Protein powder has left the realm of bodybuilding to enter the mainstream market, appealing to consumers with its promises of improved health and weight loss. An astounding $11.1 billion will be spent annually on protein powders and supplements worldwide, according to the BBC. Where protein powders were once relegated to large tubs on the shelves of sports and vitamins stores, consumers can now get a protein boost from fortified milkshakes, granola bars and other common products.
“In the early days they were very much associated with body building. Until the late 90s very few people outside that high performance athletic community had heard of them,” said Euromonitor research analyst Chris Schmidt in an interview with the BBC. In theory, protein powder sounds like a wonder product. But before you reach for a super-powered shake, learn the facts to determine whether this nutritional trend should really be a part of your diet. Whether you need additional protein in your diet depends on many factors, like age, gender and weight.
Am I getting enough protein?
Whether you should be consuming protein powder depends on your current daily intake, among other factors, like age, sex and lifestyle. According to Harvard Medical School, the Recommended Dietary Allowance for protein is 0.8 grams per kilogram of body weight. For example, a woman who weights 140 pounds, is 50 years old and doesn’t regularly exercise should consume 53 grams of protein a day.
It seems that most Americans are getting the protein they need. In its 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines, the Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion noted that overall, average intakes of protein foods are near the recommended amounts for all age and gender groups. The 0.8 grams per kilogram of weight recommendation is suitable for the average person. However, certain groups of people require additional protein. Athletes who burn a higher-than-average amount of calories each day can benefit from protein powders, along with vegetarians, according to Kaplan University.
What are the pros of protein powder?
Protein is essential to life and has countless health benefits for the body. It can help manage blood pressure, promote heart health, lower cholesterol levels, strengthen the immune system and support healthy hair, nails and skin. Protein is also essential to muscle repair after exercise. You can find protein in seafood, meat, nuts, legumes and some dairy products, like milk, cheese and eggs.
Powder can help the body get adequate levels of protein quickly and conveniently. As Greatist noted, most people would rather drink a protein shake after an intense workout than spend an hour cooking a balanced meal. Additionally, consuming supplements are an easy way for busy people to pack some protein into their diets, and helps ensure vegetarians get the nutrients they need. “Many protein powders contain artificial additives and sweeteners.”
What are the cons of protein powder?
For all the benefits of protein, though, powder and supplements may not be the best way to consume it. Many doctors believe it’s better for the average person to get their protein from whole foods, not supplements, and many powders contain artificial additives and sweeteners. Too much protein can be a problem, also. Kaplan explained that excessive protein consumption can cause ketoacidosis, a condition where the kidneys are overworked and the body becomes dangerously acidic and at risk of dehydration and other issues.
Additionally, protein powders and supplements are not regulated by the Food and Drug Administration, the source noted.
What should I look for in protein powders?
There are many different types of protein powders on the market, and if you are considering supplementing your diet with the product, it’s worth spending time researching the specific characteristics of each type. The most commonly found protein powders are casein, whey, soy and egg. Whey and casein are milk derivatives and may be an allergen for some people and come packed with additives, noted Greatist. Egg protein supplements are more expensive than the other types, while soy protein may impact hormone levels.
If you are an athlete who regularly burns a significant amount of calories, a bodybuilder or someone who does intense weight training, or a vegetarian, than you may benefit from taking protein powder. Consult with your doctor before adding it to your diet to figure out what works best for you.
If you’re an average Joe, though, you may be better off getting your protein from whole foods. According to Kaplan, research shows that protein supplements just aren’t necessary for healthy adults who simply take part in recreational sports and activities.