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  • Writer's pictureCarina Hopen

To Protein Powder or Not to Protein Powder



You can find protein powders in just about every grocery, health food, and supplement store. Not only are there often several to choose from, but they usually come in [rather large/huge] [containers/sizes]. But, who should take protein powder and how much protein do you need anyway?

 

As your caring/credentialed nutrition professional, I’d love to share some key insights to help you decide whether protein powders are for you, and if so, how to choose the right one. That’s why this [week’s/month’s] blog post is all about protein and protein powders—why protein is so essential, which foods contain it, and a bit about the common types of protein powders that you can choose from. 

 

Protein is for everyone, but what about protein powder? Protein powders are often thought of as nutritional supplements for athletes. This is completely understandable because most protein powders focus on selling their products to athletes. But, while athletes do need more protein than most people, everybody needs to consume a minimum amount of protein every day for good health.

 

In this blog post we’ll go over what protein is and how to calculate your personal protein needs. Then, when you know how much you need, you can see how much protein is found in different foods and [see whether or not you can benefit from protein powder and] how to choose from the vast array of protein powders available on the market.

 

What is protein?

Protein is an essential nutrient that everyone needs every day. Protein, along with carbohydrates and fats, is considered to be a macronutrient because you need more of these every day than the micronutrients like vitamins and minerals. Plus, it’s these macronutrients that contribute to our daily need for fuel.

 

The protein compound itself is made from several building blocks called amino acids. There are over 20 different amino acids, 9 of which are considered to be essential and must be consumed daily. That’s because you don’t store excess protein and amino acids in your body, so you need a constant supply of them. Protein sources that contain all nine essential amino acids are called complete proteins, and those that may be low in one or two are called incomplete proteins.

 

Protein is so important for good health that your body naturally contains over 10,000 different proteins. Protein is critical for all parts of your body including your muscles, bones, skin, hair, enzymes, blood, hormones, etc. Protein helps with so many functions including promoting bone and muscle mass and strength, healing burns and wounds, and having a strong immune system. Some studies show that consuming enough protein each day can help you stay fuller longer, and may help with managing weight. 


How much protein do you need every day?

An average person needs 0.8 grams of protein for every kg of body weight. This means that if you weigh 70 kg (154 lb), you need 56 grams of protein every day. If you weigh 90 kg (198 lb), then you need 72 grams of protein every day.

 

These are the minimum requirements for most people, although some need more. For example, people who are pregnant or breastfeeding, and those who have difficulty gaining or keeping on weight, such as some older adults or those with HIV/AIDS, may benefit from additional protein.

 

If you are an athlete or are very physically active, you need more nutrients for energy—including more protein for recovery. Research shows that eating high-quality protein within two hours after exercise can enhance muscle repair and growth. Athletes should aim for 1.2-2.0 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight every day. This means that a 70 kg (154 lb) athlete needs 84-140 grams of protein every day, while a 90 kg (198 lb) athlete needs 108-180 grams of protein every day.

 

Fun Fact: According to the Office of Dietary Supplements, high-protein diets (e.g., those that have two to three times the recommended daily allowance of protein) seem to be safe. Recent research shows that high-protein diets don’t increase the risk of kidney stones, kidney function, or dehydration, nor do they negatively impact bone health.


How much protein is in food?

When thinking of protein-rich foods, you may think of meat, eggs, seafood, and dairy. These are some of the foods that contain the highest amounts of protein. But did you know that protein is also found in many plant foods including legumes, nuts, seeds, and grains—and there is even some protein in vegetables and fruit?

 

Here is a list of the amount of protein per serving in a few higher-protein foods:

 

  • 33 g protein in 4 oz of sirloin steak

  • 30 g protein in 4 oz of grilled sockeye salmon

  • 28 g protein in 4 oz skinless chicken thigh

  • 22 g protein in 4 oz ham

  • 18 g protein in 1 cup of cooked lentils

  • 8 g protein in 8 oz milk

  • 6 g protein in 1 oz of dry roasted almonds

 

Animal sources of protein are considered to be complete proteins because they contain all 9 essential amino acids. Some plant-based proteins are also considered to be complete, like soy, quinoa, and chia seeds. However, to get complete protein from other plant sources that may lack one or more amino acids, simply mix up your diet by eating a variety of plant foods every day to get enough of all of your essential amino acids. [Another bonus is that eating more plant-based foods can be good for your health and the planet’s health because plants contain a variety of nutrients (like fiber), they don’t contain cholesterol, and the production of plant-based foods releases fewer greenhouse gases.]

