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Whey protein powder is one of the top supplements you can take to help retain or build muscle mass, but many of my nutrition clients are wondering how long it will take before they actually start noticing changes in their appearance and performance.
So, how long does it take before seeing results with whey protein powder? The results can be felt or seen within one week depending on the goal (weight loss, weight gain, etc.). For more noticeable body composition results, expect it to take 4-8 weeks of consistent protein intake and training. Whey protein isn’t a magic solution and must be considered within other nutritional best practices.
As well, the effects of whey protein powder also depend on the type of whey protein powder, the timing, and the amount, so I’ll be discussing all of these factors in this article so that you can optimize your results.
- Whey protein is a great supplement, but it has to be combined with overall good nutrition, hydration, sleep, and a progressive resistance training program to produce results.
- You can feel the effects of whey protein immediately but the longer you take it (4+ weeks), the more those benefits translate to changes in body weight and composition.
- For the best results with protein supplementation, you should choose the type of protein powder you use based on when you plan to consume it.
The Honest Trust About Getting Results With Whey Protein
Whey protein powder isn’t a magic pill that gives you instant muscles or reductions in body fat overnight.
It’s a way to reach your protein intake more easily, but you can do that with or without protein powder. Your results will depend on many other factors like calories, macronutrients, hydration, sleep, and training; not just one supplement.
That said, whey protein, whether from whole food sources of whey or whey protein powder, has resulted in higher increases in lean body mass during a resistance training program than getting the same amount of protein from soy, instead.
This is because whey protein is higher in the essential amino acid leucine, and elevated leucine levels are related to higher rates of muscle protein synthesis (a precursor to muscle growth).
That said, most animal-based proteins (chicken, greek yogurt, steak) are high in leucine too.
The truth is that the key to retaining and building muscle is to be consistent with a solid training regimen, a balanced diet with appropriate calorie and macronutrient intakes (especially protein), and good quality sleep to help you recover from your workouts.
Does Whey Protein Start Working Right Away?
Yes, whey protein does start working right away, delivering amino acids into your bloodstream as soon as 15 minutes after ingestion.
So, the benefits of whey protein can be felt right away but in terms of results that you can actually see in the mirror, expect to wait for at least 1 to 4 weeks.
Here are the two results you should feel right away:
1. Increased Feelings of Fullness
The effects of whey protein powder will be felt right away by increasing feelings of fullness, which can help manage hunger so you can adhere to your calorie deficit.
Whey protein also starts working right away to supply amino acids and help you to preserve muscle mass as you diet.
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2. Helps Repair Muscle Damage From Workouts
As well, whey protein starts working immediately to help improve your performance if consumed post-workout because the protein will help to repair muscle damage that occurred during training.
If you’re recovering better from training then you’ll be able to perform at a higher level for your next workout and keep the quality of work higher to produce better results long-term.
- Related Article: 1 or 2 Scoops of Protein Powder: How Much Is Right For You?
Whey Protein Results Based On Your Goal
When it comes to weight loss, achieving a calorie deficit is the most important aspect. It can take 1-4 weeks of a consistent calorie deficit (eating fewer calories than you need to maintain your weight) to see results, like a lower weigh-in or changes to your body composition.
Whey protein may provide additional benefits for weight loss that go beyond a calorie deficit because there is research to suggest that those who supplement with whey protein achieve better results than those who don’t.
In this 12-week study, participants were weighed and measured every 4 weeks, and those supplementing with whey protein lost significantly more body fat (6.2 lbs in 12 weeks) and less lean muscle mass (2.4 lbs in 12 weeks, for a total loss of 8.6 lbs) than the control group on the same calorie deficit (500 calories per day).
When it comes to weight gain, achieving a calorie surplus is the most important aspect. It will take 1-4 weeks of a consistent calorie surplus for you to notice changes to your weight.
However, if your goal is to gain more muscle than fat then supplementing with whey protein is a great way to help boost your protein intake and encourage more muscle gain.
