I always thought that protein powder was just for men and women who wanted to bulk up. Since that’s never been my goal, I’ve stayed far away from it. That was until Christine Bullock’s Evolution 20 program for our YouTube show The Last 5 had me add it to my smoothies and other recipes. I followed my instructions as a good trainee and the weight dropped off (no bulking here!). Still, I wonder if protein powder is really a necessary component to a fit lifestyle. That’s why I asked a few experts to find out.
“Protein powders are great ways to supplement your protein intake if you work out a lot and have a hard time getting enough protein in,” says clinical nutritionist Ariane Hundt. Protein is important to build and maintain muscle mass as well as strengthen immunity. On top of that, protein balances your blood sugar and fills you up, so it helps control your appetite. It also signals your body to burn body fat for energy and boosts your metabolism.
But the quality of the protein powder you choose matters. It’s best to pick a protein powder with the fewest ingredients possible. That way, if you have an intolerance to an ingredient, you know exactly what it is versus guessing from a list of 30 ingredients. “My favorites are pea and grass-fed whey,” says holistic nutritionist Kelly LeVeque.
You also want a powder that doesn’t have any artificial sweeteners or soy. “Most soy is GMO, so it can cause digestive distress, block mineral absorption, and is usually a concern for allergies,” says Hundt.
That said, your protein intake should primarily come from plant-based foods and clean animal proteins like chicken, beef, and eggs, says Hundt. Look for “organic” or “grass-fed” on the label.
For smoothies or shakes, you can add kefir or yogurt for protein instead of a powder. If your goal is to fight off hunger, you can add half of an avocado or two tablespoons of almond butter or coconut oil to your smoothies, says LeVeque.
So how much protein do you really need? Your protein intake depends on three factors: the amount of lean mass or muscle you have, your activity level, and your health status. Someone who is very active, should aim for about 0.75 grams of protein per pound of body weight. For example, a 150 pound active woman should have about 113 grams of protein per day. Also, someone who is sick needs a lot more protein than a healthy person. Those with kidney damage or kidney function issues especially need to be careful with their protein intake.
Now that you know the why and how much, the next question is when is the best time to eat or drink protein. While you can technically have it at any time, it’s best to get your protein right after a workout when your muscles need to be replenished. “After a workout is the only time when your body can actually absorb more than about 20 grams per meal. Any other time, your body can convert excess protein into body fat, just as it can convert excess carbohydrates into body fat,” says Hundt.
After all this information, I feel a lot more comfortable about adding protein to my diet. Thankfully I have a stash of Champion Naturals that I’m sure I’ll get through quickly.