Protein powder is known as a must-have workout supplement, but you may wonder if your daily workout shakes are giving you muscle gains or just making you pile on fat pounds. Take a look at your daily diet. If it includes healthy, protein-rich foods, there's a chance you don't need to worry about protein powder supplementation at all.
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If you feel you need protein powder drinks, be sure to choose the right types and the ideal serving sizes. The exact amount of protein powder you need depends on your activity level, size, age and goals.
Importance of Dietary Protein
Every single cell in your body contains protein, explains MedLinePlus. Protein helps cells repair and regenerate. It's particularly important to muscle repair and growth. Protein aids development in children, adolescents and the babies of pregnant women.
Protein is generally found in many foods, but proteins in meat, dairy, nuts, eggs, soy, beans and some grains are considered complete protein. This means they contain all of the necessary amino acids your body can't make on its own in sufficient quantities. Most plant proteins are incomplete, and you need a variety of them to get all the amino acids your body needs for proper growth and function.
Protein Needs for Adults
The bare minimum amount of protein you need per day is 0.36 grams per pound of body weight. So, for a 140-pound person, that's about 50 grams. But that's just the lowest amount you should aim for to avoid getting sick explains Harvard Health Publishing.
A Protein Summit organized in 2015 included 40 nutrition scientists and was detailed in the Harvard Health Publishing article. It concluded that about 15 to 25 percent of total daily calories can come from protein. This is a safe and reasonable amount of protein to aim for. So, if you eat 2,000 calories per day, 75 to 125 grams of protein is appropriate.
Your exact needs, however, also depend on your age, sex and activity level. Athletes and avid exercisers might need a bit more. Protein is important for athletes because it helps repair and strengthen muscle tissue. Also important, however, is a greater amount of other macronutrients, including carbohydrates for energy and fat for weight maintenance.
Read more: How Much Protein is Right for You?
The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics recommends athletes consume 1.2 to 2.0 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight, depending on the type of training they're involved in. Endurance athletes, such as runners, need less protein per day than power athletes, such as weightlifters.
This means that if you're a 150-pound athlete, you need 81 to 136 grams of protein per day. (One kilogram equals 2.2 pounds.) This protein intake should be spread out among multiple meals and workouts.
Protein Supplements and Workout Shakes
Most athletes can get all the protein they need through food alone, asserts the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, but protein supplements can be convenient at times. If you do consume protein powder, make sure you know how much to take for maximum benefit.
You can't just go by servings because protein powders differ in how much protein is contained in each label-defined scoop. Research from a February 2018 study in the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition determined that, to build muscle, you should aim for 0.4 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight at each of four meals spread out throughout the day. This is 0.18 grams of protein per pound of body weight.
The study explained that this is the optimal amount you can synthesize in a sitting to use for your muscle's building and repair needs. Any more and the calories will be used as energy, stored as fat or excreted from the body.
A 150-pound person benefits from not more than about 27 grams of protein from a protein powder supplement. Most standard protein powders contain about 20 grams per serving, but some types boast 40 or more grams per serving, which may simply be too much for some bodies.
Protein Powder for Beginners
If you're new to using protein powder supplements, it's important to know that not all powders are the same. Hemp, soy, whey, casein, rice, pea and egg proteins all offer value, depending on your goals. They're metabolized and used differently and contain slightly different combinations of essential amino acids.
For example, whey protein is popular for post-workout because it's quickly digested and goes right to repairing and building worked muscles. Nutrients published research to back up years of support for whey protein. The July 2017 study concluded that supplementation with whey protein enhances your body's muscle-building mechanisms and can improve your recovery after a strenuous workout.
Look for protein powders with no added sugars or other compounds that could dilute their quality or raise their caloric load. Protein powder isn't regulated by the FDA either, so ask around about high-quality producers to ensure you're getting the best possible.
Read more: The Best Protein Powder for Gaining Muscle
Real Food Is Best
The Journal of Dietary Supplements published a review in May 2018 that provided a comprehensive analysis of literature examining the pros and cons of protein supplementation. The researchers noted that, although protein powder may have some purported health benefits, they tend to be overused.
These powders contain less of the essential nutrients required for a healthy body and a balanced diet. The authors suggest you seek protein from natural food sources, rather than processed powders. If you take soy powder, for instance, you lose the fiber and some phytonutrients that come in whole soybeans. Whole foods are simply your best choice when it comes to getting protein.
Whole foods have a complex array of vitamins, minerals and other macronutrients that best stimulate muscle protein remodeling and improve your overall diet profile. Use protein powders only if you can't get enough protein from whole foods or when whole food isn't convenient, such as right after a workout. In some cases, too, you just can't stomach anything more than a workout shake following a hard effort that creates the need for refueling.
Men and women who are underweight and looking to gain pounds can also benefit from additional calories and protein grams from protein powders. Protein powder drinks are also valuable if you're exceptionally active and have an intensely demanding training schedule. Sometimes you just can't manage to meet your body's calorie demands from whole foods.
Whole foods are generally superior, but protein supplements can be a complement when you need convenient dietary amino acid to promote skeletal muscle growth and repair.
- Journal of Dietary Supplements: "Protein Supplements: Pros and Cons"
- Nutrients: "Achieving Optimal Post-Exercise Muscle Protein Remodeling in Physically Active Adults through Whole Food Consumption"
- Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics: "Protein and the Athlete — How Much Do You Need?"
- MedLinePlus: "Protein in the Diet"
- MedlinePlus: "Dietary Proteins"
- Harvard Health Publishing: "How Much Protein Do You Need Every Day?"
- Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition: "How Much Protein Can the Body Use in a Single Meal for Muscle Building?"
- Nutrients: "Whey Protein Supplementation Enhances Whole Body Protein Metabolism and Performance Recovery after Resistance Exercise: A Double-Blind Crossover Study"