How to Use Protein Powder - 101 Guide For Beginners

James Cunningham, BSc, CPT
Published by James Cunningham, BSc, CPT | Staff Writer & Senior Coach
Last updated: December 11, 2023
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For most athletes, a regular whey protein shake is the main way they will consume essential amino acids, which are the building blocks of lean muscle mass.

And while there are many different types of protein that can help with perfecting your body composition, there are a few ways that you may want to consider using protein powder.

It doesn’t just have to be about a quick post-workout recovery drink.

And we’ve put this guide together with a nutritionist to help you get a few more ideas for your meal plans.

Quick Summary

  • Mixing protein powder with your breakfast cereals, fruit salads, and smoothies is the best way to use protein powder.
  • Protein powder shouldn't be considered only for gym enthusiasts but as a way of boosting your amino acids and triggering muscle protein synthesis.
  • High-performance athletes and bodybuilders may consume 50 to 100 grams of protein powder daily, though such high intake should be managed with professional guidance.
  • From my perspective, while protein powders are a convenient supplement, they should complement a balanced diet rather than replace whole-food protein sources.

Mixing Protein Powders With Food

We’ll mainly focus on whey protein for this article, but it’s possible to replace it with all types of protein available.

Here are the three main tips that you can use at different times of the day to help boost your protein intake with more stable blood sugar levels.

1. Breakfast Cereal

cereal with berries in a bowl

Now, you should be avoiding all those highly processed boxes of cereals that line countless shelves in grocery stores.

My personal recommendation is to stick with rolled oatmeal mixed with seeds, nuts, and berries for homemade muesli.

You can then sprinkle a scoop of your favorite whey protein supplement into the mix for a significant amino acid boost first thing in the morning.

For many people, muscle recovery will go on through the night and into the next day, so getting another boost like this could make a big difference in your overall recovery time.

2. Fruit Salad

berries, nuts and green leaves in a bowl

I like having a lunch-time or afternoon fruit salad as a way to get an energy boost from natural, unprocessed whole foods.

To get the best health benefits, aim to use fruit with dark flesh and pile on the berries for a shot of antioxidants as well.

By adding some unsalted nuts, you can also take in some healthy fats and slow down the carb absorption from the fruit.

And once you add a scoop of whey protein, you could achieve the perfect macro balance to support your daily macro goals.

3. Smoothies

four glasses of different smoothies

And finally, one of the easiest ways to use whey protein in your meal plans is to mix up a smoothie with fruit and yogurt.

If you have lactose intolerance, simply replace the whey and yogurt with a plant protein and some almond milk.

And for the ultimate boost to your immune function, think about adding some leafy greens or even a seaweed or algae powder.

It sounds worse than it is, and with the right mix of fruit, you won’t even notice the other flavors.

How To Prepare The Perfect Protein Shake

man holding up a tumbler smiling and a hand view of a person pouring a glass of shake

Most people will use protein supplements to support muscle growth and recovery after a training session. And if you’ve tried out a few protein powders, then you’ll know that they don’t just taste different but also tend to have a different consistency.

And that means that you’ll often need to prepare your protein shakes in a different way.

Not all of these are practical for doing immediately after training in the locker room at the gym. And I would always recommend mixing a new protein powder at home for the first time in case you need some tools.

1. Using A Shaker

The most ideal whey protein you can find is one that you can scoop into an empty shaker bottle and throw in your gym bag. Then, when you’re finished training, you simply top it up with water and give it a good shake.

I also like to add a shaker ball into the bottle, which speeds up the mixing a bit.

In an ideal world, this will give you a smooth texture without any bits and lumps getting stuck in the bottle.

But I have to admit, these types of powder are difficult to find.

2. Using A Blender

woman in gym clothes using a blender smiling

And finally, one of the easiest ways to use whey protein in your meal plans is to mix up a smoothie with fruit and yogurt.

If you have lactose intolerance, simply replace the whey and yogurt with a plant protein and some almond milk.

