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Should I Take Whey Protein? – Protein 101

should I take whey protein
pin it button Should I Take Whey Protein?   Protein 101

The thousand dollar fitness question, “Should I take Whey Protein?” To someone just starting out, choosing a protein supplement can be a rather daunting task. For instance, if you go to google and search for ‘whey protein powder’, about 10.5 million results come back… yes, MILLION!! Every protein brand makes claims of doing this or that, and containing “these” ingredients over “those.”  It’s dang near rocket science trying to decipher what the differences are.

If you’re trying to select which protein to buy, how do you choose one? Do you go with Casein, Whey, or Soy? Which brand do you choose? Is there one brand that is clearly better than the others?

Next, after you finally pick your protein, when should you take it? Before a workout? After a workout? In the morning? Right before bed?

Finally, how much do you take?

As you can see, there are plenty of questions to ask regarding protein supplementation. For the remainder of this post, I will outline some of the basic information regarding protein supplements, and how you can get most bang for your buck! Keep in mind, this is a ‘basic’ outline… there’s certainly more information out there.

Should I Take Whey Protein - Whey vs Casein vs Soy

If you’re not sure of the difference between the major types of protein, be sure to read this section. Here is a brief explanation of each type of protein.

Whey – Whey protein is one of the proteins found in milk and dairy products (along with Casein). Whey protein makes up approximately 20 percent of the protein found in milk. Whey is often considered a “complete” protein because it provides all of the amino acids required by the body. People who are lactose intolerant tend to have a difficult time with whey protein. One option might be to look into whey isolate… which is whey that has apparently been separated from the lactose.

Casein – Casein protein is the other protein found in milk (along with whey), but it makes up a much larger majority than whey (about 80%). Casein is responsible for the formation curd, which is used in making cheese. Because of its amino acid composition, Casein protein plays a large role in growth and development.

Soy – Guess where soy protein comes from?!? SOYBEANS… RIGHT! Soy is thought to be a “clean” protein because it is low in fat and has zero cholesterol. Other health benefits are believed to be decreased cancer risk, decreased cardiovascular disease, obesity control, and improved health after menopause.  *Note –  There has been some debate that soy protein can actually cause elevated estrogen levels in men who consume it regularly.

Should I Take Whey Protein - Which type to choose?

Which type of protein you choose to purchase should be based on personal preference. Protein is protein, and your muscles will use it all the same, so there is really no right answer here. However, there are a few things to consider when choosing whether to go with whey, soy, or a casein protein.

First, whey protein is really convenient because it can be found literally everywhere. You can buy it at Walmart, GNC, or just about any grocery store. There are A LOT of brands of whey to choose from, and finding one within your budget shouldn’t be too difficult a task. Next, casein protein can be a good option because it digests more slowly and will stay in your system for longer. This is nice, especially if you plan on supplementing protein in late evenings. Using casein will allow your muscles to have fuel for most of the night. Casein can be found at most health stores, but it you will have fewer options (brands) to choose from than whey. Finally, soy is a great option for vegetarians or anyone wishing to minimize their consumption of animal products. Soy can also be found at most health food stores, but again, you will have fewer options than going with whey. You may want to consider using soy if you are allergic to whey or are lactose intolerant. Soy is a good source of protein, however I personally don’t use it. As I mentioned earlier, there has been some debate that soy can raise estrogen levels in men. With this in mind, and because I am not on a vegan diet, I don’t see any reason for me to use a soy protein.

The bottom line is this – All three types of protein are beneficial to maintaining muscle, keeping the immune system healthy, and the maintenance of blood sugar levels. There really is no “wrong” choice on protein, and again, it goes back to personal preference.

Should I Take Whey Protein - How much to use?

Before you decide on which brand of protein to buy, you should first consider why you’re taking the protein. Most people use a protein supplement to help them hit their target percentages. For example, if I am on a fat shredder diet then I would want 50% of my calories to be protein, 30% to be carbs, and 20% to be fat. Consuming 50% of your total calories as protein can be pretty difficult, and supplementing extra protein in your diet certainly makes hitting your goal easier.  If you are able to eat enough protein in your diet without adding additional protein powder, then you probably do not need to buy any additional protein supplements. However, this it is pretty rare as most of us don’t get near enough protein from ‘real food’ on a daily basis.

