What is protein powder and who is it for?
When supplementing with protein powders, it's important to remember the purpose of protein in a regular diet. Proteins are made up of amino acids, which are required for our body's daily functions, especially creating enzymes. Therefore, supplementing with protein powders ensures you can hit your daily targets if you're not getting enough from food. Protein powders also have the potential to be enriched with vitamins, minerals, greens, fats, grains and/or fibre. Conversely they are also be highly processed.
Whey and casein protein powders are the most common milk proteins and are beneficial in that they are complete proteins, meaning they contain all nine essential amino acids, and have the benefit of being water-soluble. Soy and rice protein powders are most common amongst vegetarians and vegans because they are plant-based. Of course, protein powders can come from almost any source including egg, pea, hemp, even cranberry and artichoke protein powders. Each have their own benefits in terms of additional additives and micronutrients.
Reasons to supplement with protein powder
Regardless of what your goals are, hitting your daily goal of protein is important and usually not hit by most people. If you track your food over a few weeks and notice that you're consistently falling short of your daily protein intake, it might be a good idea to supplement with protein powder.
If you're weight training, protein will help you build and repair muscle mass, to help increase your strength and size. On average, people supplementing aiming to gain muscle or size should be aiming for a minimum of 1 g of protein per pound of body weight. Getting this much protein into your regular diet, can be a challenge - hence people choosing to supplement with protein, especially those with added carbohydrates in the form of mass gainers. When selecting a protein powder, you want to select protein to carbohydrate ratios depending on your body type and if you're looking to gain weight (i.e. if you're looking to add muscle but have a fast metabolism, you'll want to invest in a powder that is high in protein and carbohydrate).
If you're trying to lose weight, protein is slowly digested so it can keep you feeling full to help you aim your reduced daily calorie intake. For weight loss, you can be aiming for around 0.8 - 1 g of protein per pound of body weight. This will help you replace foods high in carbohydrates with those high in proteins to shift your macronutrient intake to support lean muscle mass and fat loss. Supplementing with protein powder can also help build healthy eating habits. For example, think about replacing a bag of chips with a protein shake - obviously these provide better macronutrients and will increase the likelihood of achieving weight loss results, especially when it's not as convenient to have 100 g of chicken wherever you are. When selecting a protein powder for weight loss, you want to select one that is highest in protein to lowest carb and sugar for the serving size.
If you're a vegetarian or vegan, the foods that are eliminated from your diet are usually the most common sources of protein (i.e. steak, chicken, eggs, dairy, etc.). Therefore, unless you're really good at substituting with high-protein legumes like chickpeas and beans, you may struggle to hit your daily protein goals at first. This is when we would recommend supplementing with a plant-based protein. We additionally advise that even though it is possible to obtain a good portion of protein from plant sources, they tend to have low biological value, meaning that they're missing a few of the essential amino acids. Conversely, plant-based protein powder will have a blend of sources and therefore make it more likely to hit your daily protein goals while still obtaining all your essential amino acid requirements to promote healthy bodily functions.
Can you have too much protein?
Recently people have brought up the possibility that you can have too much protein, which risks causing damage to your kidneys. However, current scientific research has found that for the average healthy individual, supplementing with protein powder does not cause any harm. For those supplementing with protein powder for muscle gain, research has also shown that there's no added benefit, since once the body's daily requirements are met, any extra protein is not converted to muscle.
Another important thing to remember when supplementing with protein powder, is that it has its own limitations. The main one being that while powders can be one of your sources of protein, it's still not comparable to whole food. If you can, its always best to supplement with whole foods for the benefits of minimally processed macro and micronutrients.