Protein Powders: The Truth

You probably know you need protein in your diet, and you likely have an idea of where you can find it. Meat, nuts, and eggs may all come to mind when you think of protein-rich foods, and perhaps you’ve even tried supplements like protein bars or whey protein powders.

Truth be told, though, the best muscle-building substance that you can put into your body is… Wait for it… FOOD!

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Yes, food. The food that you eat provides you with all of the building blocks, energy resources, and nutrients that your body needs to recover and reconstruct your muscles into larger, stronger versions of their previous selves. Just try to include some kind of protein in every meal, and you should get enough nutrients to gain some muscle.

Because if you think about it, protein supplements, such as whey powder, are merely food. Their real benefit is that they concentrate the nutrients that are key in building muscles.

So taking that into consideration, if you just can’t seem to eat enough food or protein throughout the day, you might want to consider a good protein supplement. It’ll help you reach the nutrient surplus that’s required to pack on some extra muscle. Is it magic? No, it’s just food, and some guys find it easier to slam a protein shake for extra protein rather than taking the time to cook and eat a slab of dead animal.

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The low down on amino acids

As for taking isolated amino acids though, the constituents of protein, you’re probably wasting your money. They’re usually not necessary for most guys because a balanced diet with enough protein and calories usually fulfills all of our amino acid needs. The only people that really need to supplement amino acids (often called BCAAs) are professional athletes.

Verdict: So, unless you’re a pro athlete, Don’t bother. Save your money.

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The Lowdown on Protein Powder

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Protein powders come in various forms. The three common ones are whey, soy, and casein protein. “Whey is the most commonly used, because it’s a water-soluble milk protein,” says Dr Kenneth Lee. “It’s also a complete protein, so it’s got all those advantages.”

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Complete proteins contain all nine of the amino acids necessary for human dietary needs. People who are vegan may prefer soy protein, although its taste is sometimes considered to be more unpleasant, and it doesn’t dissolve as well in water. Everyone’s protein needs are slightly different, but the Recommended Daily Allowance (RDA) is a minimum of 0.8 grams per kilogram of your body weight. Your age, weight, height, whether you’re pregnant or breastfeeding, and how often you exercise also factor in. For example, if you’re an active 30-year-old woman who is 140 pounds and five-foot-six, you’ll need about 51 grams of protein a day, according to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). (The USDA has an online calculator that can help you figure out your exact protein needs.) That requirement changes slightly if, for example, you’re breastfeeding (you may need more), you’re sedentary (you may need less), or you weigh more or less.

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The downside is that Protein powder is processed, which makes it more likely that the protein is denatured, meaning it has become a shape that your body can’t use. However, if you’re going to use a protein powder, go for a whey protein powder, because it has the highest protein efficiency ratio of the powder types and is most easily used by the body. (Whey protein is one of the key proteins found in dairy, so it won’t work for vegans.)

Verdict: While it’s best to get most of your protein from whole foods, if you’re having trouble getting enough in your diet, a supplement could help. Your doctor or a registered dietitian can help you figure out if that’s the case and guide you on the best choices for your body. If you decide that a protein supplement is right for you, here are a few products to consider.

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Too Little Protein

Given that protein is an essential nutrient, not getting enough can wreak havoc on your body. Protein deficiency may reduce your muscle mass and therefore your metabolism, Dr Kenneth Lee says, as well as lead to hair loss, skin patches, and difficulty losing weight. Your immune system also might be compromised over time, Dr Lee notes, making you likelier to get sick and more affected when you do.

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Too Much Protein

In the short term, you’ll probably be OK if you consume a little more protein than recommended: Over time, surplus protein can lead to “an increase in ammonia within the body, but this is easily cleared with a slight increase of water in the healthy adult. But if you’re on a high-protein diet for a long period of time, you can develop a condition known as hypercalcemia, which causes elevated levels of calcium in your urine, Keatley says. Those higher-than-normal levels of calcium can happen when your body starts to break down your bone and can lead to kidney stones and kidney failure, according to the Mayo Clinic.

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Are all forms of protein created equal?

You can get protein from many different sources, per the USDA, including meat such as beef, pork, and poultry; seafood; beans and lentils; eggs; dairy; and soy products, nuts, and seeds. Some nutritionists emphasize the nutritional value of lean meat, since, as Keatley says, “Non-animal sources of protein do not contain all of the amino acids [or proteins] that are necessary for life” explains Dr Lee. That doesn’t mean they’re bad, per se, they just don’t have all of the range of proteins you’d get if you were to eat animal products.

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Not all animal products are a good choice, though: The Mayo Clinic points out that processed meat and red meat are high in saturated fat and may increase your heart disease risk. And if you’re a vegetarian or vegan, don’t worry: You can meet your protein needs with plant-based sources. Good plant protein sources include the pulse family, made up of beans, lentils, chickpeas, and dried peas, which provide not only protein but also fiber, as well as soy like tofu, tempeh, and edamame.


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