Sometimes, the hype is real. Such is the case with protein, which — somehow — might still be underrated when it comes to how much it helps with muscle recovery. If you perform any type of exercise, the benefits of protein are undeniable. At this point, the question isn’t whether you should take protein for general health or muscle recovery, but, rather, just how many ways protein can help.  

On the most basic level, protein is the building block of all cells in your body, so it only makes sense that it would help with muscle recovery. But, the ways the protein can speed recovery, improve performance, add strength, and even lead to a stronger immune system is the reason why many nutritionists believe protein is the foundation of any good diet.

Whether you eat high-quality protein from beef, eggs, poultry, or fish, or decide to supplement with whey or a pea-based complete protein, protein speeds muscle recovery, improves performance, adds strength, and even leads to a stronger immune system. Here are all ways you can use protein to upgrade your recovery and feel better than ever.

Why Protein Is Good For Muscle Recovery

When you perform any type of resistance training, you create little micro-tears in your muscles. This is a good thing because when those tear recover, your muscle grows and becomes stronger. Proteins help repair damaged muscle tissue and build new lean tissue as part of your body’s adaptive process. In other words, lifting weight and protein are the PB & J of your muscle building sandwich.

How We Know Protein is Best For Recovery

Researchers have invested decades trying to find the best way to speed muscle recovery. They have looked at proteins, carbs, fats, and even no food at all. And science has shown that protein is most important for muscle recovery. In fact, some research suggests that milk-based protein helps most with recovery for the first 24-72 hours after exercise.

What Type of Protein Helps Recovery The Most?

Any protein won’t cut it. As we just mentioned, milk protein (such as milk protein isolate and whey protein isolate) is proven to support muscle recovery. The reason? Leucine, which is one of the three branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs) is a key player in the recovery process. That’s why animal proteins, whey, or pea protein are best for muscle recovery. Each source is high in leucine (research shows you want a minimum of 2.3 grams of leucine per serving) to help provide your muscle with the right ingredients it needs to recover and repair.

While leucine is essential, so are all the other amino acids. In other words, if you were to only take leucine but not get enough of the other 8 essential amino acids, then your muscle recovery is limited. That’s why complete proteins — like beef, dairy, poultry, fish, whey, or pea protein — are your best bet to supply your muscles with all the amino acids it needs.

When Should You Take Protein To Maximize Recovery?

The best part about protein is you don’t need to stress when to take it. Instead, there are benefits of using protein throughout the day. When researchers have compared taking protein just before or just after a workout, both groups showed equal recovery and performance. But, there might be different reasons to get in your protein at different times of the day.

Protein Before Your Workout

If you take it before a workout, research suggests that the BCAAs in a complete protein might help reduce the soreness you experience after your workout. According to the research, you might see the best results by taking about 30-60 minutes before your workout.

Protein After Your Workout

When you take protein after your workout, it helps with muscle recovery by improving protein synthesis, or the process by which you build new proteins to help your body repair.

Here’s why that matters: when you exercise you stress your muscles. If  you want your muscles to maintain their function — whether it’s for lifting weights, running, or performing sports or activities — you need them to repair the stress damage in order to maintain function. And protein is the best way to get the job done and speed your recovery.

Protein Before You Sleep

Research has even found that protein at night plays a big role in recovery. Scientists from the Netherlands had participants take 40 grams of protein before sleep, and that surge of amino acids was broken down overnight, helping protein synthesis, and improving recovery.

How Does Muscle Recovery Help Your Goals?

Using protein for muscle recovery is usually just seen as a method to help you gain muscle. That’s one way it can help, but there are many more reasons you’ll want to add protein to your routine, including strength, endurance, fat loss, and sports performance.

Protein and Increasing Strength 

When studies compare people who take protein to recovery from exercise vs. those who don’t, those who use protein not only recover faster, but they also show more strength during subsequent workouts than those who avoid protein.  

Protein and Fat Loss

When you’re on a fat loss diet, you’re eating fewer calories. That means less energy with your workouts and slow recovery, which means it’s harder to burn calories because your workout performance becomes limited. Or, even worse, during the process of losing fat you end up losing muscle, as well, which is not the goal of fat loss.

When you eat more protein, you’re more likely to hold onto your muscle as you burn fat and help with recovery so you can keep pushing harder on your workouts. What’s possibly most amazing is that protein is more metabolically active than both carbs and protein, science suggests that when you overeat protein there appears to be no negative effect on fat gain if you’re exercising. In other words, you can eat more protein during fat loss (and limit fats and carbs) and not add more weight.

Protein and Endurance Recovery

Recovery isn’t just about muscle. Research shows that adding protein to your diet after a workout can help with hydration, improve speed and power during endurance, and help reduce fatigue after cardio activities.

Protein Helps Athletes Bounce Back Faster

If you’ve ever played a sport, you know the day after a competition or game can feel sluggish. Once again, protein has your back. When supplementing with protein, soccer players recovered strength faster and were able to maintain their speed after games compared to not supplementing with protein.

What’s more elite marathoners also showed less damage and fatigue and more recovery when they added about 35 grams of protein per day after each training session.

How Much Protein Do You Need For Muscle Recovery?

In general, rather than emphasizing the timing of protein (remember, both before and after your workouts has benefits), just make sure you take in enough protein for the entire day. That’s what’s most important. As a good rule of thumb, consume anywhere between .6 grams to 1 gram of protein of your goal bodyweight.

So, if you wanted to weigh 180 pounds, then you would eat between 110-180 grams of protein per day (the more active you are, the more protein you need.

In general, research suggests that 20-25 grams of complete protein per meal will help maximize protein synthesis. But, new research found that taking 40 grams of protein after your workout has even more recovery benefits than 20 grams. Whatever you choose, the minimum amount should be 20 grams, and then you can build your meal plan in a way that helps you hit your goal for the day.

If you’re looking for the highest-quality complete proteins, Ladder Whey and Ladder Plant Protein provide all the essential amino acids your body needs for muscle recovery and provide a convenient way to get more than 20 grams of protein per serving.