You’ve just come home from the gym, dripping in sweat and completely fatigued. You want to hop into the shower to wash up, but first you are supposed to make yourself a post-workout protein shake, right? People tend to associate the word “protein” with building strong muscles and gaining lean body mass. Most people believe that the more protein they eat, the stronger they will become. Marketing claims on the back of countless protein powders make statements such as, “for best results, take 1-2 scoops of protein powder daily to gain muscle and to build the body you’ve always dreamed of.” While these claims do hold some truth, they are usually taken out of context. Protein powder may be a crucial supplement for some people, but it is important to remember that protein powder is not for everyone and it is not the only answer.
Protein is one of the three macronutrients that must be consumed in order to maintain a healthy and balanced diet. Protein plays a critical role in bodily functions and not only aids in muscle growth and repair, but also protects the immune system, maintains water balance in the body, helps with the production of hormones and aids in hair, skin and nail maintenance. It is usually easy to get enough protein through diet because it can be found in several common animal and plant based foods such as eggs, poultry, beef, fish, milk, greek yogurt, soy, nuts, seeds, beans and legumes.
Each individual requires a different amount of protein based on their weight and activity level. In general, sedentary people require less that those who participate in endurance and strength training, while those who participate in intense endurance and strength training, and who have an overall goal of gaining large amounts of muscle mass require higher amounts.
It is best to consume protein within an hour after finishing your workout because your muscle fibers have just been broken down and will readily absorb protein to help repair and rebuild muscle tissue. People today are constantly on the go and do not always have time to cook or to sit down for a formal meal after a workout, and this is when protein powder can be beneficial. The benefits of supplementing with protein powder include:
- Easily digestible
- Vegan/vegetarian friendly options
- Versatile (several different blends and flavors to choose from)
- Can easily be added to recipes to increase the protein content
Typically, a good quality protein powder will contain about 25 grams of protein per serving. There are several different animal and plant based sources of protein powder out on the market today, some of which include:
- Whey protein
- Casein protein
- Egg protein
- Milk protein
- Pea protein
- Rice protein
- Soy protein
- Hemp protein
So, now the question is, how do you know which kind of protein powder to buy? Eric Cue, a Nutritional Science major at University of Massachusetts Lowell, uses a 100% Whey Isolate Unsweetened Vanilla protein powder. Whey is a complete protein because it contains all of the essential amino acids. Cue emphasizes that he purchases a pure blend of protein powder because it does not contain any additives or artificial sweeteners which sometimes cause stomach upset and irritation for those that are sensitive. This does not mean, however, that whey protein is the only option. Pea protein, for example, is a great alternative for vegans or for those who have any type of dairy allergies or sensitivities. Have fun experimenting with different protein powders in order to see which ones give you the best results. Cue does emphasize that protein powder is only necessary if you lack protein in your diet and have a difficult time meeting your daily protein needs, which can happen when you are training at high levels.
There is no doubt that protein powder has its benefits. However, it is important to remember that supplementing with a protein powder is not your only option and that there is no magical formulated protein powder that will cause you to build muscle overnight, no matter what the marketing claims state. The bottom line is that protein is essential in the human diet, but supplementing with a protein powder will only be effective if done properly.
Photo Credit: Paige Swint