Should I take a protein powder? This is one of the most common questions that I get asked. Protein powders are heavily marketed as the secret to optimal athletic performance and health. But is guzzling back a shake really necessary to help you reach your goals or is it just another clever marketing scheme?
Regardless of your activity level, protein intake is essential for health. Protein is needed for growing and repairing cells, the immune system, and hormonal environment. Protein is especially critical for active individuals since exercise damages cells. Protein helps repair these cells so that you can optimally adapt to exercise. Research also shows that consuming enough protein is critical for those aiming to lose body fat while maintaining or building muscle mass.
Protein requirements are extremely individualized. Rather than looking at total protein intake throughout the day, I’m more concerned that athletes meet protein targets per meal and snack. Generally, I see protein needs fall within the range of 15-30 grams of protein per meal and snack. If you can get this protein from food, then there is no need for an additional protein powder. Remember more protein is not necessarily better. Read more on that here.
While there is no special benefit related to getting your protein from a protein powder instead of from food, if you are having a hard time getting enough protein with a specific meal or snack, then a protein powder may be an easy solution and is better than nothing. I most commonly see this post-workout, when people don’t have access to food or have a hard time eating. It may also be a good option for vegetarians and vegans with high protein requirements.
If you do use a protein powder, the most common error that I see is what is consumed, or rather not consumed, along with the protein powder. Protein should be paired with carbohydrates, especially post workout, to help restore glycogen that was depleted during exercise. If you are using a protein powder, add a carbohydrate source such as fruit or crackers as most protein powders will have no carbohydrates.
Going back to the original question of “should I take a protein powder,” my answer is the usual “it depends.” Nutrition recommendations need to be individualized based on your unique requirements and life situation. Stay tuned for next week’s newsletter that will highlight how to properly select a protein powder. If you would like to receive this newsletter straight to your inbox, sign-up here.