BY MEGAN MAHEDY
One of the most controversial topics in nutrition and exercise science is the amount and type of protein needed to support athletic performance and maintain overall health. A form of protein supplements we frequently see used by college students is protein powder.
Protein powders come in countless forms and can be added into smoothies, shakes or even cooked into different foods such as pancakes, energy bars or muffins. There are various forms of protein powders, including: whey, soy, casein and creatine.
People try to get more protein into their diets for many reasons. For instance, if you are growing or starting up a workout program, implementing a vegan/vegetarian lifestyle or recovering from an injury.
Why do you need protein?
There are six classes of nutrients imperative for the body to function: carbohydrates, lipids, proteins, vitamins, minerals and water. Protein is considered a macronutrient and is needed to provide the body with energy (calories) to help the body repair cells and make new ones.
According to the U.S. National Library of Medicine, “the daily recommended intake of protein for healthy adults is 10 percent to 35 percent of total calorie needs. For example, a person on a 2,000 calorie diet could eat 100 grams of protein, which would supply 20 percent of their total daily calories.”
Should I be using protein supplements?
In very certain circumstances, protein powders can be useful to a person’s health. Vegans and vegetarians, or people recovering from an injury who are not getting enough protein from their diet, may be using protein supplements.
However, it is important to remember that most people can get necessary protein by eating nutrient-dense sources of protein, such as fish, chicken, nuts and dairy products. It may even be safer and more cost-effective to consume food-based sources of proteins rather than the costly, potentially sugar-laden and highly-processed powders.
It is also important to remember that like foods, not all supplements are created equal. If you do choose to supplement with a protein powder, do your research on which one best fits your dietary needs.
Therefore if you have access to a normal, wholesome diet, protein powders are not a necessary part of a healthy diet.
In fact, according to the Institute of Medicine, “no additional dietary protein is suggested for healthy adults who undertakes resistance or endurance exercise.”
What happens if I eat too much protein?
Like any macronutrient over consumed, consuming excess calories from protein will not be used for building or repairing muscles, but will be stored in the body as fat.
Additionally, eating more protein than the body requires does not build more muscle tissue. In fact, consuming too much protein may be harmful to the liver and kidneys.
How much protein do I need daily?
Protein math (multiply by every pound of body weight):
- Recreational athletes need 0.5-0.75 grams of protein
- Competitive athletes need 0.6-0.9 grams per pound
- Teenage athletes need 0.8-0.9 grams per pound
- Athletes building muscle mass need 0.7-0.9 grams per pound
The maximum amount of protein that most adults can use per day is 0.9 grams per pound of body weight.
For example, if you’re an adult athlete who wants to build muscle mass, and you weigh about 170 pounds, 153 grams of protein is the maximum amount of protein you would need per day.
While that may sounds like a lot, one 0.5 (198 g) fillet of salmon contains 40 grams of protein, 1 cup of chicken has 38 grams of protein, and a single egg has 6 grams of protein.
If you’re eating a well-balanced, nutrient-dense diet filled with protein-rich food-based sources, such as salmon, chicken, greek yogurt, nuts, beans, seeds etc. protein powders are not a necessary addition for optimal health and athletic performance.
Excellent food-based sources of protein:
- Meat (Chicken, turkey, lamb)
- Fish (Salmon, tilapia, etc.)
- Dairy (Greek yogurt, milk, etc.)
- Grains (Quinoa, oats, kamut)
- Nuts (Almonds, walnuts, pistachios.)
- Seeds (Pumpkin, sunflower, etc.)
- Legumes (Beans, peanuts, lentils)
- Vegetables (Broccoli, brussels sprouts, etc.)