likely you’d be consuming more calories than benefits.
- Pre-workout supplements: If you’re looking for a fuss-free, convenient way to get your caffeine fix, a pre-workout supplement is your best bet. These typically deliver 150 to 300 mg of caffeine per serving.
- Caffeine is one of the most effective, yet affordable, workout supplements for beginners.
- When supplemented in recommended doses, caffeine is also relatively safe to use.
- Caffeine can benefit high-intensity exercise, endurance performance, and power sports.
Workout supplement #2: Creatine monohydrate
Ever seen gym-goers tossing mysterious workout supplements (in powdered form) into their mouths? Creatine monohydrate is probably one of them.
Chances are, you’ve already heard of the muscle-building benefits of creatine monohydrate.
And given how delicious some of these creatine shakes can smell (mm, did someone say berry burst?), you must have wondered if it’s really useful.
Well, continue reading, and get the answers below on whether it one of the select few workout supplements worth taking.
What is creatine? What is creatine monohydrate?
‘Creatine’ sounds awfully foreign and unfamiliar, doesn’t it? And if you’re like most people, your mind will naturally gravitate toward this line of reasoning: “If it sounds complex, it must be dangerous!”
Well, that couldn’t be further from the truth.
As surprising as it is to hear, your body naturally makes creatine every day – you just don’t realize it. When you eat meat (a thick slab of delicious steak, for example), your liver and kidneys take in the amino acids to produce creatine naturally.
But – why would your body make creatine in the first place? Good question.
That’s because creatine plays a crucial role in keeping you alive. It stores high-energy phosphate groups in the form of phosphocreatine, which is then generated into adenosine triphosphate (ATP), your body’s main source of energy.
Phew. That was a whole lot of jargon. If you’ve got a frown on your face, don’t worry. Here’s a simpler way to think about it.
Creatine helps your body produce energy. Yep, it’s really as simple as that.
Alright – you now have a clear idea of what creatine is. What about creatine monohydrate? Well, as suggested by its name, it’s simply creatine with one molecule of water attached to it.
What are the benefits of taking creatine monohydrate?
To better answer this question, we first need to take a look at another: “How does creatine monohydrate work?”
Well, remember how creatine stores high-energy phosphate groups in the form of phosphocreatine? When you supplement with creatine, you’re increasing the phosphocreatine stores in your muscles.
From high-intensity exercise to heavy lifting, from walking to sprinting, etc.
So – you have more energy by supplementing with creatine. How does this then benefit your workout, exactly?
#1: Increases muscle strength
If you’ve been stuck on the same weight for your barbell hip thrust (or any other exercise) for the longest time, creatine supplementation might just help you break out of the plateau.
An overwhelming amount of research shows that creatine monohydrate supplementation is highly effective at producing strength gains:
- When added to a training program, creatine increased strength by 8%, weightlifting performance by 14%, and bench press 1RM by up to 43%, compared to training alone (25).
- 28 days of creatine supplementation increased bench press performance by 6% (26).
Now, you may be wondering, “How does creatine make me stronger?” Good question.
Because creatine increases your muscles’ store of phosphocreatine, you’re able to resynthesize ATP (i.e. energy) at a high rate. Meaning that you’d have more energy during your workouts. So, you’ll be able to do a few more reps with a heavier weight, for example. That’s a greater training volume!
And that, over time, leads to strength gains.
So – no, creatine is not a magic pill. You cannot just take it and hope to get stronger without working out!
#2: Boosts lean body mass
Many of the supplements out there that promise ‘quick muscle gains’ are either outright lying or contain steroids. Thankfully, though, creatine monohydrate is one of the few that delivers on its promise (without involving steroids!) – both in the short- and long-term:
- Short-term: Creatine helps your muscles retain water, which makes them appear fuller and more pumped up (27, 28). Instant gains!
- Long-term: Remember how creatine gives you more energy during your workouts? Well, because you’re now able to manage a higher training volume (e.g. more sets and reps), this leads to greater muscle growth over time (29, 30, 31). Not to mention, creatine also raises levels of IGF-1 (insulin-like growth factor), a hormone that promotes muscle growth (32).
This point is worth reiterating: creatine is not a magic powder that’ll turn fat mass into muscle mass.
You do still need to put in the resistance training work to reap the most benefits.
Otherwise, you might not even get to keep the short-term gains (i.e. water retention in your muscles) as your muscles would get smaller with infrequent use.