 

Not everyone gets the right amount of protein from food. Some who experience food insecurity, have certain dietary restrictions or malnutrition often do not get enough protein. Others may get more than enough protein, especially if they eat a lot of animal-based foods. Many people can get enough protein by eating a variety of nutritious foods throughout the day. However, as with any nutrient, if you aren’t able to get enough from your diet, you may benefit from supplementation. 

 

Choosing the Right Protein Powder For You

Protein powders are convenient sources of protein and often have added vitamins, minerals, sweeteners, and other ingredients. Different protein powders may contain protein from several different sources, and the amount of protein per scoop can vary between products. [In the U.S., nutritional supplements—including protein powders—are not regulated.] Some protein powders have been found to contain contaminants like heavy metals. These are the reasons why it’s important to read the nutrition labels and get a recommendation for a high-quality product from a healthcare professional that you trust before you change your supplementation regimen.

 

Here is a brief overview of some of the most common types of protein powders.

 

Whey or casein protein powder

 

Whey and casein are made from milk and should be avoided if you are allergic, sensitive to, or otherwise avoiding dairy. These animal-based proteins contain all of the essential amino acids your body needs. The difference between them is that whey is water-soluble and is absorbed more quickly than casein. 

 

Collagen protein powder

 

Collagen is the most common protein naturally found in your body. It’s essential for the structure of your bones, skin, muscles, tendons, and cartilage. Collagen supplements, including protein powders, are animal-based.

 

Soy protein powder

 

Soy is one of the plants that are high in protein and contain all of the essential amino acids (it’s a complete protein). Soy-based protein powders are a popular choice for people who avoid dairy.

 

Pea protein powder

 

Pea protein powders can be used by those who avoid dairy and soy. Pea protein is rich in eight of the nine essential amino acids, so it has low amounts of just one amino acid (methionine). Pea protein can be mixed with rice or animal-based proteins to provide a complete protein.

 

Hemp protein powder

 

Hemp protein is low in two essential amino acids (lysine and leucine), however it does contain some of the essential omega-3 fatty acids.


Bottom Line

Protein is a key part of every nutritous, health-promoting [diet/eating style]. Meeting your personal protein needs is essential to good health. Protein is found in many foods—not only animal-based foods—and many people can meet their protein needs without supplementing. 

 

However, there are some people who need more protein than others (e.g., athletes). If you think you may need a professional nutrition assessment or to consider starting or changing your supplementation regimen, consult a credentialed nutrition professional who can help.

 

Looking for higher-protein recipes or meal plans? Want to ensure you’re getting enough quality protein to meet your health goals? Need an expert review of your nutrition or supplement regimens? Click here to book an appointment with me today to see if my services can help you.

 

References

Casparo, A. (2020, July 20). Protein and the athlete — How much do you need? Eat Right. https://www.eatright.org/fitness/sports-and-performance/fueling-your-workout/protein-and-the-athlete

Cleveland Clinic. (2021, January 29). 13 of the best vegetarian and vegan protein sources. Health Essentials. https://health.clevelandclinic.org/13-of-the-best-vegetarian-and-vegan-protein-sources/

Harvard T. H. Chan School of Public Health. (n.d.). Collagen. The Nutrition Source. https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/collagen/

Harvard T. H. Chan School of Public Health. (n.d.). Protein. The Nutrition Source. https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/what-should-you-eat/protein/

Harvard T. H. Chan School of Public Health. (n.d.). Workout supplements. The Nutrition Source. https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/workout-supplements/

Hunnes, D. (n.d.). The case for plant based. UCLA Sustainability. https://www.sustain.ucla.edu/food-systems/the-case-for-plant-based/

Mayo Clinic. (2020, November 13). Whey protein. https://www.mayoclinic.org/drugs-supplements-whey-protein/art-20363344

Medical News Today. (2018, September 18). What are the benefits of protein powder? https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/323093

Office of Dietary Supplements. (2022, June 2). Dietary supplements for exercise and athletic performance. National Institutes of Health. https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/ExerciseAndAthleticPerformance-HealthProfessional/

 

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