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You can tell how much people adore protein by the mere fact that there is such a thing as protein powder. And for good reason: According to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), this macronutrient, which is a component of practically every human cell, is essential for processes like our immune response and hormone production—as well as, most famously, for building and repairing our body’s cells and tissues.
So, yes, it makes some sense that people are constantly worried that they need to buy more of the goods. (Also see: the protein bar heyday, plant protein’s ascent, and the availability of goods like protein chips and protein water.)
Additionally, protein appears to be the only macronutrient that diet trends don’t frequently trash. According to Whitney Linsenmeyer, Ph.D., R.D., a nutrition and dietetics instructor in the Doisy College of Health Sciences at Saint Louis University and a representative for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, “our food culture in the United States seems to be fascinated with high-protein diets and products.”
The belief that we need to supplement our diets with concentrated protein in order to properly and fully repair our muscles and maximise the benefits of our gym time may be the most obvious indication of our devotion to protein, in addition to the billions of dollars in protein powder that we collectively spend annually.How well-founded is that supposition, though? Actually, how essential is protein powder?
Here is the typical daily requirement for protein
If you consume protein shakes, it’s most likely because you believe that you need extra protein in your diet. So let’s start by discussing how much protein you actually need.
The U.S. National Library of Medicine states that the recommended daily intake of protein varies depending on your age, sex, health, and level of activity. But as a starting point, we can use the RDA, which is based on the typical protein intake found to satisfy the dietary needs of 97% to 98% of healthy individuals: 0.8 grammes of protein per kilogramme of body weight per day. (That translates to about 0.36 grammes per pound. Don’t ask me why the metric system is used in regulations created for citizens of this nation! because I’m not sure.)
Accordingly, a 150-pound person needs roughly 54 grammes of protein daily, but a 200-pound person requires roughly 72 grams. According to those recommendations, the majority of individuals already consume adequate protein through their meals, according to the U.S. National Library of Medicine. Here are a few samples of the amounts of protein you can find in some common foods, in case you have no idea how much protein you regularly consume each day: There are 27 grammes in a 4-ounce chicken breast, 17 grammes in a cup of lentils, 12 grammes in two big eggs, and 7 grammes in two teaspoons of peanut butter.
Your daily protein requirement if you are building muscle
We therefore know the average protein requirement for humans, but you might be an exception. Adam M. Gonzalez, Ph.D., C.S.C.S., assistant professor in the Department of Health Professions at Hofstra University, tells SELF that you’re you and that the ideal protein intake for any one person depends not only on their biology and lifestyle but also on their goals.
Many people who consume protein shakes do so because they have heard that they are excellent for maximising muscle protein synthesis, as it is known in the scientific community (MPS, for short). Generally speaking, Gonzalez adds, having more protein than the RDA is beneficial for people who are seeking to maintain and add muscle through diet and exercise.
Not only who you are, but also who you ask, will determine how much more you receive.After reviewing the research on sports nutrition, the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (Academy), Dietitians of Canada (DC), and the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) came to the conclusion that the ideal daily protein intake for athletes and active adults is 1.2 to 2 grammes per kilogramme of body weight, or 0.5 to 0.9 grammes of protein per pound. A similar figure was determined by the International Society of Sports Nutrition (ISSN). For most persons who exercise with the intention of gaining and maintaining muscle development and strength, the recommendation is 1.4 to 2 grammes of protein per kilogramme of body weight per day (or 0.6 to 0.9 grammes per pound).
Suppose you exercise with the intention of gaining muscle, and you want to ensure that your protein consumption supports this. Combining those two suggested ranges, an adult weighing 150 pounds should consume 75 to 135 grammes of protein daily, while an adult weighing 200 pounds should consume 100 to 180 grammes of protein daily. Gonzalez adds that the higher you fall in the suggested range, the more repair your muscles require to rebuild and expand. This is true regardless of how demanding and long your workouts are.
Yes, there is a lot of protein there. That amounts to an additional 21 to 81 grammes of protein per day for a 150-pound adult. It’s not difficult to acquire all of that from your food, but for some people, it might not be the simplest or most enjoyable option.
Does it make a difference whether you get your protein from food or a powder?
It’s not difficult to determine whether you actually need protein powder. The initial query, “How much protein do you need?” has just been answered. The second query is: To what extent are those needs being met by your diet?