#3: Enhances athletic performance
It’s not all about an increase in strength and muscle mass with creatine supplementation, though.
Normally, your ATP stores become depleted after 8 to 10 seconds of high-intensity activity. But because creatine helps you regenerate more ATP in a given amount of time, you can maintain optimal performance for a few seconds longer.
And that means you’ll be able to sprint faster, pump out more reps, and – basically, engage more forcefully in whatever sport or exercise you take part in. A great example is intense HIIT workouts where you’re constantly pushed to perform with limited rest.
#4: Boosts brain health
By now, creatine can almost seem like a miracle drug (if you put in the work, of course). But wait – there’s more!
Just like your muscles, your brain stores phosphocreatine and requires plenty of ATP for optimal function (36, 37). And there is research that suggests some conditions like Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, and epilepsy can all be helped by supplementing with creatine (38, 39, 40, 41, 42).
Creatine supplementation might also help memory and cognition in the elderly (43).
All that said, though, more research on the cognitive effects of creatine in humans is definitely needed. But current studies definitely highlight creatine’s potential in treating neurological disease.
How much creatine monohydrate should I take daily?
I don’t know about you, but based on all the information I’ve read thus far, it certainly seems like there’s a lot to be gained from creatine supplementation.
And as with all workout supplements, that naturally leads to the question, ‘How much creatine monohydrate should I take daily?’
And that, in turn, leads to the topic of creatine monohydrate loading. Current research recommends a ‘loading’ dose of 10 to 20 g (5 g dosages split throughout the day) for 5 to 7 days, followed by a 3 to 5 g maintenance dose thereafter (44).
This helps with a rapid increase in muscle stores in creatine, which enables you to see quicker results from supplementation.
However, if you’re concerned about taking that much creatine a day, the other simpler strategy would be to just take 3 to 5 g a day. This is especially so if you experience stomach issues with 20 g of creatine.
With this strategy, your creatine stores will be full in 3 to 4 weeks.
If you’re still sitting on the fence as to whether you want to go through with creatine monohydrate loading, well, I’d say it’s really dependent upon the speed at which you’re looking to load.
Me, personally, I didn’t go through with the loading phase. It took a little longer to get the creatine loaded into my muscles for sure, but I was in no hurry anyway.
Which type of creatine is best?
Even though I’ve only brought up ‘creatine monohydrate,’ the truth is, there are many types of creatine workout supplements available. And this can be pretty confusing for you – like, how are you supposed to choose between creatine ethyl ester, creatine hydrochloride, etc.?
Types of creatine
Don’t worry. Here’s everything to know about the different forms of creatine available in the market:
- Creatine ethyl ester: Supplement companies boast that creatine ethyl ester is superior to other creatine forms when, in fact, it does not appear to be as effective as the monohydrate form (45). It is generally not recommended for use.
- Creatine hydrochloride: There was much initial excitement about creatine hydrochloride’s (creatine HCI) increased solubility in water – it’s 38 times more soluble than the monohydrate form (46). But because there are no published studies on creatine HCI in humans, it’s pretty hard to justify why anyone would want to choose this form over creatine monohydrate. Especially when creatine HCI is much more expensive.
- Buffered creatine: While initially thought to be more potent and effective at reducing stomach upset, follow-up research found no differences between buffered and monohydrate forms of creatine in terms of efficacy or side effects (47).
- Liquid creatine: Refers to ready-to-drink versions, where manufacturers have already dissolved creatine in water. Unfortunately, current research indicates that the added convenience you gain is not worth it. Liquid creatine is less effective than monohydrate powders (48, 49). It appears that creatine may break down when it remains in liquid for extended periods (50).
- Creatine magnesium chelate: A form of the supplement where magnesium is attached to the creatine molecule. While it seems that creatine magnesium chelate may be effective, research indicates that it isn’t any better than standard monohydrate forms (51).
- Creatine monohydrate: The form of creatine used in the majority of research on the topic (52). Because it’s scientifically-backed to be safe and effective, creatine monohydrate has long been thought as the gold standard for this supplement. It definitely doesn’t hurt that creatine monohydrate is the most affordable too.
Bottom line? Just go for creatine monohydrate.
Creatine monohydrate vs. micronized creatine
Now, you might stumble upon another term when researching the best creatine monohydrate supplement to buy, and that’s ‘micronized creatine.’
All that really means is creatine that’s been processed to reduce the particle size of the powder. And while this process increases the supplement’s water solubility, research indicates that nothing changes in terms of absorption or effectiveness (53).