And for the ultimate boost to your immune function, think about adding some leafy greens or even a seaweed or algae powder.

It sounds worse than it is, and with the right mix of fruit, you won’t even notice the other flavors.

3. Other Options

The other thing you can do at home with a whey protein concentrate that is easy to mix is simply add it to a glass of water and use a spoon to stir it in.

This will take longer than in a shaker, and it doesn’t tend to give it a smooth consistency, but I find this is an option if I don’t have a clean shaker.

What are the best protein powders:

Should You Use Protein Powder To Replace All Dietary Protein?

spoon filled with white powder and capsules scattered on table

While protein powder provides essential amino acids, it shouldn't replace all dietary protein. Whole foods offer a broader range of nutrients, including vitamins and minerals, necessary for a balanced diet [1].

It’s much better to adopt healthy habits for your diet and get the majority of your protein from whole foods.

And if you need additional protein as a boost at certain times of a training plan or to lose weight, then take a powder as a booster and not a replacement.

Can You Use Protein Powder As A Meal Replacement?

protein powder filling a jar and a spoon

Yes, you can use whey protein and other powders as a meal replacement, but I would suggest adding more to it.

If you calculate a calorie boost for your body weight and translate that into a few scoops of protein, you might be missing a lot of benefits that a replacement shake should provide.

Replacing a meal shouldn’t just focus on protein, carbs, and fat. And your muscle-building abilities will rely on all three macros.

What you can do, though, is mix up your replacement shake smoothie that is loaded with the right nutrients. And there are two approaches to take. If you want to lose body fat, you need your replacement protein shake to fill you up and deliver a limited amount of calories.

For weight loss, try a green smoothie with unsweetened plant milk (lactose intolerance aside), greens like kale, spinach, broccoli, and protein powder. If bulking up, whip up a mass gainer using fruits, berries, avocados, and nut butter for a healthy mix of carbs and fats.

Is Protein Powder Strictly For Post-Workout Recovery?

woman in gym clothes drinking from her tumbler

No, you don’t need to look at whey protein concentrate strictly for gym enthusiasts to take after a tough session.

While that does help to get a boost of essential amino acids and trigger muscle protein synthesis, there are some other benefits.

Studies have shown that high-protein diets and regular aerobic exercise can help people lose weight more effectively [2].

You could replace a meal with a protein shake mentioned above and significantly shift your macros from carbs to protein.

And the results of that have been shown to be much more effective weight loss.

Related: Should You Take Protein Powder Before or After a Workout?

How Much Protein Powder Should You Take In A Day?

man making a drink in a gym

Assuming you are active, you should take about one scoop of whey protein daily.

For a typical supplement, the protein content of a scoop will be about 20 to 25 grams, which will be about a third of your overall daily intake needs [3].

In my experience, I've seen high-performance athletes and bodybuilders often target 50 to 100 grams of protein powder daily. However, based on my journey and interactions with professionals, I strongly recommend consulting a dietitian before adopting such a high intake, particularly if you have any health concerns.

And the results of that have been shown to be much more effective weight loss.

Related Article: Do Protein Shakes Work?

FAQs

What Do You MIX Protein Powder With?

You can mix protein powder with water or milk. The advantage of using milk is that it can further add protein to the shake to give you a higher dose which may suit your fitness needs.

What Happens if You Drink Protein Shakes Without Working Out?

If you drink protein shakes without working out, not much will happen. Whey protein supplementation is not an excuse to sit on the couch, and without the right calorie deficit, balanced nutrition, and physical activity, you won't notice any changes in your physique.


References:

  1. https://www.nature.com/scitable/topicpage/an-evolutionary-perspective-on-amino-acids-14568445/
  2. https://www.insider.com/high-protein-diet-could-boost-metabolism-and-fat-loss-study-2020-11
  3. https://www.menshealth.com/uk/nutrition/a755033/the-8-most-common-protein-shake-mistakes/
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