How to Know if Protein Powder Is Right for You

Protein Powder

Verywell / Alexandra Shytsman

Protein powder is a convenient way to meet your protein needs, but is not always necessary to meet your protein needs. You can meet your protein needs through whole foods, but sometimes, this can be challenging.

Protein powders can be mixed into other foods to boost protein content or used in a shake after a workout for muscle building and repair. Some people may benefit from protein powder more than others. Read on to learn more about protein powder and whether it is a good choice for you.

What is Protein Powder?

Protein powder is a processed form of protein that has been isolated, dehydrated, and powdered for convenient intake. Powders are mixed into foods or liquids to increase the protein content of that meal. Powders can also be mixed with water or another liquid for a protein-only beverage often consumed after a workout or before bedtime.

Types of Protein Powder

There are many different types of protein powder available, but protein powder can generally be divided into two categories: animal-derived and plant-based.

  • Animal-derived protein powder: whey, casein, egg, collagen
  • Plant-based protein powder: pea, rice, hemp, soy, pumpkin seed, brown rice, etc.

Pros and Cons of Protein Powder

Both animal and plant-based protein powders are excellent choices if you're looking to boost your protein intake. While each formulation varies, animal protein powder generally provides all amino acids (most plant-based proteins do not). Animal-based protein powders may also be better for workout recovery, whereas plant-based protein powders may contain more fiber. These types of protein powders can be suitable for those people who cannot tolerate dairy due to an intolerance or allergy.

Benefits and drawbacks exist for each type of protein. If you are intolerant or allergic to dairy or follow a plant-based diet, you can look for vegan protein powders that contain all of the essential amino acids necessary for health, muscle building, and recovery.

Whey and casein protein powder are dairy-based options that have been thoroughly researched for their ability to increase muscle protein synthesis. When consumed post-workout, whey protein is quickly absorbed and replenishes amino acids, boosting recovery and muscle growth. Casein is ideal for before bed as it digests slower to increase protein uptake through the night.

Who Can Benefit from Protein Powder

  • Anyone looking for fast, convenient protein
  • People struggling to meet their protein needs
  • Athletes
  • Older adults
  • People with poor appetite
  • Those who wish to gain weight or preserve muscle mass

Anyone who wishes to increase their protein intake can benefit from the convenience of protein powder. Protein powder can be mixed easily into shakes or foods such as oatmeal and yogurt to boost protein content. If you have trouble consuming enough whole food protein, powders can help.

Additionally, protein powder may be beneficial for athletes looking to boost their recovery. Protein powders have been shown to boost muscle gains when consumed post-workout, especially in combination with carbohydrates. This is because the muscles are very sensitive to muscle protein synthesis after they are broken down during a training session.

For elderly adults or those with poor appetites, increasing protein intake with powders offers an easily digestible and straightforward way of getting more protein. Protein is very filling, so some people who want to gain weight or preserve muscle mass may find protein powder less challenging to fit into their diet.

How to Know if Protein Powder is Right for You

If you have trouble meeting your protein requirements with whole foods, protein powder is an excellent alternative. Protein powder also can be added to a variety of whole foods to increase your protein intake.

Whether or not you decide to add protein powder to your diet is personal. You should keep in mind that protein powders are not complete meals when consumed alone. (They can be a complete meal if combined in a shake or smoothie that includes veggies, fruits, and healthy fats.)

Keep in mind, that it is vital that you still consume plenty of whole foods high in nutrients and fiber. Carbohydrates and fats are other macronutrients that are essential for health.

If your goal is to build muscle mass, adding a protein shake after your workout, especially in combination with carbohydrates, could boost your results. A decision to use protein powder should be made after a discussion with a healthcare professional such as a doctor or dietitian. Some people have dietary restrictions that mean protein powders are not ideal for them, such as kidney disease.

How Much Protein Do You Need?

The 2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans suggest adults consume 10% to 35% of total calories from protein. However, if you are active, you may need more, between 1.2 and 2 grams of protein per kilogram of bodyweight.

What to Look For in a Protein Powder

If you're going to invest in a protein powder, it's important to do your research to find the best product for your individual needs. You'll want to consider various factors, such as form, ingredients, price, and whether or not the product is third-party tested.

Form

Protein powders come in many forms and are derived from different sources, including plant and animal foods. There are benefits to each type of protein powder, so you'll want to select a product that meets your individual needs.

Ingredients

It's important to carefully read the protein powder's ingredient list and nutrition facts panel before purchasing. Many products include additives such as artificial colors, flavors, sweeteners, as well as added fiber, probiotics, and herbal blends. Be sure that all ingredients align with your medical and nutritional needs and there are not any known interactions. Additionally, some protein powders contain allergens, such as nuts, dairy, and eggs, so you'll want to ensure you're not consuming an ingredient you're allergic to.

Price

In general terms, the price of a protein powder is not correlated to its safety and efficacy. This means that buying an expensive powder doesn't mean it will work, or be safe. However, note that some higher quality ingredients, such as grass-fed dairy, may be more expensive and have potential benefits.

Third-Party Testing

Some protein powders have been tested by a third-party, such as ConsumerLabs, NSF, or USP. Note that just because a product says it has been "tested" does not automatically mean it is best for consumption.

It's also important to point out that just because a supplement is not tested by one of these companies does not make it an inferior product. You can always reach out directly to the manufacturer for more information on testing.

A Word From Verywell

Whether or not you add protein powder to your diet, remember that nutrient-dense foods with fiber such as fruits, vegetables, and whole grains are also necessary. Protein powders can help you increase your protein intake but are not necessary for optimal health. You can obtain all the protein you need from whole foods.

Speak to your healthcare provider if you are considering supplementing with protein powder. It may also help to work with a dietitian to determine if you are getting enough protein and how much might be best for you, depending on your individual needs, activity, and goals.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • How do I know which protein powder is right for me?

    Choose a protein powder that fits your dietary needs and preferences. Whey is fantastic for post-workout muscle building. Casein works for bedtime use. Plant-based options are better for those who can't tolerate dairy or wish to avoid animal products.

  • Is it safe to use protein powder every day?

    You can use protein powder every day, so long as you tolerate it well. Use a protein powder that is gentle on your digestive system and doesn't cause you any gastrointestinal distress. Remember to consume plenty of whole food protein sources as well. Note that some experts recommend rotating and switching up the protein powder product that you regularly choose to encourage variety. Because supplements like protein powder are not closely regulated, this also may mitigate any potential dangers.

  • What does protein powder do?

    Protein powder offers a convenient way to increase your protein intake throughout the day. Some types are quickly absorbed and may help boost muscle building and repair.

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