One of the most common questions I get at fitness conferences is, “Do you think protein powders are helpful?”
My answer is, “Sometimes.”
More protein does not necessarily guarantee more muscle. It’s much more involved than that.
Here’s why I say that—let’s take a crash course on protein powders, when they’re useful and the potential dangers associated with them.
Protein is a macronutrient found in foods such as meats, dairy products, eggs, nuts and beans.
Although it’s best known for being the building block of muscles, protein also:
- Supports the building, repair and maintenance of all your organs, nerves, skin, hair and nails
- Forms the basis for your body's enzymes and hormones
- Is used by your body to make neurotransmitters
- Makes up the antibodies generated by your immune system
Proteins are made up of amino acids, many of which can be manufactured by your body. The nine essential amino acids that your body can’t
produce (and must come from your diet
) are: Histidine, isoleucine, leucine, lysine, methionine, phenylalanine, threonine, tryptophan and valine.
A protein is said to be “complete” when it contains all nine of the essential amino acids. If it’s missing one or more it’s “incomplete.”
What are my protein needs?
The RDA for protein for the average adult male is 56 grams per day, and for females it’s 46 grams.
It’s easy to get what you need when you consider the protein punch of many foods. For example, four ounces of chicken has 33.8 grams, four ounces of salmon has 29.1 grams, and four ounces of beef has 32 grams.
But there are circumstances under which your body might need more
A teenager may need more protein, especially if he’s participating in sports because his body is still growing and uses more protein in general.
2- When you’re starting an exercise program
If working out is new to you and especially if you’re trying to build muscle, you’ll likely require more protein than you normally would.
3- When you’re revving up your workouts
If you normally run five miles four times a week, but then you start training for a marathon, your body will definitely need more protein.
4- When you’re recovering from an injury
People recovering from injuries frequently need more protein to help them heal.
5- If you’re going vegan
People who pursue a vegan or vegetarian lifestyle eliminate a number of protein sources from their diet, including meat, chicken, and fish, and sometimes dairy and eggs as well.
Protein powders come in a variety of forms, the most common of which are whey, soy, egg, rice and casein-based products.
Here are some things to consider about each:
protein is the most popular type of protein supplement. Whey is a complete protein created during the process of turning milk into cheese. As such, it may be a concern for people with dairy allergies.
protein is one of the few plant proteins that’s a complete protein, but beware: Soy is becoming increasingly genetically modified
. The process of genetically modifying crops creates protein structures that are completely foreign to your body…and time will tell what effects these “Franken-proteins” will have on your health. Soy is also a common allergen.
protein is made by separating out egg yolks and dehydrating egg whites. They’re a great source of complete protein, but they too are a common allergen.
protein is hypoallergenic and easily digested and tolerated by most people. The downside is that rice protein is not a complete
protein is a complete protein that is produced using a separation process applied to milk that can isolate the milk protein. But it’s also an allergen for many.
Do I need a protein powder?
Although some people supplement with protein powders to make sure their protein needs are met, the vast majority are athletes that are looking to build muscle
As far as grams of protein needed for athletes go, here are some guidelines:
- Recreational athletes need 0.5-0.75 grams of protein daily for every pound of body weight
- Competitive athletes need 0.6-0.9 grams per pound
- Athletes building muscle mass need 0.7-0.9 grams per pound
That being said, there are other considerations that you need to be aware of when using protein supplements.
Not being aware of these issues can not only mean that you won’t get the results you want, but that you can actually end up doing more harm
What protein powders don’ttell you
Many fitness enthusiasts drink protein shakes, imagining how they’re beginning to resemble Arnold Schwarzenegger.
You see, before muscle grows, your body’s rate of protein synthesis
must also increase…and that doesn’t come about automatically by eating more protein. It’s a complex process that involves your cell signaling and DNA to make those amino acids turn into muscle.
Plus protein synthesis (construction of your body’s specific protein needs) is done by your liver
So if your liver isn't as healthy as it should be, guess what--you might be running low in protein regardless of what you take in.
Additionally, whether your protein comes from food or shakes or both, unless your body is actually breaking down
those proteins into their amino acids and absorbing
them, then you may be getting little or no benefit.
Lastly, too much of anything
is never a good thing, and that includes protein.
Excessive intake of protein can lead to excess acid waste accumulation. Over time this can trigger kidney problems, accelerated bone loss and even osteoporosis!
Get your protein and use it!
Whether or not you choose to use protein powders is up to you. If you feel you have the need, then by all means there are a lot of great products out there.
But it doesn’t stop there.
To ensure that your body gets the amino acids you need AND can use them, it's crucial to have a diet that your body can more easily digest and features a variety of protein sources.
Great Taste No Pain not only encourages you to enjoy several delicious sources of protein (including meats, fish, beans, legumes, nuts and whole grains), but it also guides you on the right other foods to eat them with so you can encourage more comfortable, thorough digestion and better nutrient absorption.
Make sure you have the enzymes too!
Changing your diet will go a long way in improving your digestion and overall health, but some people have an additional hurdle to overcome.
Because they may be enzyme challenged
You see, if you've had a typical modern diet for a while and/or have taken antacids for so long that they now qualify as your 5th
food group, chances are excellent that you have expended way more digestive enzymes than Nature intended …and you may have diminished your body's ability to produce enough for your needs.
And without the proper levels of enzymes, my 3 cats will sing an opera at the Met before you enjoy complete digestion and nutrient absorption.
If you think enzymes may be a concern for you, an enzyme supplement like Digestizol Max
can be just what you need.
Digestizol Max's blend of 14 plant-derived enzymes will give your body a welcome boost and help ensure that everything you've eaten is broken down like it should be.
Don’t forget your “protein headquarters”
is your body’s headquarters for construction of your protein needs, so you must help keep it healthy.
Start by drinking enough water. Five to eight 8-oz. glasses a day should be your minimum.
Also, keep the booze under control. There’s nothing wrong with a drink or two, especially with a meal, but if you regularly drink more than that, it’s time to cut back.
Lastly, milk thistle (silymarin
) has been used since the 15th century for liver health. Most experts recommend 350-525 mg. of milk thistle with meals.
Now you are armed with the information you need to not only decide whether protein powders are right for you, but also the advice you need to make sure you’re absorbing those precious amino acids, as well as helping your precious liver!
To your health,
Follow me on Twitter @sherry_brescia and Instagram @sherrybrescia