Meaning that all you need to care about is that you’re choosing creatine monohydrate. Nothing else matters – including whether it’s been micronized or not.
Does it matter when I take creatine monohydrate?
From boosting strength to building muscle to promoting brain health, the benefits of creatine supplementation are crystal clear.
Does the timing at which you take it matter?
And perhaps a more pressing question should be: do you take creatine monohydrate before or after your workout? Well, as with everything health and fitness, there are multiple camps when it comes to creatine supplementation timing. 3 of them, to be exact:
- Before a workout: Based on the thought process that since more creatine equals more ATP, you’ll enjoy better energy levels during your workouts. And that can, obviously, lead to better gains as you’ll be able to train more intensely.
- After a workout: Focuses on how your muscles are depleted of nutrients after a workout and are thus ‘primed’ for creatine (along with other workout supplements). That means feeding your muscles will ‘soak up’ creatine easily, thus receiving all of its benefits.
- Whenever you want: Believes that there’s no need to stress yourself about creatine supplementation timing. You’ll see the benefits so long as you take the recommended dosage, no matter if you load or not.
Should I take creatine monohydrate before or after workouts?
Unfortunately, there really hasn’t been much in-depth research into creatine timing until recently. And with the limited studies available, it’s not clear whether there are any reliable differences between taking creatine before or after exercise (54, 55).
Before you immediately think, “Oh, I’ll just take it whenever then,” hear me out.
While research is still limited, it does seem like supplementing shortly before or after exercise may be better (more muscle and strength gains) than supplementing long before or after exercise (56).
Meaning that it may be more advantageous for you to take creatine close to your workouts. Although it still doesn’t matter if you take it before or after.
Is taking creatine monohydrate safe? (Creatine monohydrate side effects)
Because of all the good things creatine monohydrate has got going for it, you might be thinking, “There must be a catch, right? What about its side effects? I’ve heard that creatine might cause kidney stones – is it true?”
Perhaps this might help. Creatine is one of the most well-researched workout supplements available, and studies lasting up to 4 years show no adverse effects.
Creatine monohydrate is very safe to consume. Even if you choose to take it at slightly higher doses (e.g. 30 g, instead of the typical daily dose of 3 to 5 g). I know, I know. You’re probably still a little doubtful.
Common myths related to creatine’s side effects
Here are 5 common myths related to creatine’s side effects and the real truth behind them:
- Kidney and liver damage: There is no truth to the various claims that creatine causes kidney stones or liver failure. Also, there is no scientific evidence to suggest that long-term creatine supplementation within the recommended dose is detrimental to kidney function (57, 58, 59, 60, 61, 62, 63).
- Gastrointestinal distress: There is some truth that creatine supplementation can cause stomach distress. But it’s rare. In fact, only about 5 to 7% of people who take creatine experience stomach discomfort. And stomach distress typically occurs only when you take too much creatine at once (e.g. during loading phase) or on an empty stomach.
- Cramping and dehydration: Because creatine supplementation helps your muscles retain water, it can (ironically) increase total body water, helping you stay hydrated. Studies also show that creatine has no adverse effects on muscle cramping (64, 65, 66, 67).
- Rhabdomyolysis: Just so you know, rhabdomyolysis refers to a severe breakdown of skeletal muscle due to injury (68). It’s typically associated with elevated creatine kinase levels. Regardless, there is a sore lack of direct evidence that creatine supplementation promotes rhabdomyolysis.
- Weight gain: Creatine loading may lead to an initial weight gain of 0.8 to 2.9% of body weight. But this is because of water retention (69, 70). And is less likely to occur following a low-dose protocol. Also, while you might experience initial weight gain, research consistently shows that creatine supplementation (in addition to resistance training) results in an increase in lean body mass and a decrease in fat mass (71, 72). Thus, resulting in better body composition.
Bottom line? Creatine exhibits no harmful side effects. Though it’s commonly believed to cause kidney stones, kidney- and liver damage, studies don’t support this.
- Creatine is one of the most well-researched workout supplements, with powerful benefits for both athletic performance and muscle growth.
- To follow through with the loading phase of creatine or not depends on the speed at which you wish to load your muscles with creatine.
- Of all creatine types available, your best bet is always creatine monohydrate, which has a proven track record.
- Take creatine monohydrate close to your workouts; before or after doesn’t matter.
Workout supplement #3: Protein powder
Probably one of the first workout supplements you laid eyes on.
I’m pretty sure you already know the importance of eating enough protein. For good measure, though, here’s a reminder: protein is an essential macronutrient that helps your body rebuild muscle and is a crucial part of daily nutrition.
It’s no surprise that getting enough protein is one of the most effective tips for weight loss.
What are the benefits of using protein powder?
You should always, always prioritize getting your protein through your diet. But let’s be real. Doing so isn’t always practical, for at least 3 reasons:
- Appetite: Protein is more filling than carbs or fat. Because of this, you might have problems hitting your daily protein requirements because you get too full. And this is when protein powder comes to the rescue. It’s always easier to chug a shake than to eat a steak, for example.
- Convenience: Cooking takes time. And it’s especially time-consuming when you don’t plan your meal prep carefully. If you’re someone who can’t stand cooking your protein day-in and day-out, protein powder is literally a lifesaver. It’s a quick, non-messy, and portable solution.
- Calories: Eating whole foods will always give you a much better balance of micronutrients. But they typically also come with more carbs and fats. Meaning that you may reach your optimal calorie intake before you reach your daily protein requirements! The result? You’d either be in a calorie surplus, or you’d be eating too little protein.
How much protein powder should I take a day?
Good question. And to answer it, you’ll first need to know how much protein you should be eating a day.
Not too sure about that? Don’t worry. Here are the general guidelines:
- Overweight or obese: 1.2–1.5 g per kg body weight
- A healthy weight, active, and trying to lose weight: 1.8-2.7 g per kg body weight
- A healthy weight, active, and trying to gain muscle: 1.4-2.4 g per kg of body weight
- Experienced lifter on a bulk: 3.3 g per kg body weight
To learn more, here’s an article on how much protein you need to eat for your goals.
Now, assuming that I’m 65 kg and trying to lose weight, I’d need to eat roughly 130 g of protein a day (going at 2.0 g of protein per kg of body weight). Because I know you’re wondering, here’s what approximately 130 g of protein looks like:
- 400 g of chicken breast OR
- 520 g of steak
For most of us, hitting this amount of protein daily – consistently – with whole food sources would be a struggle.
And that’s where protein supplements come in to save the day.
Let’s say I’m only able to eat 300 g of chicken breast a day (i.e. 93 g of protein). Then, I’ll simply make up for the deficit with a protein shake.
Hopefully, it has become clear to you that the amount of protein powder you should supplement really depends on first, your daily protein intake requirements, and second, how much protein you’re already getting through your diet.
What type of protein powder is best?
With the seemingly hundreds of different types of protein options out there, it can feel almost as if you’re on Tinder – trying to swipe right on the elusive ‘right one.’ I can’t help you with picking your life-long partner, unfortunately.
But here’s a guide to that compares popular protein powder types (featuring both animal-based and plant-based options).
For your convenience, I have featured some of them below.
Animal-based protein powder types
- Whey protein: A mixture of proteins isolated from the liquid part of milk that separates when cheese is made. More quickly absorbed by the body compared to its counterpart – casein (covered next). Further categorized into:
- WPC (whey protein concentrate): Contains 70 to 80% protein, and the rest is made up of lactose (carbs) and fat. A quarter cup (28 g) contains 22 g of protein, 1.7 g of carbs, and 2 g of fat.
- WPI (whey protein isolate): Different processing of the whey results in reduced lactose and fat. As such, WPI contains about 90% protein or higher. A quarter cup (28 g) contains 25 g of protein, 0.2 g of carbs, and 0.3 g of fat.
- Casein protein: Comes from the curds that remain when cheese is made. Digests and absorbs into the bloodstream slower than whey. Has a similar macronutrient profile to WPC. A quarter cup (28 g) contains 24 g of protein, 3 g of carbs, and 1 g of fat.
Plant-based protein powder types
- Pea protein: Made from extracting the protein out of yellow peas and turning it into a powder. Consider this if you’re a vegan or if you can’t tolerate animal-based protein powders. Also hypoallergenic, which means it’s safe to consume even if you have food sensitivities or allergies. A quarter cup (28 g) contains 24 g of protein, 1 g of carbs, and 2 g of fat.
- Hemp protein: Derived from grinding hemp seeds into a powder. A great option for vegans as it is a decent source of iron, zinc, and omega-3s – all things vegans tend to be deficient in. A quarter cup (28 g) contains 12.6 g of protein, 0.2 g of carbs, and 0.3 g of fat.
