Do you really need a protein powder?

May 28, 2024 in Leslie's Featured Content

Do you really need a protein powder?

They’re no longer a niche supplement used by muscle-builders and athletes. With everyday people recognizing the benefits of eating enough protein, including weight loss, muscle strength, and immune health, protein powders have become mainstream.

They’re certainly a convenient way to get a hit of protein, especially if you’re trying to cut calories and consume more protein at the same time.

Before you find a permanent place for a tub of protein powder in your pantry, though, determine if you really need it. If so, you’ll then need to choose a product that’s right for you. Here’s what you need to know.

How much protein?

Protein-rich foods and supplements provide the body with amino acids, building blocks used to make muscle, cartilage, bone, skin, hormones, enzymes, immune compounds, and more. How much protein you need each day depends on factors such as age, activity level, calorie intake and health.

Sedentary adults require 0.8 g of protein per kilogram of body weight per day (0.36 g per pound).  That means a 140-pound person needs 51 g of protein, while someone who weighs 200 pounds needs 73 g.

It’s not difficult to get this much protein from food. Consider that a four-ounce (120 g) serving of chicken supplies 37 g of protein, one cup of Greek yogurt has 24 g, one cup of lentils has 18 g and two eggs contain 12 g. 

Protein powders may be useful, however, for individuals who have difficulty eating or a decreased appetite. They may also benefit people who have increased protein needs and find it challenging to get all of it from foods alone.

Active people, competitive athletes, older adults and people recovering from injury or surgery need extra protein. And if you’re trying to build muscle while losing body fat, getting some of your protein from a supplement helps keep daily calories down.

Animal vs. plant protein powder

To make protein powder, protein is extracted from foods such as cow’s milk, eggs, collagen, soybeans, brown rice, split peas and hemp seeds, leaving behind carbohydrates, fats, fibre and minerals. They usually contain 15 to 30 g of protein per 30 g serving, depending on type.

Whey and casein protein powders are derived from dairy and contain all nine essential amino acids needed to build and maintain muscle. Essential amino acids must come from your diet because your body can’t synthesize them on its own.

Whey protein is quickly digested and may have an edge over other protein powders when it comes to muscle protein synthesis. Casein is digested more slowly and is often recommended to body builders before bed to prevent muscle breakdown during sleep, although the evidence for this is mixed.

Many plant protein powders are blends of brown rice, other grains (millet, quinoa, amaranth), split peas, pulses (lentils, chickpeas) and seeds (flax, chia, hemp, pumpkin, sunflower). Some have added fruit and vegetable powders, herbs, spices and sweeteners.

You’ll also find plant-based powders made from single proteins. Soy protein powder, made from defatted soy flour, contains all nine essential amino acids.

Hemp protein also contains all essential amino acids along with fibre, B vitamins and iron. Brown rice and pea protein powders are hypoallergenic.

Bottom line

If you use protein powder, read labels to make sure you’re getting the amount of protein you need without unwanted ingredients. Consider rotating between different types of protein powders over time to limit exposure to contaminants.

Consume most of your daily protein from whole foods, which along with muscle-building, also supply vitamins and minerals, and in the case of plant protein foods, phytochemicals and fibre too.

All research on this web site is the property of Leslie Beck Nutrition Consulting Inc. and is protected by copyright. Keep in mind that research on these matters continues daily and is subject to change. The information presented is not intended as a substitute for medical treatment. It is intended to provide ongoing support of your healthy lifestyle practices.