Is whey protein powder good for you*

Do You Need Protein Powders?

If you go to a gym, you’ve probably heard the guys by the weight machines talking about the protein shakes they drink after a workout and what kind of shake they prefer Protein powders -- made into a shake or consumed however you like -- are getting more and more popular as a nutritional supplement

You can buy protein powders in every nutrition store and all over the Internet You can even find pre-mixed, ready-to-drink protein shakes in many stores But are protein powders just for bodybuilders, or can the average everyday athlete benefit from them as well?

What Are Protein Powders?

Protein powders also come with widely varying price tags “For the casual athlete who doesn’t have a specific need at a certain time of their training, the cost is not that important,” says Horvath “So if you’re going to use them, you can get pretty much the same benefit out of the less expensive, more commercially available proteins

In very specific circumstances, protein powders can be useful “They’re an easy and convenient source of complete, high-quality protein,” says Carole Conn, PhD, associate professor of nutrition at the University of New Mexico But remember: Most people, even athletes, can also get everything they offer by eating sources of lean protein like meat, fish, chicken, and dairy products

So when might you want to use them? There are a few reasons why an ordinary athlete might want more protein in his or her diet, says Barbara Lewin, a dietitian and sports nutritionist who has worked with NFL, NBA, and NHL athletes and trained Ironman competitors:


“All of those are valid reasons for trying to get more protein into your diet, and protein powders are one way to do that,” says Lewin

But there’s a big caveat, Lewin adds: it doesn’t take that much protein to achieve those goals Most Americans already get about 15% of their daily calories in protein To build a pound of muscle, Lewin explains, the body needs between 10 and 14 additional grams of protein per day

“That’s not really that much Some of these powders have 80 grams of protein per serving You don’t need that All your body is going to do is break it down for energy And too much protein can be hard on your kidneys and your liver”

Protein Math

So how can you tell if you’re already getting enough protein? Do the math

The following daily recommendations come from the American College of Sports Medicine and the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics:

  • The average adult needs 08 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight per day
  • Those taking part in recreational athletics need 11 to 14 grams of protein for every kilogram of body weight
  • Competitive athletes need 12 to 14 grams, and those involved in ultra-endurance sports may need up to 20 g per kilogram of weight
  • Athletes building muscle mass need 15 to 20 grams per kilogram per day

Say you’re an adult athlete who wants to build muscle mass, and you weigh about 75 kilograms (165 pounds) The most protein you would need per day is 150 grams That sounds like a lot But one 4-ounce hamburger contains 30 grams of protein, 6 ounces of tuna has 40 grams, and a single ounce of cheddar cheese has 7 grams

A Note About Teenage Athletes

Protein is important for young athletes too Recommendations from the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics for teenagers are based on pounds of bodyweight rather than kilograms

The average teen needs 0Protein MathSo how can you tell if youre already getting enough protein Do the math.4 to 05 grams of protein per pound of body weight each day Teenage athletes, according to the Academy, need more -- 05 to 08 grams per pound per day

The Academy cautions, though, against teens using protein supplements Excessive protein can be hard on the kidneys It also can contribute to dehydration To avoid those risks make sure your teen gets his protein from high protein foods in his daily diet

How to Use Protein Powders

If you calculate your protein intake and determine that you’re not getting enough for your athletic needs (some signs of too-low protein intake: you’re unusually fatigued, feel weak when lifting weights or doing other strenuous activity, or are recovering from injuries slowly) how can you best use protein powders to help you improve your performance?

For a better “recovery drink” after a workout, Lewin recommends a fruit smoothie with yogurt or milk, or, surprisingly, chocolate milk “A glass of chocolate milk is one of the best things for recovery,” she says

So when should you use protein powders, if you’ve determined you need them to get more protein in your diet? Throughout the day as a snack or meal replacement, says Lewin, but not in the immediate time period surrounding your workouts

And don’t forget, says Conn: “Protein powders are not really necessary if you have access to a normal, healthy diet”

Peter Horvath, PhD, associate professor, department of exercise and nutrition sciences, State University of New York, Buffalo, NY

Barbara Lewin, RD, LD, dietitian and sports nutritionist, Ft Myers, Fla

Carole Conn, PhD, RD, CSFD, associate professor of nutrition, University of New Mexico, Albuquerque, NM

Alabama Cooperative Extension System

International Journal of Sport Nutrition

Journal of the American Dietetic Association

American College of Sports Medicine

Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics

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