The protein shake has long been a trusted ally for fitness enthusiasts. They’re easy to make, let you track macronutrients to the letter, and are generally free of excess sugars and fats.
However, some people get carried away with their protein shake consumption and forget that this is only a supplement that should complement real food! It’s important to know where to draw the line and have only as many shakes as necessary on a daily basis.
Let’s debunk some protein shake myths, get the facts straight about this supplement, and give you some tips that will help you make the most of your favorite protein powders.
What is Protein Powder?
Protein is a molecule made up of amino acids and is considered to be the fundamental building block of the human body. From our vital organs to muscular structure, it’s all made up of protein, and amino acids assist key functions like nutrient transportation and absorption.
While we usually get our protein from whole food sources like beef, eggs, chicken, fish, and legumes, it can also be found in powder form, usually derived from whey.
Whey is the pure protein separated from cow’s milk and dehydrated into a convenient powder, typically flavored and fortified with extra nutrients like vitamins and additional amino acids.
As protein powders have become more mainstream in recent years, they’ve been made available in numerous other forms, including soy, hemp, and pea protein. These are great for the vegan crowd and can still be just as effective as whey, just prepare to spend a little bit more than usual per serving.
The most popular way to consume protein powder is by mixing up into a quick shake using water or milk in a blender bottle, which takes no more than two minutes to prepare.
You can load some powder into your bottle before the gym, then just add water from the fountain to instantly create a high-protein drink to help you recover post-workout.
Lots of people also make more robust shakes at home in a blender, including fruit, veggies, and other supplements like collagen or vitamins for added health benefits.
Most protein powder containers include a plastic scooper that gives you an exact serving, so no need to eyeball it. Here is a closer look at the nutritional profile of a typical 28-gram scoop of whey protein powder:
- 170 calories
- 30 grams of protein
- 6 grams of carbs
- 1 gram of fat
- 120mg of sodium
- 40mg of cholesterol
That’s a very low calorie count considering the amount of nutrition you get per scoop! Just make sure you pick up a product that contains a complete amino acid profile and no added sugars.
With so many flavors and diverse ingredients available, you’ll be able to find a protein powder that fits your taste preferences and dietary needs with some browsing and research.
Who Should be Using Protein Powder
Many protein powders are marketed with pictures of bodybuilders and ripped physiques, but don’t be misled by this imagery. Anyone looking to increase their protein intake and achieve real results from diet and exercise can find something to like about protein powder.
Here are just a few unexpected groups that can benefit from using protein powder:
- The marathon runner getting in shape for the big day
- Someone looking to drop weight and get a great body for summer
- The yoga enthusiast on a vegetarian diet who needs more protein
- Anyone recovering from surgery who must eat a liquid diet
- The high school or college athlete on a busy schedule
- Office professionals who need a protein-packed snack on the go
- Anyone working a hard-labor job who needs to fuel their body
No matter your age, activity level or athletic ability, protein powder can be extremely useful in achieving fitness goals and simply staying healthy in a world where starches and sugars reign supreme. The key is knowing how much of this supplement to consume.
Most physicians and trainers recommend that the average person eats between 0.6 and 0.8 grams of protein per pound of body weight each day. That means a 150-pound person should aim to eat between 90 and 120 grams of protein daily, even on days when minimal physical activity is performed.
That number gets a boost depending on how frequently you work out, and the level of intensity of the exercise. If you’re doing a 28-challenge program in which you exercise heavily most days, you’ll want to eat more protein than usual. Bodybuilders and top-tier athletes are known to eat over a gram of protein per pound of body weight and rely heavily on whey protein to do so.
At the bare minimum, you should aim to eat around 0.5 grams of protein per pound of bodyweight, which is way more than the average American will eat in a day. Pick up a jug of protein powder and experiment with some fun shake recipes to make it an easy and tasty experience! Once you become comfortable with the process of preparing and drinking protein shakes, it feels totally normal and you’ll even look forward to each one.
How Much is Too Much?
Protein powder is a godsend for anyone with busy lives looking to boost their protein intake and accelerate their fitness results, but you can certainly have too much of a good thing.
Leading fitness experts recommend that you consume a maximum of three shakes in a 24-hour period, and make sure they’re spread out evenly throughout the day. That typically means one shake at breakfast, another one immediately following a workout, then an after-dinner shake.
From a macronutrient perspective, make sure you that no more than half of your daily protein intake is coming from powders. The rest should be from meat, eggs, legumes, and dairy sources like Greek yogurt and cottage cheese.
Any more than that, and you risk experiencing things like stomach cramping and poor protein absorption. You’re spending good money on protein powder, and you want each gram to be maximally effective.
Furthermore, too much protein powder will not keep you satiated in the same way as real food, meaning you open yourself up to the risk of binging on unhealthy snacks and starches like chips, fries, pretzels, and the like.
As long as you limit your protein shake intake to two or three per day, you will get the greatest possible benefit from the supplement and avoid any unwanted digestive side effects.
One way to get more from your protein powder is by having a few different products in your pantry that contain a range of nutrient profiles and are derived from unique ingredients.
For instance, make yourself an organic hemp protein powder shake in the morning with leafy greens and berries to give your body slow-digesting, even energy for the first half of the day.
After your workout, take down a delicious chocolate whey protein shake as a tasty reward for working up a good sweat. Whey absorbs quickly into the bloodstream and floods your body with quality nutrients it needs immediately.
Then, before you crawl into bed in the evening, have yourself a casein protein shake that will slowly digest throughout the night. You will feel full and satisfied, and wake up with more than enough energy to take on another day.
Experiment with some trial-and-error and learn from your body to see which protein types absorb well and work with your system. Once you master your protein powder routine, you’ll be well on your way to an optimal diet and exercise regimen.
Remember to Eat Real Food
Since protein powder is so easy to prepare and consume quickly, it’s tempting to replace meals with shakes and homemade bars out of pure convenience.
Your priorities should be eating real food like meat and vegetables, locking into a fun, high-intensity workout routine, and being consistent with other healthy habits across the board.
Treat protein powder as the supplement it is – not a replacement for a full meal. Once in a while, you can substitute a shake in a pinch, but don’t make a habit of doing this. You’ll feel healthier, happier, and more satisfied by making real food your main source of nutrition.
Read up on high-protein recipes and meal prep to make this lifestyle transition easier and less confusing. Moving away from the standard American diet can be tough at first, so have a bunch of delicious recipes ready to minimize the challenge.
While you should absolutely include protein powder in your diet and take advantage of its convenience, don’t let it steal the spotlight away from those whole food protein sources and dense vegetables.
With just two or three scoops of protein powder per day, you’ll see the full range of benefits and make the most of your investment in these products.
Everyone will respond to protein powder differently, so find your sweet spot and stick with whatever gives you the best results!