We are talking alllll about protein today! I recently had a request from a friend to discuss protein shakes in the sense of gaining healthy weight. There are many reasons to drink protein shakes and they have kind of become a staple for most healthy, active people. Some people drink them as a meal replacement to lose weight, others use them to gain muscle. The latter reason is a little misleading because drinking a bunch of protein shakes is not going to build muscle but working hard in the gym will (we will touch more on this in a little bit so I will hop off my soap box before I get going).
Let me just say, I am all for protein shakes when used in the right way, but I don't know if I would consider them a necessity in my daily routine. I think the first thing to think about is why we actually need protein and how much do we really need each day?
WHY DO WE NEED PROTEIN?
Protein is a vital macronutrient that is essential to make muscles, tendons, organs, skin, hair, and nails. It also plays a role in hormones, enzymes, and neurotransmitters that are used for important functions of the body. Protein helps to build and repair tissue that may have been damaged by working out and therefore is essential for fuel and recovery. Protein is made up of amino acids and nine of these amino acids are essential, which means that your body does not produce them so they must be consumed through the diet.
Bottom Line: We need protein to survive...BOOM!
Funny little side story here: My husband, who is married to a dietitian (that's me), is probably one of my worst clients (you pick your battles, right?). He would rather look up information on the internet than ask his at home resource (again, that's me). The other day he was drinking a protein shake right before we were about to eat dinner and after he had already had at least two earlier in the day. My husband's goals were to lose weight and gain muscle so he thought he needed extra protein (on top of his three meals) to do that. He also thought that he needed 2g of protein for every pound of weight which would mean he was getting wayyyy more than he actually needed (sooo many emoji faces I could put in here but let's just say the terrified screaming one fits in pretty good).
Now let's get back to the question of how much protein do you need. This varies for every person depending on your age, sex, weight, and activity level. The Recommend Dietary Allowance (RDA) is 0.8 grams per KILOGRAM of body weight (not pounds, Thomas). An easy trick is to multiply your weight in pounds by 0.36 to get to the recommended 0.8g per kilograms. The newest dietary guidelines recommend that 10-30% of our calories come from protein for anyone that is 18 or younger and 10-35% for anyone over the age of 18.
You're an athlete and need more protein? The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, Dietitians of Canada and the American College of Sports Medicine recommend the following for power and endurance athletes, based on body weight in pounds:
- Average male endurance athletes: 0.5-0.9g/pound of body weight
- Average female endurance athletes: 0.5-0.8g/pound of body weight
- Power athletes (strength or speed): 0.55 to 0.77 grams/pound of body weight
- Endurance athletes: 0.55 to 0.64 grams/pound of body weight
The Big Question: DO WE NEED PROTEIN SHAKES?
Most people can get all their protein needs through food sources and do not need protein shakes. Muscle is not built by drinking protein supplements but with weight training and the appropriate diet, muscle can definitely be gained. The great thing about protein supplements is that they are super convenient and an easy little breakfast, afternoon snack, or post workout shake. They are great for vegetarians who struggle to meet their protein needs or for those who may need extra protein (for example: athletes working out two hours a day) and are not able to meet all of their needs through their diet. For those people trying to gain weight, adding healthy protein supplements can be a great way to add extra protein and calories to your daily intake (key word: *healthy* protein supplements...but we will touch on what these are next). I see a good number of sick patients in the hospital who have multiple medical issues and need extra protein and this is one of the biggest things that we recommend because drinking calories and protein can be much easier than eating them when you are sick.
Bottom line: Protein shakes are not necessary to gain muscle but they are an easy and convenient supplement if you are not able to meet all your needs through your diet.
WHAT KINDS OF PROTEIN POWDERS SHOULD I CHOOSE?
There are so many different types of protein powders to choose from and all have different research behind them telling you why you should or shouldn't consume them that it can get kind of confusing. The three main proteins are whey, casein, and soy. Whey and casein are the two proteins found in milk, so those people who may be trying to avoid dairy or follow a vegan diet may choose soy or a plant based protein powders instead. Whey is digested the quickest, which means it may not keep you fuller longer, but is a great post workout option. Casein, on the other hand, is digested slowly and is great if used as a meal replacement or combined with whey to provide a good post workout meal to keep you fuller.
I have found myself to be a huge fan of the soy and plant based protein powders such as pea or rice proteins. As you know in previous posts, I don't believe in cutting out food groups from your diet and dairy is no exception (unless you have an allergy, intolerance, or other medical issue of course) so the only reason I choose to drink the soy or other plant based protein powders is for personal preference and the added benefits that soy has to offer.
Both soy and whey have shown to build lean muscle when incorporated with exercise but soy also has other health benefits associated with it. Soy protein is found in soybeans and is the only vegetable that contains all eight essential amino acids, making it a complete protein. Soybeans are also a good source of fiber, iron, calcium, zinc, B vitamins, and isoflavones (which provide antioxidant benefits)....so like I said, additional benefits with choosing soy protein.
Here is the catch: Make sure you are choosing protein powders that are low in calories, fat, sugar, and all the extra additives. A protein powder can quickly become unhealthy if it is packed with a bunch of junk. Check the labels and know what you are consuming. Whey protein and soy protein should be at the top of the ingredient list! If you see the word isolate, it means that it is stripped of all the extra sugar to provide you solely a high protein source. Although, there has been controversy over soy protein isolates because they strip the soybean of its nutrients and have been linked to some health problems found in animal studies (not human studies). Look for soy protein in its natural form but with all things, avoid excess amounts of anything and practice moderation!
Bottom line: All are good and provide healthy benefits but you need to look at the labels and avoid all the extra stuff. And like everything else, remember to consume in moderation! You can get all your needs just by eating food but if you are adding protein shakes in, just make sure you are feeding yourself with the right kinds!
Have more questions that you need answered about protein or protein powders? Feel free to message me or write a comment below! I will eventually be sharing more specific tips for weight gain and some great protein smoothie recipes to try out! So stay tuned!