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Is Protein Powder Good for You? (Science-Based)

Connor Sellers
Published by Connor Sellers
Fact checked by Donald Christman, BHSc FACT CHECKED
Last updated: January 19, 2022

In all my years as a personal trainer, I have seen a lot of changes in the dietary supplement sector. And one question most of my clients always ask is whether they really should be drinking a regular protein shake.

The simple answer is that anybody who regularly exercises could see health benefits from a higher protein intake.

But do you fully understand what those benefits are and how much protein powder you need for those benefits?

To help you with this, I got my dietitian to help out and create this easy-to-follow guide. I also cover what protein powders to consider.

Summary of Key Findings

  • There is more to protein supplements than just muscle-building potential, and most people don't fully appreciate the health benefits.
  • It's just as important to choose the right type of protein shakes as it is to get the right amount.
  • Using protein powders is one of the easiest ways to balance your macros.

Do Protein Powders Provide Health Benefits?

tape measure on a womans body and a man working out

There are three main areas where protein powder can help you out.

1. Weight Loss

Most people who go through constant fat loss and weight gain fluctuations most likely have the wrong macro balance.

With most of my clients, a few weeks of analyzing their daily macro balance with a food journaling app will reveal a high-carb diet.

And that's simply not a recipe to help you lose weight.

Studies suggest that rebalancing a healthy diet towards protein improves people's control over their appetite and fat mass [1].

2. Exercise Recovery

Exercise recovery is one of the most important times for athletes of any level. Whether you're a professional sports star or you've just gone to the gym for the first time, it's all about optimizing your muscle protein synthesis.

This is a process where physical strain causes muscle damage that the body repairs by transforming the amino acid intake into new muscle tissue [2].

This process is important for avoiding that post-exercise stiffness and to help you maintain muscle mass.

3. Muscle Building

This is going to be an important factor for most athletes but especially bodybuilders. Anyone that wants to bulk up will require a certain amount of protein per day.

Based on some dietary recommendations, you should aim for up to 3 grams of protein for every one pound of weight [3]. And while you can get a lot of that through your food, you might not exactly fancy eating another chicken breast after you finish at the gym.

That's why a protein shake might be the best option to support muscle growth immediately after weight training.

Are Certain Protein Powders Better For You?

variety of protein powders in cups

To answer this, I had a dietitian break things down into three important categories.

Milk-Based Protein

Whey protein powder is the most common type you'll find, and the reason for this is that it contains the right combination of essential amino acids. It's this amino acid profile that makes animal-based protein powders so favored by athletes [4].

Casein protein powder is another option, but it's sometimes more expensive and not as suitable for people who may have a sensitive stomach.

“Whey concentrate is higher in carbs and lower in protein compared to whey isolate and hydrolyzed whey. It also contains larger amounts of lactose, so it may cause digestive problems in those with milk allergy or lactose intolerance. Its protein content varies between 30 percent and 90 percent.” - Andra Picincu, Writer at SFGate.com. 

Plant-Based Protein Powders

bowl of protein powder and chickpea

Many people have made the switch to vegan protein powder, even if they don't stick with a plant diet.

One downside is that with the exception of hemp protein powder, most plant proteins need to be blended to get the full amino acid profile [5].

That's why you usually see a mix of soy, brown rice, and pea protein powder. It's a simple solution, and some people find it easier on the stomach.

Branched Chain Amino Acids (BCAAs)

This is a special type of protein powder for high-performance athletes. It isolates leucine, isoleucine, and valine, which are vital for muscle function [6]. Taking these just before or after a heavy training session may help with performance levels and recovery time.

The bottom line here is that whey protein powder is one of the best options for non-vegans, and you'll find that it's the most commonly available one.

Should You Use Protein Powders To Balance Your Macros?

The simple answer is that protein powder is one of the easiest ways to get the right macro balance. If your diet goal is to switch to high-protein for a bulking phase, it can be quite a challenge to eat high-protein foods all day.

Imagine a 200-pound bodybuilder aiming for 700 grams of protein each day.

It will happen more often than not that you simply can't look at protein-rich foods for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. And that's where a few protein-rich shakes can make your life so much easier to balance all those macros.

Are There Side Effects Of Taking Too Much Protein Powder?

man holding his big belly

Yes, there can be some side effects from significantly exceeding the recommended dietary allowance of 2 grams of protein per pound of body weight.

Typically, this is down to eating a lot of protein in one sitting. Imagine a dinner of 3 large chicken breasts, and you wash it down with a double scoop protein shake.

That's a lot of protein for your stomach, and it can cause stomach cramps and bloat [7].

That's why you need to space out your protein intake carefully throughout the day.

Also, if you have health conditions such as kidney disease, then you need to discuss such a diet approach with your doctor first.

FAQs

Can You Take Too Much Protein Powder in One Go?

Yes, you can take too much protein powder in one go. Most protein powders recommend 1 to 1 1/2 scoops per shake, and anything more than that could cause bloating and cramps.

Are Protein Powders Bad if You Don’t Exercise?

No, protein powders aren't bad if you don't exercise. But they will have a limited effect on your body, especially lean muscles.

Are You Getting Enough Protein?

Whether you plan on taking protein supplements for muscle growth and maximum lean body mass, or you want to gain more control over your weight, it all comes down to the right combination of protein source, timing, and exercise routine.

The main benefit is gaining more control over your body composition by adding protein powder to rebalance your macros.

Start monitoring your own macros and make some changes to the balance with some protein powders to see how well this can work.


References:

  1. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/25926512/
  2. https://journals.humankinetics.com/view/journals/ijsnem/aop/article-10.1123-ijsnem.2021-0139/article-10.1123-ijsnem.2021-0139.xml
  3. https://examine.com/guides/protein-intake/
  4. https://jissn.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s12970-020-00401-5
  5. https://integrisok.com/resources/on-your-health/2017/november/how-to-eat-complete-proteins-in-vegetarian-and-vegan-diets
  6. https://www.webmd.com/vitamins-and-supplements/branched-chain-amino-acids-uses-risks
  7. https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/322825#side-effects

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