By tracking your diet, you will be able to determine how much protein powder you’re going to need to consume per day. Again, the amount you need to supplement will be determined by how far away you are from your goal percentages using regular food. For example, if my goal was to eat 200 grams of protein per day, and I am only getting 100 grams of protein from real food, then I would need to supplement an additional 100 grams per day to meet my goal. Keep in mind that this is just an example, the amount of protein you supplement may be much less, or may be much more. I would suggest running your numbers in the ‘myfitnesspal’ app to determine the target numbers and percentages that you will need for your nutrition plan.

Should I Take Whey Protein - Which brand to buy?

Once you’ve decided whether or not you will need a whey protein supplement, the next step is choosing a brand. One nice thing about protein supplements are that they vary greatly in price, so you’re bound to find one that will fit your budget.  I’ve tried cheap (like Body Fortress Super Advanced Whey from Walmart), and I’ve tried above average cost (Wheybolic Extreme 60), and I’ve tried several in between (O.N. Gold Standard, etc.). I have stayed away from several of the really high end ones, because I have been happy with the results that I have seen so far. 

When choosing a brand, the key is to look at the nutritional profile. Basically, you’re looking for something with MAXIMUM protein, and minimal fat and carbs. I’m currently using Wheybolic Extreme 60 because it is reasonably priced and has a great % of protein per serving (20 g of protein per scoop, and only 93 calories). Remember this, just because a protein may have more grams per serving, that does not necessarily mean that it’s better. You should make sure to check out the size of the serving and the total calories to get the “big picture” of a particular brand of protein. Do some math and figure out which protein within your budget has the best ratio of protein to total calories… then go with that one! For instance, as I mentioned earlier, the Wheybolic Extreme 60 that I am using has 20g of protein in a 93 calorie scoop. That means that 80 out of the 93 calories are protein, or 86% of the scoop is protein. Not bad! This tends to be better than Optimum Nutrition’s Gold Standard, which has 24g of protein in a 130 calorie serving (96 of the 130 calories are protein = 74% protein).

 So in summary, the way you choose your protein supplement is this:

1) Determine a price range that fits your budget. 

2) DO THE MATH! Figure out which protein supplement within you price range gives you the most bang for your buck (high protein percent and low calories). 

Should I Take Whey Protein - Best time to use a protein supplement?

The most obvious time to consume a protein supplement is within an hour after you complete a workout. This is probably the most critical time to consume a protein shake (over eating real food) because the balance of amino acids that your protein powder will provide are far better than any piece of meat you will eat. Also, post workout is perfect because your muscles are in an anabolic state and ready to repair and grow! So, rule of thumb… make sure you’re at least taking a protein supplement after working out.

In addition to consuming a shake after your workout, it’s also good to have some protein in your system before working out. This may mean that you have to drink a shake 45 min to 1 hour before working out. But, if you already consume a meal that contains protein before your workout, then you probably don’t need to supplement then.

Another important time to have protein in your system is in the late evenings before you go to bed. Do this so that your muscles will have the required fuel they need to recover and grow as you sleep. One big tip here is to make sure that you drink the protein with WATER ONLY. Don’t load it up with milk and extras, because all that does is add carbs to your shake. You don’t want these extra carbs in your system as you sleep…especially if you’re trying to cut fat. 

Other than the times listed above, it is also important that at every meal (or snack) you fuel your body with some source of protein. If you choose to eat real food as your source of protein, great! If you choose to supplement with a powder, great! Either way you choose to do it is fine. What you don’t want is a carb-only snack with no protein. So, be sure that you are consuming at least some protein with each meal or snack (that means 5-6 times a day).


Finally, I hope that this post helps answer the question “Should I take whey protein?” If all I have done is confuse you more, then please be sure to email me and I will clarify any part of this for you.

Thanks for reading, and if you like the article then please help me out by sharing! I really appreciate it.



Mike Smith is a high school science teacher with 9 years of total teaching experience who has transitioned his love for fitness, health, and helping people into an online business that specializes in assisting others to lead healthier lifestyles.

Mike founded Team Ironman in the summer of 2011 after experiencing a total lifestyle change from completing Beachbody's P90X workout. He is now physically healthier and working towards becoming financially healthier (debt free). Mike's desire is to share his new passion in order to provide hope and support for anyone who is currently dissatisfied with their current situation.

2 Responses to Should I Take Whey Protein? – Protein 101
  1. Joseph
    June 7, 2012 | 5:14 pm

    Wow thanks for all the info here! Iv always struggled on what type of Protein works best for me. Maybe Im going to try soy for a little while now.

    • coachmike
      June 8, 2012 | 12:35 pm

      As a guy, I’d be careful of the soy protein Joseph. Make sure to read up on its side effects concerning estrogen.

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