Getting enough protein is important. Every cell in the body contains protein, so the body needs protein to produce and repair cells. Sometimes, for whatever reason, people don’t get as much protein as they need. This is when protein powder can come in handy.
Keep in mind that not everyone needs extra protein.
Bodybuilders are the biggest users of protein powders, because they need a lot of protein to build up muscles. You might also benefit from an extra boost of protein if you’re trying to lose weight.
Other reasons you might require some extra protein include:
- You’re a growing teenager
- You’re starting a new exercise regime
- You just increased or intensified your exercise routine
- You’re recovering from an injury
- You’re vegan or vegetarian
Vegans and vegetarians don’t consume the biggest sources of natural protein – meat. Vegans, especially, might have a hard time getting enough protein, since they can’t get protein from eggs or dairy products.
The other reasons you might require some extra protein are all related to producing or repairing cells. Growing, obviously, requires some new cell growth, while recovering from injuries might involve the repair of cells or the production of new cells. Exercise, whether it’s new or newly-amped-up, leads to muscle growth, so upping your protein intake will help your body produce those new cells.
The average, non-athletic individual needs around 45 to 55 grams of protein per day. To figure out protein requirements for everyone else, multiply your body weight by one of these numbers:
- Recreational athlete: 0.5 to 0.75
- Competitive athlete: 0.6 to 0.9
- Teenage athlete: 0.8 to 0.9
- Athlete building muscle mass: 0.8 to 0.9
For example, if you’re a recreational athlete weighing 175 lbs, you need 0.5 to 0.75 g of protein per pound of body weight. Start at the low end of the scale, and multiple 175 by 0.5 to get 87.5 g of protein per day.
Talk to your physician about whether or not this is sufficient for you. Be sure to mention any feelings of tiredness or fatigue, since this could mean you need to increase your protein intake a little more.
Protein powder is a great way to boost your protein intake when needed, but if possible, it’s always best to get your protein from whole foods.
Consider keeping a food diary for a week or two to track how much protein you get in the average day. The nutritional labels on packaged foods will list the protein content. When you’re eating out, check online or ask an employee about nutritional information; most places will be able to accommodate you. You can also find the nutritional information for just about everything online, such as with this booklet from the Mayo Clinic listing the calories and protein for lots of common foods.
You can also get a protein-packed snack without using a protein powder. Yogurt, milk, cheese, or even chocolate milk will provide a good amount of protein. They may not compare to a smoothie with protein powder, but they can do the trick if you’re already close to your target daily protein.
Whole foods generally have more nutrients than shakes or smoothies with protein powder. However, if you aren’t getting enough protein in your day to day, go ahead and supplement with some protein powder. Daily Burn sums up the best way to approach protein powders:
“Although protein shakes may be a convenient way to take in calories, it doesn’t mean that they’re always the best option. Whole food sources are still your best bet for getting vital nutrients. The takeaway is to build your diet with a base of solid food and use protein powder as a — you guessed it — supplement when it’s healthy and convenient.”
Choosing your protein powder might seem overwhelming, but it doesn’t have to be.
Go into a health food or bodybuilding store, and you’re likely to be faced with a sea of choices when it comes to protein powder. To make it easier to choose one, break the decision into pieces. First, pick the type of protein you want. The most common types of protein powders derive their protein from whey, casein, or soy.
Individuals who are lactose intolerant should steer clear of protein powders with whey or casein, since these are derived from dairy. Also, vegans will have their choices narrowed down to soy and, perhaps, rice. Lactose intolerants and vegans aside, whey and casein are the most common types of protein powders. The benefits of each type are hotly debated. Generally, whey might be a better choice for a post-workout, quick-nutrient shake, while slower-digesting casein protein is better for meals.
Essentially, however, protein is protein. Choose a protein powder that fits your dietary restrictions. Also check the nutritional information and look for carbs and fats, since this might affect your choice if you’re diabetic or trying to lose weight. Keep in mind that you might want to favor the more protein-heavy powders if you’re weight training, but a powder that has some carbs might be good if you’re focusing on cardio training.
To choose a protein powder brand, you can always ask a physician, physical therapist, or physical trainer for recommendations. You can also check companies like Informed Choice to see which brands carry through on claims. Lastly, the employees at places with wide varieties of protein powders know a lot and should be able to answer any questions you have. Just be wary if an employee immediately points you toward the most expensive protein powder they sell.
Don’t be afraid to get creative with your protein powder.
The easiest way to use protein powder is in a home-made smoothie. A good rule of thumb for a meal-replacement smoothie is that men should use two scoops of protein powder, while women should use one scoop. Your physician’s recommended protein target always trumps this rule, though.
If smoothies aren’t your thing, you can still find lots of ways to use your protein powder. For example, this slideshow of ways to use protein powder has everything from pancakes to popsicles, all with a boost of protein powder.
Have you ever used protein power to kick up your protein?
Image by East Midtown via Flickr