Protein is one of three important nutrients your body needs in relatively large amounts, the other two being carbohydrate and fat. Carbs and fat are pretty easy to obtain from a balanced, healthy diet but protein can be a little harder to get. Because of this many people suffer from a mild to moderate protein deficiency which, while not a serious risk to health, can mean that they don’t look and feel as well as they could, don’t get as much benefit from their workouts as they should or find it hard to lose weight.
Many diets are based around large amounts of carbohydrate which further reduces the amount of protein many people eat; it’s hard to get enough protein when your meals are 60% or more carbs. Such high carb diets, such as the Standard American Diet or Food Pyramid, are the norm in most Western countries but don’t suit everyone, especially those people looking to lose fat, tone up or build muscle.
What is protein and why do you need it?
Protein is made up from smaller units called amino acids. Amino acids are like building blocks and your body needs them for repair and growth. Every day, your body is breaking itself down in a process called catabolism (think catastrophe). This breaking down process is accelerated if you exercise. Protein or, more specifically, amino acids, are required to rebuild this accumulation of damage in a process called anabolism.
Too little protein means too few amino acids and, as a result, breakdown will outpace growth and repair. This means that recovery from exercise will be slow, muscles are likely to become smaller and weaker and skin, hair and bone health can also suffer. All in all, too little protein is not a good thing!
Good sources of dietary protein include meat, fish, eggs, poultry, nuts, soya, buckwheat and quinoa. However, as finding the time to cook and eat these types of food can be difficult, using protein powders is a good way to make sure you are getting enough of what you need. More on that later…
Protein is often associated with bodybuilders and as the aim of bodybuilding is to break down and then build up muscles this makes perfect sense. However, protein is important for EVERYONE and not just bodybuilders…
For example, long distance endurance activities such as running cause muscle breakdown and while carbs are needed for energy, protein is essential for post-exercise muscle repair. Dieters looking to lose weight want to lose fat and not muscle; consuming adequate protein will prevent unwanted muscle loss and actually speed up fat loss.
So, whether you are a casual jogger, a Saturday soccer player or a hardcore weightlifter, you need plenty of quality protein in your diet if you want to look, perform and feel your best.
Are you getting enough?
So, how much protein do you need? The answer is – it depends. The type and amount of physical activity you do and your body weight both dictate how much protein you need per day and although recommendations vary from one expert to another, the chart below represents the current consensus of opinion…
|Daily protein requirements in grams per kilogram of bodyweight|
|Recreational adult exerciser||0.8 – 1.5|
|Adult endurance athlete||1.2 – 1.6|
|Growing teenage athlete||1.5 – 2.0|
|Adult building muscle mass||1.5 – 1.7|
|Adult estimated upper limit||2.0|
Sedentary people should have no issue getting enough protein from a balanced diet that includes a good source of protein at main meals but regular exercisers may find that, even if they are eating well, they may not be getting enough. Lack of progress? Gaining fat and not muscle? Maybe you are protein deficient!
Getting enough protein can be tough though – especially if you need to reach the upper limit of 2.0 grams per kilo of bodyweight (or around one gram per pound). Even if you build each of your main meals around meat, fish, poultry or eggs, you may still find that you are coming up short on protein. Protein-based snacks can help but it’s not always practical to chow down on a cold turkey leg at work or at school.
So, how can you conveniently, easily and relatively cheaply increase your protein intake? Protein powder supplements may be the answer!
Protein powder supplementation
Protein powder supplements provide an easy way to get more protein. Simply take a scoop and mix it with water for a virtually instant serving of protein. Most protein powder supplements provide 20 to 30 grams of protein per serving so it’s easy to see that two or three servings per day will ensure you reach your daily protein target.
There are lots of different protein powder supplements to choose from so you should have no trouble finding one that suits your needs. Options include:
With so many choices it can be hard to know which product is best so make sure you check out “Choosing the best protein powder“ to find out how to choose the right protein powder supplement for you.
Whichever protein powder supplement you are considering, make sure you take into account the following…
- Unless you specifically want a “weight gainer” protein powder, choose low carb products with little or no added sugar.
- Avoid products that contain a lot pf artificial additives such as sweeteners, colors or flavors; those chemicals can be unhealthy and are best avoided.
- Choose a product you can afford to use regularly and in the right quantities. Whey isolate, for example, is often considered the best, purest, protein but it’s expensive too. Even the best protein powder supplement won’t do you any good if you cannot take it often enough or in the right amounts.
Using protein powder
Protein powder supplements can be consumed just about any time but your main windows of opportunity are before exercise, during exercise and after exercise as well as for snacks or when a meal is low on protein. The beauty of protein powder is that all you need is a shaker cup and some water which means there really is no reason to end up eating too little protein.
And while there is nothing wrong with mixing protein powder with plain water that can get pretty old pretty fast – especially if you are a frequent protein powder user. Thankfully, there are lots of other ways you can enjoy your protein powder supplement…
- Mix it with goat, cow, almond, soya or rice milk to make a milkshake that’s high in protein and also contains plenty of calories. Ideal for those looking to gain weight. Add soft fruit such as bananas or strawberries to make a healthy, delicious smoothie.
- Add a scoop of your favorite protein powder to your morning oatmeal for a nutritious start to the day.
- Mix protein with yogurt and then chill for a couple of hours for a high protein dessert.
- Add some instant coffee to your chocolate protein powder for a high-protein mocha
- Mix protein into Jell-O and then allow to set – another high protein dessert
There are lots of ways to use protein powder; you are only limited by your imagination!
Protein powder considerations
Protein powder supplements are, by and large, healthy and beneficial but there are a few things that you should consider before you start reaching for your shaker cup…
- Protein powder supplements contains calories and while protein is not easily converted to fat, it can happen when consumed to excess. Consuming more protein than you need will not necessarily produce better results so make sure you follow the recommendations outlined earlier.
- Some proteins, whey and caseinate specifically, are derived from milk which means that if you have a lactose intolerance, you may find these products upset your stomach. Seek out non-dairy protein powder supplements such as rice or pea if that is the case for you.
- Some medical conditions can be made worse with protein. Excess protein can be hard on the kidneys and, in some circumstances, are not recommended for women who are pregnant. If in any doubt, make sure you consult your doctor or dietician before using protein powder supplements.
- Artificial additives can cause adverse reactions in some sensitive individuals. For this reason, seek out products that are low in sweeteners, colors, flavors and preservatives.
Summary and conclusion
Protein is a vital but often overlooked food group that it important for exercisers and non-exercisers alike. Too little protein can adversely affect your performance, health and weight as well as how you look and feel. Eating a lot of meat, fish, eggs etc. is one way to get enough protein but this isn’t always convenient and can also be very expensive. Protein powder supplements provide an easy, affordable way to include more protein in your diet and, contrary to popular belief, are not just for bodybuilders.
With so many different protein powder supplements available, it can be hard to decide which product will suit you best but, to help you make that decision, we have produced the guide “Choosing the best protein powder“ that explains the different types of protein powder supplement that are available and how to choose the right one for you.
Prepare healthy shakes with fruit and protein. My protein shakes recipes here.
Homemade Meal Replacement Shakes
Use your protein powder to make shakes that replace your meals. Lower your calorie intake while giving the nutrients, vitamins, fiber and protein your body needs. Loose weight the healthy way. Recipes here