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By now, we all know that protein is essential for helping our muscles grow as well as recover. Both are equally important especially if you lift weights with the goal of increasing your muscle mass. And the heavier your weights are, the more protein your muscles require. Not only will it help with protein muscle synthesis, but it will also help you recover quicker so you are all ready to go for the next time you lift weights. And a faster recovery means you can lift more often and keep increasing the weights you use.

Of course, protein comes in many forms—foods, supplements, shakes, etc. Protein supplements include whey (concentrate, isolate and hydrolyzed) and casein (micellar), while more natural protein sources come from hemp, soy, egg, meat and milk. So what is the difference between all of these proteins and which one is right for you? The answer depends on both your fitness level and your goals.

Cardio Queens: If your workouts consist mostly of cardiovascular exercise with no weightlifting whatsoever, your protein needs are not as high. You may want them more pre-workout, but your body will require more carbohydrates and less protein afterwards. A banana or a rice cake with a tablespoon of natural peanut butter will provide the right ratio of protein to carbs for you. Or you can have some low-fat Greek yogurt with fruit. But you need more carbohydrates than protein to restore glycogen if your workout is strictly cardio-based.

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Cardio Plus Weights: Any time you lift weights whether heavy or not, you need some source of protein to help your muscles grow and recover. Whey protein is usually the preferred form because your muscles absorb it quickly after you are done exercising. It is also recommended that you take whey protein within 30-45 minutes after your workout is complete. However, you can still use egg protein (whites only) and milk protein to get the same effect. Soy is recommended for those who are lactose intolerant or who do not like or eat eggs.

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Heavy Lifters: For ladies who lift heavy weights, this also serves as your cardiovascular exercise since your heart rate tends to get really high during a heavy lifting session. Again, whey protein is usually the preferred choice since it contains all the amino acids that your muscles need to help them recover and grow. Most people who lift heavy weights rely on whey protein, but that does not mean other forms of protein cannot be used.

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Also, if your fitness level is high (you lift heavy several times a week), you may want to consume casein protein right before you go to sleep. Micellar casein is a slow-digesting protein that prevents your muscles from catabolizing during the night while you sleep. This means your muscles will be spared rather than breaking down since they are not going to be fed for a few hours. You can use a casein protein powder drink right before hitting the sack or eat half a cup of low-fat cottage cheese which is also loaded with micellar casein. This is recommended for those whose main focus is building muscle.

Remember, protein is an essential part of any healthy diet whether you exercise or not. It fuels your muscles, but it also has a filling effect that will keep you full throughout the day. It is important to include protein at every meal regardless of your fitness level, but for those whose main goal is to build muscle, consuming an adequate amount of protein both before and after a workout is important.

To find some delicious high protein, low carb breakfast recipes, click here.