Is protein powder good for you?

Young athletic woman scooping protein powder into a shaker bottle

There’s whey protein, soy protein, pea protein and now even cricket protein. Do these protein powders legitimately help with weight loss and muscle building? How necessary is it for people to incorporate these powders into their diet? Are they safe?

What are the benefits of protein powder?

Protein powder obviously contains protein, which is something everyone needs. However, the amount you need depends on your gender, age, activity level and health. Someone who regularly exercises, whether it’s an activity like running or strength training (or both), needs extra protein. People healing from surgery or other medical procedures likely also need extra protein. Finally, for anyone eliminating meat and dairy products from what they eat may need extra protein.

Protein before a workout helps make amino acids available to your body so it doesn’t use the protein in your muscles to fuel a workout. Taking it after a workout helps repair damaged muscles, which prevents injury while making your muscles grow bigger and stronger.

Is getting protein from powder just as good as getting it from whole foods?

This is a question I get from my clients quite frequently, and the answer is mostly no.

Eating a food that’s naturally high in protein tends to also provide other nutrients that a person may need. So when my clients tell me they eat egg whites for protein, I also encourage them to eat the yolk for vitamins A and B. Some people should avoid the yolk, but most can eat it.

Nutrients aside, the protein in protein powder might not be the same quality as it is in real, whole food. Protein from food sources provides people with the nine essential amino acids that the human body doesn’t make itself. While some protein powders contain the full amino acid profile, some fall short.

Eating whole foods that are high in protein also provides other vitamins and minerals that protein powders often do not.

Should I add protein powder to my diet?

Humans need protein to help repair cells, build and maintain muscle and encourage healthy growth and development, but in reality, most Americans get plenty of protein from their diet alone — some even get too much.

Supplementing protein isn’t always necessary for the average adult. However, it can make it easier to get the proper amount of protein for people who might need an extra boost, such as athletes, vegetarians or vegans.

To figure out how much protein you need daily, there’s a simple equation you can use to find out roughly how many grams of protein you should be eating every day.

All you have to do is:

  • Convert your weight into kilograms by dividing your weight in pounds by 2.2.
  • Multiply that number by 0.8.

According to that formula, a 160-pound woman needs about 58 grams of protein each day. I typically like to give my clients a range of 0.8-1.1. So for this example, a 160-pound woman needs roughly 58-73 grams of protein each day. Many athletes and those trying to lose weight often need more (1.2-1.5).

How do you choose a safe protein powder?

Not all protein powders are created equal. Supplements, such as protein powders, don’t require FDA approval for marketing. Because of this, they may contain less protein, more sugar and differing amounts of other ingredients — versus what the label says.

Look for a protein powder that’s NSF Certified for Sport (even if you’re not an athlete), which means a product has undergone third-party testing to ensure that what’s listed on the package is actually in the product.

Can taking protein powder make me gain fat?

Any food in excess can cause weight gain. The body generally wants to use protein for repairing tissues, building tissues and making other compounds in our body, such as hormones. It can be used as an energy source and, if it’s eaten in large amounts or combined with other foods or beverages that provides more energy than a person needs, weight gain will result.

Is protein powder made from worms?

Most protein powders are made from whey or casein in milk, eggs, soy, pea or rice. Whey protein is the most common type of protein powder in the U.S. since it’s fairly inexpensive, a complete protein and easily digestible.

Newer proteins have come out on the market, though, including unusual and less-consumed ones in the U.S. like cricket and worm protein. However, although new sources of protein are emerging, they’re still hard to find in the U.S., since most Americans are hesitant to consume these.

If you’re wondering if worms are in your protein powder, simply read the ingredients on the food label. By law, all ingredients must be clearly listed on the food label in the U.S.

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