Whether you require protein powder or not,Gonzalez states that it “truly relies on what your diet consists of already.” The majority of people can obtain adequate protein without a powder. According to Beth Kitchin, Ph.D., R.D.N., assistant professor in the UAB Department of Nutrition Sciences, “for the average healthy individual who’s quite athletic and eating a balanced, diverse diet, they’re probably receiving enough protein from their food already.”
Linsenmeyer continues, “It is entirely possible to consume appropriate protein from actual food.” Dietary protein can be found in meat, fish, poultry, eggs, dairy, beans, lentils, soy products, nuts, seeds, and whole grains.
Additionally, real food offers a few benefits over powder. Given that some protein powders can be quite expensive, it can definitely be less expensive. (Of course, how much you spend on the food you consume in place of the powder will determine this.)
The primary advantage is what you obtain in addition to the protein automatically. Yasi Ansari, M.S., R.D., C.S.S.D., national media spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics and assistant director of performance nutrition for UC Berkeley athletics, tells SELF that one benefit of eating is that you can consume a variety of other micronutrients and fibre from a full meal. This is particularly crucial if you’re drinking a high-protein shake in place of a balanced meal that would typically provide your body with carbs, fat, and protein. People tend to rely more on these shakes, according to Ansari, than they do on meal planning and preparation for a balanced diet. (However, to be fair, adding actual foods to your smoothie, such as berries, peanut butter, spinach, flax seed, and yoghurt, will give you the best of both worlds.)
Let’s imagine you are having trouble consuming adequate protein from food. Protein powder can be really helpful in that situation. “A protein supplement can be helpful if you’re not getting enough protein already,” Gonzalez claims. Ansari agrees that protein powders can be a wonderful method to increase the amount of protein in your diet if you can’t get all the protein you need from food alone.
Competitive athletes, elderly individuals, those recuperating from surgery or sickness, and those following vegan diets are among those who are more likely to have difficulty obtaining adequate protein through food alone, according to Ansari. Kitchin continues, “Most vegans can do fine with good food planning.” However, if you’re a vegan athlete who struggles to consume enough protein, a supplement like soy protein powder can help.
What about the bulk of us, who presumably don’t require protein powder strictly in terms of nutrition? Given that we are not robots, many other considerations influence our food choices in addition to our nutritional requirements. And after accounting for those, there’s a good likelihood that choosing protein powder is a wise decision for you.
In general, the chuggable, portable, light, and easy to prepare shake’s convenience cannot be overstated. Ansari claims that protein powders are excellent for convenience, so she has no issues with her harried student athletes who sprint from practise to class while consuming protein powder. Protein powder is essentially the easiest and most effective way to guarantee that one scoop of food will provide you with enough protein. (FYI: If you truly want to be effective in this situation, think about choosing whey protein powder. The “ideal amino acid profile,” Gonzalez adds, is likely what gives whey a tiny advantage over the other varieties when it comes to the MPS response, though Kitchin says it might not be obvious to most people.
The timing of protein intake is critical
If you use protein shakes to ensure that you consume enough protein to enhance your growth in the gym, you probably drink one right away. Although that’s a good notion, there’s a rule that’s even more critical when it comes to scheduling your protein intake: You must spread out your protein intake throughout the day.
After exercise, protein is essential, according to Ansari. But it’s crucial for individuals to understand that getting more at once isn’t always better.
The amount of protein your muscles can absorb after working out varies depending on your body composition and other factors such as how much you exercised.In order to maximise MPS, the Academy/DC/ACSM all advise ingesting 15 to 25 grammes of protein (or 0.25 to 0.3 grammes per kilogramme of body weight) within two hours of your workout, whereas the ISSN advises consuming 20 to 40 grammes (or 0.25 grammes per kilogramme of body weight).
Aim for around 20 to 30 grammes of protein after a workout if you’re searching for a simple tip to remember. (Or 11% to 14% of your body weight in pounds, if you want to be more exact.) As for food, that could be a 7-ounce container of plain Greek yoghurt with 2% fat (20 grammes of protein), a 4-ounce piece of chicken breast (27 g), or a scoop of protein powder. (While the amount varies depending on the product, many, including this whey variation and this soy one, have 20 to 25 grammes or so per serving.)