Research shows that if you combine whey protein with a consistent calorie surplus and an adequate training regimen, then you can expect to see significant improvements in your muscle mass and overall body composition after 4-8 weeks.
- Related Article: Does Protein Increase Testosterone?
What You Can Expect After Using Whey Protein
After 1 Week
Results after just 1 week of using whey protein will be related to how you feel and perform, rather than how you look.
If your goal is weight loss, you could lose 0.5-2lbs in the first week if you’re consistent with a calorie deficit, but this change would be hard to see in the mirror. You’re more likely to notice increased satiety and better recovery from training in the first week of supplementation.
Similarly, if your goal is weight gain, you could gain 0.5-2 lbs in the first week if you’re consistent with your calorie surplus, but this isn’t a change that you would be able to see in the mirror at this point.
After 1 Month
After 1 month of consistent supplementation and training, as well as hitting your overall protein and calorie targets, you can expect to have lost or gained 1.6 to 4% of starting body weight, and notice improvements in performance for strength, power, and endurance.
For example, an individual weighing 200 lbs could expect to lose 3-8 lbs after 1 month of a consistent calorie deficit. If weight gain was the goal, the individual would expect to gain 3-8 lbs however not all the weight gained would be muscle (some would be fat).
These changes would be apparent on the scale and in body circumference measurements, but might only be visible in form-fitting workout clothes.
After 3 Months
After 3 months of consistent supplementation and training, as well as hitting macro targets, results will be even more pronounced than at the 1-month mark, but the rate of progress will often start to slow down. At this point, changes will be significant enough to be visible.
It is totally normal for progress to slow down as more time passes because your body will adapt over time and change its energy requirements.
For example, someone who was losing weight at a rate of 1lb/week might see this decrease to 1/2 lb/week.
This makes sense because a smaller body requires even less energy than before, and there is less weight left to lose. To keep things progressing, you may have to decrease your calorie target.
When it comes to weight gain, it will take more challenging workouts (progressive overload) to create enough stimulus to grow more muscle. What you were doing initially likely isn’t enough anymore to give your muscles a reason to adapt.
Additionally, a bigger, more muscular body requires even more energy than before so you may have to increase your calorie target to continue gaining weight.
Best Ways To Take Whey Protein Powder For Fastest Results
To optimize your results with whey protein powder, it is important to know the different types of whey protein powder and the best times to take them.
- Check Out Whey Protein Calculator
- Whey protein hydrolysate is the form of whey protein that is quickest to digest. It is absorbed at a rate of about 15 grams per hour.
- Whey protein isolate is created when fat and lactose (naturally-occurring milk sugar) are removed from dried milk powder, leaving only the protein behind. It is absorbed at a rate of about 10 grams per hour.
- Whey protein concentrate is the least processed form of whey protein powder. It contains about 80% protein and the remaining 20% is small amounts of lactose and fat. The fat content makes this the slowest form of whey protein to digest. It is absorbed at a rate of about 8 grams per hour.
- Pre-workout protein choices will depend on how much time there is between the meal or snack and the workout. A meal one and a half to two hours before can contain whole food protein sources. A snack 30-60 minutes before training should have faster digesting sources of lean protein like whey protein concentrate or isolate.
- Post-workout is the time for the fastest-digesting forms of whey protein (hydrolysate or isolate) to quickly replenish amino acids to repair and grow new muscle tissue. Since isolate is usually less expensive than hydrolysate, this is the most common budget-friendly option for post-workout protein shakes.
- Other meals away from the training window should focus on whole food sources of protein, which are more filling and also provide valuable micronutrients. But, if you need to supplement the protein content in a meal, or you need a quick go-to option, this is a great time to have a shake with whey protein concentrate.
- Evening/bedtime is a time to focus on the slowest-digesting forms of protein, which actually isn’t whey, but casein protein. For this reason, I recommend you focus on casein protein before bed (I make this casein pudding!).
That said, if you’re working out right before you go to bed you would be better off with a whey and casein blend like PEScience’s Select Protein (click to read our full review).
Best Brands Of Whey Protein Powder For Fastest Results
The best brands of whey protein powder will be the ones that are third-party certified (verified to contain what they claim to contain), have a higher percentage of protein per serving, have little to no cheap fillers or additives, and that taste great.
Here at FeastGood, we’ve reviewed dozens of protein powders, and we have a classification system for the quality of the protein powder:
- 65-75% protein content per serving is reasonable, but not ideal.
- 76-85% protein content per serving is great
- >85% protein content per serving is excellent
My top pick based on quality, digestibility, and flavor is Transparent Lab’s Whey Protein Isolate which I believe will help you achieve faster results (assuming you’re doing everything else correctly) thanks to its ingredient purity and top-notch formulation.
If you’re not getting the results you want, it’s probably not due to the brand of whey protein powder, but rather one or more of the other “big picture” factors I described (calorie intake, macro targets, sleep, training, etc.).
Does The Amount Of Whey Protein Affect How Fast It Works?
When whey protein powder helps you increase your protein intake to get up to the recommended amount for your goals, it can create faster results than if you were eating less than the ideal amount of protein. But, exceeding recommended amounts (more than 35% of total daily intake) does not provide any additional benefits.
My recommendation is to aim for a range of 0.7-1.2 grams of protein per pound of body weight (or goal body weight, if weight loss or weight gain is the goal).
For example, if I wanted to maintain a body weight of 150 lbs, I would choose 1 gram of protein per pound of current body weight (150 grams).
Individuals looking to lose weight can aim for the higher end of the range, to take advantage of the fact that protein is the most satiating macronutrient. This will help them to feel full during a calorie deficit.
For example, if I wanted to lose weight to achieve a goal body weight of 130 lbs, I would choose 1.2 grams of protein per pound of goal body weight (130 lbs x 1.2 = 156 grams).
It might surprise you to see that this is higher than the protein intake for maintaining a weight of 150 lbs, but the other macronutrients will be lower, for a lower overall calorie intake, and higher protein will be more filling, as described above.
Plus, in a calorie deficit there is a risk that some of the dietary protein will be used for energy because carbs and fats are lower, so having a higher protein target will ensure there is enough protein to preserve lean muscle mass.
When it comes to weight gain goals, individuals can eat closer to 0.7 grams of protein per pound of (goal) body weight. There is little risk that dietary protein will be broken down for energy because, in a calorie surplus, more than enough energy is coming from carbs and fat.
Having less intake of protein (which is very filling) can make it easier for individuals to eat a calorie surplus without feeling uncomfortable.
For example, if I wanted to gain weight to achieve a goal body weight of 170 lbs, I would choose 0.7 grams of protein per pound of goal body weight (170 lbs x 0.7 = 119 grams).
Again, it might surprise you to see that this is lower than the protein intake for maintaining a weight of 150 lbs, but the other macronutrients will be higher, for a higher overall calorie intake, and less protein will reduce feelings of fullness, making it easier to eat more carbs and fat.
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Frequently Asked Questions
Does Whey Protein Give You Results?
No, by itself whey protein will not necessarily produce results because it is just one piece of the puzzle. To retain or gain muscle, you need to ensure adequate daily protein intake, a sufficient number of calories based on your goal, and partake in progressive resistance training.
How Much Muscle Can You Gain In A Month With Whey Protein?
If you are training hard on a progressive resistance program and ensuring sufficient total daily protein and calorie intake to support muscle growth, you can gain approximately 0.6-0.8 lbs of muscle in a month or up to 1 lb.
What Will Happen If I Stop Taking Protein Powder After One Month Of Use?
If you stop taking protein powder after one month of use, you can continue seeing results if you keep training and replace the protein you were previously getting from protein powder with whole food sources instead.
- Related Article: Will I Lose Muscle If I Stop Taking Whey Protein?
About The Author
Lauren Graham is a Precision Nutrition Level 1 certified nutrition coach. She focuses on helping busy professionals balance healthy eating and purposeful movement. Lauren has a background in competitive swimming and is currently competing as a CrossFit athlete. She has a passion for training, teaching, and writing.