Protein is a major component of cells in your body. And when our bodies lack it, protein supplements come in. Here’s all you need about them.
Your hair and nails are mostly made of it, and it’s a vital building block of bones, muscles, cartilage, skin, and blood.
If you’re paying attention, it’s generally not hard to take in enough protein from animal and plant sources.
But competitive athletes and muscle builders, older adults, people recovering from surgery or illness, and people on vegan diets might struggle with it. That’s where supplemental protein powder comes in.
How Much Protein Does The Average Person Need?
Even nutritional experts don’t have a definite answer to that question. A lot depends on your age, your sex, your weight, your physical condition, and your usual level of activity.
There are other considerations if you’re interested in building muscle mass or in gaining or losing weight.
About the most you’ll find in general guidelines are the recommended dietary allowance (RDA), the levels of intake of essential nutrients as determined by the Food and Nutrition Board to be “adequate to meet the known nutrient needs of practically all healthy persons.”
Going by the RDA yardstick, you need 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight. One kilogram is 2.2 pounds, which means that you need about 0.36 grams of protein per pound of body weight.
That translates to an average 150-pound person needing about 54 grams of protein a day, and a 200-pound person needing about 72 grams. To get the specifics for yourself, check out a protein calculator.
To give you a rough idea of how much protein you’ve been taking in, here are some real-life examples:
- A 3-ounce serving of tuna or salmon has 21 grams of protein;
- Three ounces of turkey or chicken has 19 grams;
- A 6-ounce container of plain Greek yogurt has 18 grams;
- One cup of cooked lentils has 17 grams;
- Half a cup of cottage cheese has 14 grams;
- One large egg has 6 grams;
- And a strip of pan-fried bacon has 3.
What Does Protein Do?
Along with carbohydrates and fat, protein is one of the three macronutrients that every body needs for the growth and development of cells and tissues, muscles, bones, and organs.
Protein also plays a critical part in blood clotting, immune system response, and production of hormones, enzymes, and other essential chemicals.
The difference between protein and the other macronutrients is that protein isn’t stored in the body. So you’ve got to constantly replenish the supply.
How Is Protein Powder Made?
Protein powder is a dietary supplement made from protein extracted from the same foods as you’d eat: animal sources like cow’s milk and eggs or plant-based sources like peas, rice, and soy.
During processing, carbs, fats, minerals are often removed, although additional nutrients, herbs, and sometimes sweeteners are added.
As to whether plant or animal-based protein may be better for muscle building, studies have shown mixed results.
Some research points to animal-based sources as having a slight advantage in digestibility and absorption for muscle repair and growth, while other research has found no difference.
Do be aware that as a dietary supplement, protein powder is not regulated the same way as food and medicine are. Always buy it from a reputable source, and check the ingredient label to be sure of what you’re getting.
What’s The Right Way To Take Protein Powder?
It’s a good idea to have a protein shake right after exercising to maximize the results of your workout. But it’s even more important to space out your intake of protein throughout the day.
The amount of protein your muscles can absorb at one time is the issue.
A joint recommendation of the American College of Sports Medicine, the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, and Dieticians of Canada is that you should consume 15 to 25 grams of protein (or 0.25 to 0.3 grams per kilogram of body weight) within two hours after a workout.
And then having about the same amount every three to five hours thereafter to optimize the amount your muscles can soak up.
Can You OD On Protein Supplements?
According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH) Office of Dietary Supplements, there isn’t an established upper limit for intake of protein.
Because the data is limited, however, they advise caution even though they state the risk of negative effects is “very low.”
Digesting protein does make kidneys work harder, so people with kidney disease or diabetes should be mindful of excessive protein intake.
Get more like this
in your inbox
Sign up for our daily email with fitness and nutrition tips, diets and weight loss programs, health news, and more.