Protein Supplements: Pointless Or Purposeful?
Let's get straight to it - protein powder supplements are definitely not essential, but they can come in useful for some of us.
If you are already eating a pretty protein heavy diet (animal or plant-based options in adequate portions throughout the day, for example), then adding a protein powder supplement is likely not necessary as you're probably consuming enough.
Protein powder supplements can be useful for those with particularly active lifestyles, those with certain health conditions/compromised digestion abilities, or those who are say, vegan or vegetarian and keen to find convenient, 'complete' protein sources to support and vary their protein intake.
How much protein do I need?
If you are relatively sedentary then the general requirement for protein is around 0.75g per kg of body weight per day (that's 45g for the average sedentary woman, and 56g for males). Of course this requirement can differ depending on many factors; i.e. if you are more active (keen exercisers can increase to around 1.2g-1.6g per kg body weight), in an ill state of health, whether you are recovering from surgery, if you're stressed and fatigued, pregnant... therefore the need for protein will typically fluctuate.
But I'm not a body-builder?
One misconception is that protein powders are ‘just for those who workout’ or for elite bodybuilders ...
Now of course the requirement for protein in athletes will be greater, but as a general point, protein is required for EVERY cell function. Amino acids (which are the building blocks of protein) incorporate into our skin cells, our blood, enzymes, hormones, neurotransmitters... as well as supporting muscle growth and maintenance and bone health. Basically there’s a lot protein helps with.
I had a client who feared that a protein supplement would turn her into the ‘she-hulk’ - now, what gets you “hench” is a combination of a caloric surplus (typically with a focus on carbohydrates) and training extremely hard with very heavy weights (for a LONG period of time), specifically to make yourself get very muscular. Some people go much further and take growth hormone drugs to aid this muscle growth as it is extremely unlikely that most women and men will reach this point with our natural level of testosterone (no, I do not recommend you do this!)
For a typical female like myself looking to support their health and fitness, if desired, protein powder can be used alongside a healthy, balanced diet to help reach protein targets (not as a meal replacement).
How can I use protein powder practically in my nutrition?
Simply adding a scoop into a smoothie can be a great way to incorporate protein powder to your nutrition. It can help slow the absorption of sugars into the bloodstream, keeping you more satiated and provide the body an influx of amino acids for all these important internal processes.
Many people like to mix a spoonful into their porridge too, which is convenient and adds a different flavour spin - but it's not for everyone!
Nowadays there’s plenty of blends to choose from on the market to suit a range of dietary requirements from animal based proteins (eg. whey/casein), collagen peptides, egg proteins and also plant-based proteins such as pea, brown rice or hemp. The lesser and higher quality of ingredients in your protein powder the better.
Can we have too much protein?
Too much of anything isn't recommended.
The concern for protein powders damaging our organs is a final point to bring attention to. The liver and kidneys are involved in removing waste products from the body created during the protein synthesis process. Protein creates waste product, urea (amongst other metabolites), and once synthesised, the urea is filtered out of the body through the kidneys. For the majority of us, it's thought we only metabolise around 20g-30g of protein in one sitting.
Further research is needed on the potential negative effects of a very protein-rich diet, however those with existing kidney/liver conditions or damage to these organs should be particularly cautious with their protein intake to not 'over work' an already compromised function, and always consult a specialist in this area before making any changes to your diet.
Remember, it's important to have a variety of protein sources to provide a range of nutrients, (aside from just the protein element), such as fish, eggs, beans, nuts, pulses, grains, meat, lean poultry, and veg (yes there are amino acids in your veggies, too!) - having the bulk of your protein from sources such as red or processed meat isn't advised, so keep it varied.
I hope you found this useful!