The Best Time to Eat Protein: High-Protein Recipes For Great Health

Do you want to know the best time to eat protein for optimal health? Well, you're in luck! In this article, we'll uncover the benefits of knowing when to boost your protein intake to support different body functions. From supporting brain health and promoting muscle growth, protein plays a crucial role in our overall well-being. Also, you’ll enjoy three high-protein recipes, including a delicious vegan option to get you on track to better health. Let's explore the best time to eat protein!

What is Protein and Why is it Important?

Before we get into the best time to eat protein, let's first understand what protein is. Protein is a macronutrient made up of amino acids, essential compounds required for your body to function properly. Protein is critical in building and repairing tissues and producing enzymes, hormones, neurotransmitters, and immune cells. Protein is vital for maintaining a robust immune system, hormone regulation and aiding muscle growth .

Group of protein rich foods on a table

The Best Time to Eat Protein

Now that we know the importance of protein, it's time to answer the question: when's the best time to eat it? Interestingly, research shows that when it comes to protein consumption, it's not just about the total quantity. Indeed, the timing and distribution of protein throughout your meals can be just as important.

The short answer is that there's really no incorrect time of day to eat protein. It's an essential macronutrient your body will always utilise once you consume it. In fact, eating protein at various points during the day is highly beneficial for your health. This can easily be achieved by consuming protein-rich snacks as needed and ensuring your main meals are full of healthy protein. If it suits you, adding a good quality protein powder into your diet can boost your overall daily protein intake.

The longer answer to this question really depends on what you want dietary protein to do for you. Because dietary protein has a range of bodily functions, you can eat it at certain times to optimise specific body systems. The most common reason people want to up their protein intake is to promote muscle growth and repair. But dietary protein can also help your hormones, cognition and immunity. Let's look at these areas of health and explore when the best time to eat protein is.

The Best Time to Eat Protein for Muscle Growth

When it comes to increasing muscle size (hypertrophy), the timing of protein intake is very important. Consuming protein soon after a workout is crucial as it facilitates quicker muscle recovery and promotes muscle synthesis. This post-workout period is often called the 'anabolic window of opportunity', during which the body is primed for nutrient uptake. Eating high-quality protein within approximately 30 minutes and up to 12 hours following strenuous exercise helps stimulate new muscle tissue growth . Furthermore, consuming a protein-rich meal before bedtime can also contribute to muscle growth and repair during sleep. So, for those focusing on muscle growth, it can be helpful to prioritise post-exercise and pre-bedtime protein intake.

The Best Time to Eat Protein for Hormone Health

Protein plays a crucial role in regulating hormones in our body. Hormones are the chemical messengers that regulate essential bodily functions such as appetite, metabolism, and sleep. A diet high in protein can help maintain hormonal balance by aiding in producing hormones such as insulin, glucagon, and ghrelin. Melatonin production also depends on the availability of the amino acid tryptophan from the diet, which is naturally in meat, eggs and dairy. Therefore, consuming protein regularly throughout the day can help balance hormone levels and promote overall health.

The Best Time to Eat Protein for Brain Health

Protein is essential for optimal brain health as it provides the building blocks for neurotransmitters, the chemical messengers that transmit signals between neurons. They are responsible for various functions in the central nervous system, such as memory, mood, and broader cognitive function. Ideally, you want to start your day with a protein-rich meal. Having protein for breakfast in the morning helps kickstart your day and set you up for success.

Protein provides you with the necessary brain-loving amino acids and fuel you need to tackle mentally demanding tasks and critical thinking. Getting enough protein can ensure optimal cognitive function and reduce the likelihood of brain fog during the day. Having a healthy breakfast high in protein can also help stabilise your blood sugar levels and reduce cravings for sugary foods later in the day.

Protein rich vegetables and meat on a table.

Plant-Based Protein vs. Animal Protein: Is Either One Better?

When getting a protein fix, we usually think of two main categories: animal-based and plant-based proteins. Each type has its pros and cons to consider.

Plant-Based Protein

Pros: Plant-based proteins, found in foods like nuts , seeds , lentils, quinoa , and tofu , are typically inexpensive, easy to prepare and readily available in most supermarkets and grocery stores. They also come with a boost of fibre , antioxidants, and other healthful nutrients.

Cons: A drawback of plant-based proteins is that they are usually incomplete, missing one or more essential amino acids. However, this can be overcome by consuming a variety of plant-based proteins throughout the day. Another point to consider if you're looking at plant-based protein sources is that they must be cooked properly to boost their bioavailability . And, you actually need to eat a lot more or have bigger portions more often to get the same amount of protein as their meaty counterparts.

Animal Protein

Pros: Animal protein, found in meat , fish , eggs , and dairy , is typically complete, meaning it contains all nine essential amino acids that we cannot produce internally. Furthermore, it's often more bioavailable, which means we can afford to eat less of it, knowing that the body can use it efficiently.

Cons: Some people choose to avoid animal protein due to concerns about the environmental impact and ethical considerations surrounding animal agriculture. Also, animal protein can be more expensive and take longer to prepare than plant-based proteins. Remember, both types of protein have a place in a balanced diet, and the best choice depends on your individual dietary needs and ethical considerations.

Protein Digestion and Absorption: How Does It Happen?

