The Powder Run
Do you throw protein powder in your morning breakfast drink? Or do you rely on protein powder to supplement your meals? The sports nutrition market is projected to reach 20 billion dollars in the United States by 2020. Clearly we are buying into the protein fad! But do our bodies actually need these supplements?
There are abundant theories, opinions, and questions regarding the use of protein supplements. Consumers are often buying protein powders before asking questions like: how much protein do I need? What protein sources are effective? Do I need to work additional supplements into my daily diet or workout routine? And is it possible to over-consume?
Protein supplements are one of the fastest growing dietary supplement categories in the world. The industry sold over $2.5 billion worth of retail in 2016 alone. However, despite the craze that the protein supplement market has created, it is important to remember that all of the essential proteins necessary for the human body are available in your everyday foods.
Protein is essential for life. It is the building block for your body’s muscle. Protein is part of our DNA, supports digestive enzymes, helps our hemoglobin, enhances muscle fibers, keeps our bones strong, and helps support our immune system. And while it is important to eat protein every single day, do you need to add supplements to get your daily protein fix?
Before you buy into the protein supplement craze, you need to figure out how much protein does your body needs based on your height, weight, and lifestyle.
Despite what the growing sports protein market might indicate, the answer is no. If you eat your daily recommended amount of protein, there is no need to supplement with bars, powders, or drinks.
It is important to keep in mind that a protein recommendation is very individualistic. The amount of protein your body needs depends on several factors. Your weight, height, activity level, nutritional needs, and possible nutrition deficiencies will all influence the amount of protein your body will require. While we can provide an outline of what might be the correct recommendation based on body weight and activity level, it is important to consult a nutritionist or physician before determining how much protein your body uses and whether a supplement is needed to support your body health.
So, let’s answer the most important question: How much protein do I need?
In order to answer this question, there are a few others you might want to ask yourself first. The most important being: how physically active are you?
Your level of activity includes your workout routine (if you have one) as well as your occupation. Those with sedentary occupations, like a desk job, naturally use less energy throughout the day, while those with active occupations will expend more energy day to day and often require more protein.
The American College of Sports Medicine indicates that anywhere from 10-35% of the average American’s diet should be composed of proteins. In terms of bodyweight, this means that the average person should consume about 35 grams of protein per pound of bodyweight per day. For example, a fairly sedentary 150-pound person should be consuming around 50 grams of protein per day.
These numbers will increase with the level of exercise an individual performs. People who exercise regularly [whether it be weights, cardio, or plyometrics] should be consuming 0.50-0.60 grams of protein per pound of bodyweight per day. Additionally, professional athletes and anyone who exceeds an active fitness level should consume between 0.70-0.80 grams of protein per pound. Thus, if the same 165-pound person was athletic as opposed to sedentary he/she should consume around 75 grams or protein per day. And if this same person was a professional athlete as opposed to an active individual, he/she should consume 120 grams of protein per day.
Where should my protein be coming from?
Let’s start with common foods that are strong sources of protein…
Meat and fish!
Lean meats, like turkey, chicken and fish are an excellent source of protein. A 3 oz. piece of your most popular meat choices, beef, chicken, or fish, contains anywhere from 19-24 grams of protein.
1 portion of meat or fish = a deck of cards or the palm of your hand. That’s 3 ounces of protein. Image: WebMD
Eggs are another great source of protein. One egg contains around 6 grams of protein. That means if the average person has approximately 3 eggs for breakfast, you have consumed almost a third of your recommended daily intake (RDI).
But, it is important to remember to diversify your choices. Don’t be mislead to think that you should just eat 9 eggs for breakfast every day and have a healthy diet! You want to provide your body with a variety of protein throughout the day to keep your energy levels up and support your overall health. We recommend a diverse diet that consists of many different types of foods. If you have yogurt for breakfast one day, have eggs the next!
For vegetarians, who prefer beans as a source of protein, or if you just like to have some fun and diversify your protein sources, a cup of beans has about 16 grams of protein. Additionally, yogurt, a great snack for any time of day, is another strong source of protein. Preferably, we recommend Greek yogurt, as the sugar added to many yogurt brands can be very high— ultimately making the product relatively unhealthy. For example, an 8oz container of yogurt contains about 11 grams of protein. Even an ounce of cheese contains 7 grams of protein.
So you see, there are many different but common and delicious foods that can bring you the right amount of protein each day without introducing supplements into your routine or getting bored of what you are eating.
If you fall into the category of a very highly active or professional athlete, it may be necessary for you to take in more protein throughout the day. And while protein supplements can a good way to do this, it is important to find the cleanest and healthiest protein supplement. A nutritionist can help you select what type of protein powder might be best for your body. But, if you need to add a supplement to your diet, you want to make sure you do not add an excessive amount. There is a common misconception that in order to “bulk up” or “stay lean” you need to eat a large quantity of protein every day.
Can you have too much protein?
High protein diets have caused some concern in the medical world. In general, in the United States, we have been over indexing on protein. Some food scientists believe high protein diets to have links to cardiovascular disease due to the related high fat consumption that often follows a diet high in protein.
It is said that consuming too much protein can also have negative effects on blood pressure, in large part due to the high fat consumption associated with high protein diets. According to the Mayo Clinic, whey protein, specifically, may lower blood sugar levels. However, while it is recommended that anyone suffering from diabetes or blood sugar issues use caution when adding protein supplements to their routine, this has not been proven to be true in a long-term scientific human-based study.
Research has indicated that too much protein is linked to cardiovascular disease, harmful effects on the kidneys, negative effects on blood pressure, and create damage to your liver and colon. But no research to date is definitive, and more more long term, human studies are needed to determine the effects of too much protein in your diet.
Additionally, there are fears that consuming too much protein, whether it be in the form of food or a supplement, can have harmful effects on your kidneys. This has been proven to be incorrect in healthy individuals who have no pre-existing liver conditions. However, those with pre-existing liver conditions may be at risk if their protein consumption is in excess. There have only been short-term studies conducted with respect to protein intake and its relationship to kidney function. No long term studies have been conducted on healthy patients or those with pre-existing conditions.
While there is no existing research to conclude that too much protein can cause damage to healthy livers or kidney, there is some research to indicate that too much could have adverse effects on the colon. This is relative to the amount of fiber consumed. But, like much of the research on protein and protein supplements, there is no definitive answer. In order to better understand the negative affects of too much protein, more human studies need to be conducted.
Overall, the human body really does not need a ton of protein to remain healthy. Though protein supplements can help if you need to get protein in your body fast, is not necessary in most capacities as there is sufficient protein supply in your everyday meals. Having said that, people who exercise as often as many professional athletes who train all day long or those who have professions where they are exerting a lot of energy throughout the day, for instance construction where you would operate a jackhammer for eight hours, can see benefits from using protein supplements.
The Bottom Line:
Protein is necessary for overall body health, however, you do not need to get protein from supplements. There is a wide variety of protein-rich foods that can easily help you achieve the overall daily recommended amount.
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