Now, experts advise consuming roughly that same amount of protein every few hours in addition to your post-workout meal (every three to five hours, per the Academy/DC/ACSM; every three hours or so, per the ISSN), if you’re attempting to help your sore muscles absorb as much protein as they can. To maximise adv, Linsenmeyer says “sufficient protein intake throughout the day, not just after an exercise,” is crucial. In contrast to, say, two low-protein meals and then a 50-gram protein shake after working out, muscle protein synthesis is greater when you take appropriate protein at breakfast, lunch, and dinner.
This is why: Gonzalez says that after working out, your muscles will actually continue to be particularly protein-hungry for at least the next 24 hours. Unfortunately, your body doesn’t just store extra protein when you consume more than it can use at once. Kitchin claims, “We don’t have a storage form of protein that we can draw upon.” In the unlikely event that your body isn’t obtaining enough energy from carbs and fat, its preferred sources of fuel, the remaining protein will be broken down and likely stored as fat, according to Kitchin (or used for energy, as the Merck Manual indicates).
Conclusion: While most people don’t require protein powder, if it works for you, go ahead and use it
There’s no need to spend a lot of time and money looking for a protein powder that doesn’t taste like chalk, as the vast majority of individuals don’t find acquiring protein from their diet to be a significant challenge.
However, if you’re having trouble getting enough protein in your diet for any reason or if your rigorous activities mean that you need more protein than the average person, a shake could be able to help. It actually depends on your needs, choices, and way of life. For instance, some people experience acute hunger after exercise that can only be sated by eating solid food. However, if you’re one of those people who loses all hunger after a strenuous workout, you could appreciate the convenience of not having to chew your protein. After working on their biceps, some folks crave a huge, juicy hamburger; however, you might prefer a rich, chocolate protein shake. Or, by all means, if drinking a protein shake makes you feel great and healthy and you appreciate that sensation! According to Kitchin, “For some folks, it simply makes them feel good about what they’re doing.” There’s nothing improper about that.
The good news is that there probably won’t be any negative effects from doing too much. Kitchin notes that “excess protein is unlikely to be hazardous.” There is no set upper limit for protein consumption, according to the Office of Dietary Supplements (ODS) of the National Institutes of Health (NIH). (They do suggest taking care due to the scant data, but they also point out that the likelihood of adverse consequences is “extremely low.”) Studies have shown that eating two to three times the RDA of protein in food and/or supplements does not appear to raise the risk of health problems such as kidney failure, which are sometimes assumed to be linked to excessively high protein intake. The National Institute for Diabetes and Digestive and Renal Diseases (NIDDK) advises against eating a lot of protein if you already have kidney disease since it makes your kidneys work harder.
Keep in mind that protein powder is regarded as a supplement, and the FDA does not approve supplements prior to their release to the market, so it is up to producers to ensure that their goods are secure and truthfully advertised. (However, the organisation does have the authority to forbid tainted or misbranded supplements.) Studies have revealed that some protein powders contain ingredients that aren’t supposed to be there, just like other dietary supplements.
By sticking with trusted brands, Gonzalez says you can reduce your chance of buying a protein powder that isn’t precisely what it claims to be. He advises buying goods that have a seal from a third-party verification agency, such as Informed Choice or the NSF International Certified for Sport seal. This shows that it has undergone lab testing for impurities, prohibited chemicals, and/or the authenticity and purity of the ingredients. (In other words, you get exactly what is listed on the ingredients label.)
And generally speaking, the FDA advises seeing a medical professional before attempting any new supplement, particularly if you’re pregnant, breastfeeding, or suffer from a chronic illness. This may also be a smart choice if you choose a protein powder that includes numerous additional supplements in addition to the usual protein, sugar, and flavour (like various vitamins, minerals, and botanical extracts).
What is the situation’s TL;DR? Protein is beneficial. Most likely, you have enough of it. If you’re hesitant to buy it or simply prefer protein powder, go ahead and choose a reliable supplier. In either case, spread out your daily protein consumption. And even if you acquire more than you need, it usually won’t matter.
According to Kitchin, “People can get extremely deep into the weeds with this stuff.” But in general, if you work out, eat well, and get your protein from good sources, you’re probably in good shape.