To get the most out of your protein intake, it's essential to support your digestion and absorption. It all starts in the stomach, where gastric juices break down the protein into smaller components. Did you know your stomach pH is naturally acidic, typically around 2? Your stomach produces hydrochloric acid and a proteolytic (protein-breaking) enzyme called pepsin, which breaks down large proteins into their smaller amino acid building blocks.

These amino acids are then transported into the small intestine, where absorption occurs. One way to boost this process is to eat enzyme-rich foods whenever you eat protein. These include citrus fruits like lime and lemon and tropical fruits like fresh pineapple, papaya and kiwifruit. Ginger is also very beneficial to your digestion and is excellent for supporting dietary protein breakdown. Once these enzymes have done their job, your body absorbs the amino acids into the bloodstream, which can be used for various bodily functions.

Best Time to Eat Protein: Morning, Afternoon or Night?

The best time to eat protein varies according to many individual factors. Understanding the best time to eat protein, the types of protein most suitable for your diet, and how to support its digestion and absorption is key to getting the best health outcomes. Whether for muscle growth , brain health, hormone balance, or immune system support, effectively incorporating protein into your meals will significantly contribute to your overall well-being.

High-Protein Recipes For Great Health

To help you incorporate protein into your daily meals, we've gathered three delicious and easy high-protein recipes for you to try.


Chilli and Basil Tofu Stir Fry 

A vegan recipe that's rich in protein, this chilli and basil tofu stir-fry is a satisfying and spicy dinner option that supports good health.


  • 1 block of firm organic tofu
  • 2 tablespoons of vegetable oil
  • 2 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 2 red chillies, finely chopped
  • 1 onion, sliced
  • 1 red capsicum, sliced
  • 1 cup of green beans, trimmed
  • 2 tablespoons of soy sauce
  • 1 teaspoon of sugar
  • 1 cup of Thai basil leaves
  • Salt to taste


  1. Start by draining the tofu block and pressing it to remove as much moisture as possible. Cut it into bite-sized cubes.
  2. Heat 1 tablespoon of vegetable oil in a non-stick frying pan or wok over medium-high heat. Add the tofu cubes and fry until they are golden brown on all sides. Remove them and set them aside.
  3. In the same pan, add the remaining oil, then add the onion, garlic and chillies, sautéing until fragrant.
  4. Add the capsicum and green beans. Stir-fry for a few minutes until they are slightly softened.
  5. In a bowl, mix together the soy sauce and sugar until the sugar is dissolved. Add this sauce to the frying pan and stir well to ensure all the vegetables are coated.
  6. Add the fried tofu back into the pan, stirring to combine everything.
  7. Finally, add the basil leaves, give the stir-fry a final stir, and then turn off the heat. Allow the residual heat to wilt the basil leaves.
  8. Serve your protein-rich stir-fry immediately.

Egg and Lentil Dahl 

This vegetarian recipe is packed with protein from both the eggs and lentils. It's an earthy and satisfying dish perfect for lunch or dinner.


  • 1 cup green lentils
  • 4 cups water
  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 1 onion, finely chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 teaspoon ginger, finely minced
  • 1 teaspoon turmeric
  • 1 teaspoon cumin
  • 1 teaspoon  fennel seeds (optional)
  • Salt to taste
  • 4 eggs, soft boiled and peeled
  • Fresh coriander for garnishing


  1. Rinse the lentils under cold water until the water runs clear. Place them in a pot, add water, and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer until lentils are tender, about 30-40 minutes. Drain off any excess water.
  2. While the lentils are cooking, heat the vegetable oil in a frying pan. Add the onion, garlic and ginger and sauté until they are soft and golden.
  3. Stir in the spices and salt. Cook for another minute until the spices are fragrant.
  4. Add the cooked lentils to the frying pan and stir well to combine with the spices. Cook for a couple more minutes until the lentils take on the flavours of the spices.
  5. Halve the boiled eggs and add them to the lentils to heat through.
  6. Garnish with fresh coriander before serving.

Grilled Chicken and Quinoa Salad 

This dish is perfect for a post-workout meal as it contains lean protein from the chicken and an extra protein boost with complex carbohydrates from quinoa. It has simple flavours and comes together in a flash.


  • 2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
  • 1 cup  quinoa 
  • 2 cups water or chicken broth
  • 1 small cucumber, diced
  • 1 medium tomato, diced
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley
  • ½ avocado, diced
  • Juice of 1 lemon
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • Salt and pepper, to taste


  1. Season the chicken breasts with salt, pepper, and your favourite spices. Let them marinate for at least 30 minutes.
  2. While the chicken is marinating, cook the quinoa. Bring the water or broth to a boil in a saucepan, add the quinoa, and reduce heat to a simmer. Cover and let it cook for about 15 minutes until the quinoa has absorbed all the liquid. Let it cool.
  3. Grill the chicken over medium-high heat until it's cooked through, about 6-7 minutes per side. Let it rest for a few minutes, then slice it into strips.
  4. In a large bowl, combine the cooked quinoa, diced cucumber, diced tomato, avocado and chopped parsley. Add the lemon juice and olive oil, and toss to combine. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
  5. Serve the quinoa salad with grilled chicken on top.

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