Protein supplements are pretty much all the rage right now, but should you be using protein powder? Great question! I’m so glad you asked.
Do You *NEED* a Protein Powder?
Before you decide to add a protein supplement to your routine, there are a number of things to consider, the first one being, do you even need it?
In the strictest sense, supplements fill in your nutritional need gaps as a supplement your regular diet. Protein deficiency is extremely rare here in the US, even amongst plant-based eaters. So, chances are, if you’re an average person who is able to consume a balanced diet, you probably don’t *need* a protein powder.
That being said, some circumstances can increase your protein needs. For example, if you are not able to get adequate protein from your diet, whether due to lack of access to protein rich foods, lack of time, or issues with digesting protein. Another reason could be that you need more protein to support physical activity. Our bodies use protein to repair and rebuild, so if you engage in a lot of very strenuous exercise, then you will have greater protein needs than your next door neighbor with a desk job who walks his dog twice a day. And on that note about protein being used to rebuild and repair, if you are recovering from illness or injury, that could also increase your protein needs. Finally, we must consider the convenience factor. It’s definitely easier to toss a protein shake into your gym bag than a steak. So occasionally adding in a protein shake can help on those on-the-go days.
If you’re in doubt about your protein needs, speak with your physician, trainer, or dietician. (Note: I do not work with athletes)
It’s important to note that the supplement industry in the US is notorious unregulated. This means that there could be issues with quality, ingredients, formulations or health claims and we, as consumers, may never know. So you need to be very cautious and informed when choosing your protein powder. Fortunately, third party resources, such as Labdoor.com and Consumerlab.com, independently test supplements for purity. You won’t find every protein powder available on there, but you will find many.
One thing to watch out for are supplements (almost always in the MLM category) that loudly brag about large numbers of scientific studies that back up their purity or efficacy. Those studies very often are either conducted by or funded by the company that makes the supplements and, therefore, cannot be assumed reliable. If you cannot obtain the actual study documentation and findings or cannot determine who conducted the study, it’s a red flag.
What Type of Protein?
So you’ve read this far. You’ve decided that you would like to use a protein powder. Now what?
Protein powders come in all sorts of varieties – whey protein, pea protein, soy protein, rice protein, even cranberry protein (WTF, right?)! Which one you choose is really up to you – your dietary preferences or allergies, price point, etc. In terms of athletic performance, studies really haven’t found any huge difference between protein types, but you will still see a preference for whey among many body builders.
Whether or not you were already a protein user, I hope this was informative. If you have questions about adding a dietary supplement to your routine, you should consult a qualified professional.