- Soy protein: Comes from dehydrated soybean flakes that are stripped of their sugar and fiber content. A good option for you if you’re a vegetarian, vegan, or have a dairy allergy. A quarter cup (28 g) contains 23 g of protein, 2 g of carbs, and 1 g of fat.
Does protein powder timing intake matter?
Now that you have an idea of the specific protein powder type you’d like, here comes another important question:
“When should you take your protein powder?”
I’ve seen guys in the gym finish off their bicep curls – then immediately rush for their protein shakes. Conventional wisdom tells us that we need to make use of this ‘anabolic window,’ where our muscles are primed to receive nutrients, after all.
But here’s the truth.
Consuming a protein shake, be it before or after your workout, will result in muscle growth and enhanced performance – provided you train right and hit your daily protein requirements)
That said, you should space your protein intake evenly throughout the day (i.e. not drink a protein shake immediately after you’ve chomped down on steak) because:
- Practicality: Protein is very filling. Chances are, there’s only so much you can stomach at any given time.
- Muscle growth: Research shows that spacing your protein intake out (minimum of 4 meals) gives better muscle growth results than squeezing your daily protein requirements within 2 meals (75).
How to use protein powder
Flip over any protein powder container, and you’ll never fail to find this claim: ‘Mixes and tastes great with water!’
I’ll be very honest with you. Of all the protein powders I’ve tried, this is not always true. Even within the same brand, some flavors can mix and taste great, while others are just plain terrible.
When mixed with water, many protein powders combine a chalky, grainy texture with an intensely sweet flavor profile. Yes – it can be as unpleasant as it sounds. Of course, you might get lucky with a good one (tastes great and mixes well with water).
So, here’s something you should do the moment you purchase a new tub of protein powder you’ve never tried before – mix it with just water.
And if it tastes great, awesome! Because that’s the only way you’re going to add 0 calories to your protein shake.
How to make protein powder tastier
But if you’re genuinely gagging on the taste of it? Well, here’s how you can make it a little tastier (other than throwing it out the window and getting a new one):
- Add fruits: Blend it with bananas, strawberries, or even blueberries, depending on your preference.
- Try a different liquid: Don’t mix your protein powder with water if it tastes horrible! Try almond milk, skim milk, whole milk, etc. and see if those make your shakes taste yummier. You shouldn’t only be able to down your shake when you’re pinching your nose!
- Throw it into your morning yogurt: This works especially well if your protein powder is unflavored. There will always be some flavor to it, of course, but the tanginess of yogurt can cover it up pretty well if you find it unpleasant regardless.
- Add into your pancake mix: There aren’t anything pancakes can’t fix. Have your protein pancakes with peanut butter or your choice of jam spread. It’ll immediately taste better, trust me.
That said, always remember that you need to keep an eye on the number of calories you’re adding to your protein shake/supplementation.
If you’re not planning on putting on weight, make sure you don’t eat more calories than your body burns!
- Protein powder (and shakes) can help enhance your diet if you’re struggling to hit your daily protein requirements through whole foods.
- You should only eat enough to make up for the protein shortfall in your diet. Any more, and you run the risk of eating in a calorie deficit (i.e. gaining weight).
- When deciding between protein powder types, take into consideration your own unique needs. If you’re a vegan, for example, you wouldn’t choose whey protein.
- The timing at which you drink your protein shake doesn’t matter. Just make sure you’re spacing your protein intake out evenly over the day.
Do I need workout supplements?
Wow. That was a lot of information. But you must admit that’s a very detailed answer to the popular question of “What workout supplements should I take?”
Hopefully, you’ve realized that when it comes to workout supplements that truly work (no matter if you’re a beginner to fitness or not), there are really only 3 that have been proven to work:
- Creatine (specifically, creatine monohydrate)
- Protein powder (protein supplement)
They all have something unique to offer you. Your job is to figure out how you can use them in a way that best supports and complements your fitness and nutrition.
And even then, I think it’s useful to mention that workout supplements are never necessary. Instead, they’re more of a good-to-have.
As always, getting your basics of diet and training right should be the priority.
Just look at the name: ‘supplement.’ Workout supplements are meant to ‘supplement’ an effective training program and healthy diet, not ‘replace’ it. Here’s my personal recommendation: only opt for workout supplements once you’ve gotten the basics down.
If you’ve optimized your training and nutrition, then you can consider supplementation for that extra boost in the gym. Otherwise, save that money!