Expert Health Articles

The Deal with Protein Powder

Martha Gonzalez

Martha Gonzalez RD, LD, CLC

Nowadays, body builders aren’t the only ones loading up on protein supplements. Everyone is looking for ways to up their intake. The latest diet trends focus on cutting carbohydrates, which has put protein front and center for the health stage. Research has shown that a diet high in protein can promote weight loss by making you feel fuller longer and help maintain muscle composition. “The Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) for protein, 0.8 g/kg of body weight per day for those aged 19 and older, is based on the minimal amount of protein required to prevent protein deficiency, not necessarily the optimal amount to promote health.” (Giles-Smith) Protein impacts development and maintenance of muscle mass, and can be beneficial for more than just athletes and weightlifters. Getting protein from a balanced diet rich in whole foods is recommended, but for many this may seem difficult to manage. If you’re short on time or you’re not able to get an adequate amount of protein through your diet, protein powder could be an option to consider. As with any supplement, it is important to research the different choices to determine what the best fit is for you and your unique needs.

Most people are familiar with whey protein powder. It’s a milk-based protein supplement that is easily absorbed by the body to promote muscle maintenance and growth. Whey protein is a good post workout option because it is broken down and absorbed quickly. Casein is also a milk-based protein, but it is digested and absorbed slower than whey protein. This suggests that it would be better to consume casein before bed or as a meal replacement.

For those who are vegan or have a milk allergy/intolerance, there are a number of non-dairy protein supplement options to choose from. Soy-based protein powders are available. Soy contains isoflavores that have been shown to reduce the risk of cancer and cardiovascular disease. Some men are hesitant about soy protein powder because some studies show that soy could lower testosterone levels. Pea protein is another vegan solution for those who are dairy-free, soy-free and egg-free. Brown rice and hemp protein powders are also options, but it is important to note that non-dairy protein powders are lower in some amino acids, the building blocks of protein, compared to whey or casein protein powders. Vegan blends are a mix of soy, pea, rice or hemp proteins that can optimize amino acids composition.

Adequate protein intake is critical at all stages of life, from a growing five year old to a pregnant woman to an 80 year old living in a nursing home. It is essential for muscle growth and maintenance, which impacts overall metabolic health and defense against illness. Protein powder could be a good idea for those who have an increased protein need or are not able to get enough protein through their diet alone.