Nowadays you walk into any gym, and you’re going to see every other person with a shaker bottle. Powders and other supplements have become so deep-rooted in our workout and health culture that it’s hard to imagine not following up a great workout with a shake of some sort and sometimes even mid-workout. Protein powder, specifically, is leading the charge. Created by various sources from whey to soy to pea, the most popular supplement has cemented its place in our minds, our diets and even our local grocery stores.

If you’re an elite athlete or just a person looking to have a healthy lifestyle, chances are you have a tub of protein powder sitting somewhere in your house. If not, you’ve maybe gulped down a shake or smoothie at some point. But do you know what’s inside your protein powder? Do you know how use it to get the best results? To help you more efficiently decide how, when and if you should use this supplement, we created this beginner guide. Here’s how the most popular questions about protein powder shake out.

Protein Powder Primer: The Why’s and What’s

Many people start adding shakes to their diet without first considering why or if they need protein powder at all. The most obvious reason to supplement with protein powder is to reach your protein intake goal for the day. Especially when you’re crunched for time during work days, protein supplements can be your biggest friend.

Although the labels may say otherwise, the tubs are much more equal than you think. At the heart of all protein powders is just what one would think, protein, whether it’s from whey, hemp, soy, or something else it is still protein`. Still, you might see terms like scientific terms like hydrolyzed and say things like cutting edge to spruce up different products.Also, many companies will push for getting you to pay a lot of money for grass fed whey or cold-filtered whey. These things could make them better, but how much better is up for debate.

Therefore spending more doesn’t necessarily make a protein powder better. Many researchers recommend first looking for a reputable company that has good manufacturing practices they often advertise that on the label. They also suggest buyers search out various products using certifying brands like Informed Choice. Certifying companies buy actual products off of store shelves just like a regular consumer and run tests to make sure the bottle contains what the label advertises. After finding a couple of brands of protein you think you will like, it’s time to check the nutritional facts.

When to Mix It Up

So, you’ve researched your protein and brought home a tub of high-quality protein powder.  Figuring out the best times to supplement can be difficult. These are the two most common uses for protein powder during the day.

1. Meal Replacement

When you’re running late for work in the morning, the last thing you have time for is to make breakfast to start your day. This is one scenario where protein shakes can come in handy. Researchers recommend adding in a source of vegetables, serving or two of fruit and some healthy fats alongside a scoop or two of protein powder. I These shakes can be used in place of a meal or in addition to a regular meal when trying to gain weight.

Protein and supplements have often been viewed as a male-dominated thing, but protein powders are also very useful for women. St. Yes, women do have different nutritional needs than men. In general, they require less protein per pound of body weight which is due to differences in body composition. For that reason, researchers recommend females to use one scoop instead of two, or cutting the doses in half. However, after a while, you can adjust it based on your needs.

If these shakes are so nutrient, why don’t we just blend up a shaker bottle for every meal and not cook? The cautions of this are they still aren’t the same as whole food. There are way more nutrients in whole foods then there ever will be in protein powder. You can also sometimes lose nutritional value drinking your nutrients and vitamins instead of eating them. For this reason, they recommend supplementing with no more than two shakes in one day. The key is to use shakes in a pinch and rely on whole food sources for the rest of your meals.

2. Post-Workout

With the understanding of the post-workout window which is a small amount of time to intake nutrients after a workout for the best benefit, protein shakes and shaker bottles have become a necessity for a gym trip. If you don’t have a shake before you walk out the door, they say you are compromising your recovery time and crippling the benefits you could reap from your workout. Protein supplementation post-workout has been shown to be beneficial, particularly in helping individuals recover after a tough session and potentially increase muscle and strength gain.

Post workout shakes are a personal preference. Previously, protein shakes were thought to digest faster in the stomach than whole foods providing muscle-building nutrients to the recovering muscles quicker. But stomach sensitivity may also play a role as well. Some individuals have a harder time taking in whole food directly after a workout. In these cases, a shake is a proper substitution to get a quick dose of protein.