Protein powder has long been a popular nutritional supplement for competitive
athletes looking to bulk up, but just take a look in any supermarket and
it's easy to see that protein powder has spread to the masses. Whey
or casein, organic or not, plain or flavored -- there are a variety of
options, which may make it difficult to determine if protein powder is
right for you, and if so, which one.
"Most people get enough of their daily intake of protein through food
sources like meat, poultry, fish, eggs, dairy, whole grains, nuts and
beans," says Arielle Bivas, AGNP, nurse practitioner at
St. Joseph Hoag Health's newest
Wellness Corner clinic at Newport Center in Newport Beach, Calif. The Recommended Dietary
Allowance (RDA) for protein is only 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram
of body weight (or about 55 g for a 150lb person). This is the minimum
to meet basic needs but can vary depending on age or activity level. Bivas
adds, "Whole foods are the ideal sources of protein, but in some
cases people may benefit from a protein powder supplement, such as those
who are trying to build muscle with a demanding strength-training program,
elderly people, teen athletes who compete at a high level and need to
fuel their growing bodies, and vegans whose diet may prevent them from
consuming enough protein from animal sources."
Two popular types of protein powder are whey and casein, which are both
derived from milk. Whey is a complete protein and is water soluble, making
it easy to mix in to a smoothie or shake. While whey is good for building
muscle, casein can be a meal replacement because it is absorbed more slowly
in the body, which can leave you feeling more full and satisfied longer.
Vegans and others who want to avoid dairy can use a protein powder from
plant sources. A common one is soy, which, like whey, is a complete protein.
Other plant-based protein powders get their power from peas, rice or hemp.
“Hemp also has fiber and omega-3 fatty acids as extra nutritional
elements, but like pea and rice powders, it is not a complete protein
source and usually you'll need to use it in combination with another,
like mixing pea and hemp powders together," Bivas says.
Whatever powder you prefer, Bivas suggests reading the ingredient label
on any supplement before purchasing it. "The type of protein you
want should be the first of a very short list of ingredients. You don't
want many extra chemical ingredients, added sugar or artificial sweeteners.
And if you prefer foods without GMOs (genetically modified organisms),
look for that on the label as well. Keep an eye on the total calories
and grams of protein per serving to make sure it is the best bet for your
diet. Here is a comparison of protein in whole foods, all of which are
under 125 calories: a 4oz chicken breast has about 26 g of protein, 1
cup of nonfat Greek yogurt has 24 g of protein, and ½ cup of black
beans has 8 g of protein. "
If you're interested in protein powder, you may want to consult with
your health care provider beforehand, as you may have an adequate diet
and lead a moderately active lifestyle, and protein powder may not be
necessary, says Bivas.
Daily Recommended Intake calculator: