When you hear about healthy eating these days, do you frequently find a big focus on protein?
I do. And I can understand why. Protein is the building block of our tissues and muscles in our body. We need more of it when our bodies are stressed or injured. I also makes us feel full, which can help with weight loss efforts. Before I get to chatting about protein supplements, like protein powders and shakes, let’s briefly discuss protein 101.
How Much Protein Do You Need?
The average person needs 0.8-1 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight. To calculate your weight in kg, just divide it by 2.2.
- Example: 150 lb / 2.2 = 68 kg
- 68 * 0.8 = 54 grams of protein
- 68 * 1 = 68 grams of protein
In the example above, a person who weighs 150 pounds would need 54-68 grams of protein each day.
Should you be worried that you’re Not getting enough protein?
With so much emphasis on adequate protein intake, it’s easy to think that you must not be getting enough. But the average American eats more than enough protein to meet their needs.
Just think of it this way… a 150 lb. person would need 54-68 grams of protein each day. Take a look at the protein content in some usual foods:
- 4 oz. chicken breast- 35 grams
- 3 oz. can tuna- 16 grams
- 4 oz. salmon- 23 grams
- 2 Tbsp. peanut butter- 8 grams
- 1 cup of cow’s milk- 8 grams
- 6 oz. carton greek yogurt- 15 grams
- 1/4 cup almonds- 6 grams
Eating a 4 oz. chicken breast would provide over half of the protein needed for the day. So if you are eating a healthy, balanced diet then you are more than likely getting the protein that you need.
When Should You Eat Protein?
It’s beneficial to spread your protein out evenly throughout the day. So if you needed about 60 grams of protein per day, that means eating about 20 gram of protein at all three meals- breakfast, lunch and dinner.
Most people don’t eat enough protein at breakfast but then have a lot for dinner. Studies show that eating even amounts of protein throughout the day is associated with decreased snacking in the evenings as well as weight loss.
Do You Need a Protein Supplement?
Protein supplements, like powders, are pretty popular right now and I frequently get asked when they should be used. You really don’t NEED a protein powder or shake because you can get adequate protein from your diet. Having said that, there are situations when they may be handy.
Protein supplements can certainly be useful if you have increased protein needs, like after surgery and when you are participating in endurance athletics. For example, I bumped up my protein intake after my knee surgery a couple of years ago to help promote wound healing. Anyone who is training for something where they are consistently exercising for long periods of time (like marathon training) will want to bump up their protein as well.
Having said that, I also like to caution the use of extra supplements without really knowing why you’re using them. I frequently talk to people who start a mild exercise plan for weight loss purposes and immediately add an extra protein shake to their diets. Then they get frustrated when they are not losing weight like they had hoped. Less strenuous exercise like going for a walk or taking a short run does not really increase your protein needs, and the extra protein drink is providing extra calories that aren’t really needed.
I also think it’s good to have an idea of why you’re drinking the supplement- as a meal? snack? for recovery? Have an idea of why you’re drinking it and a ball park for the amount of calories it should provide. A lot of the recipes that I see on the back of protein powders have 400-500 calories, which is a little much for a general snack. Just something to keep in mind!
Ingredients in Protein Powders
There are many types of protein powders, with the primary difference being the source of protein- whey, casein, soy, pea, hemp, etc. Whey and casein are the most popular, and they are considered “complete” proteins (contain all essential amino acids) since they come from animals.
Bob’s Red Mill offered to send me a few of their products to try out, and it gave me the idea to touch on protein powders on this post. The two bags of powders that I picked out from Bob’s Red Mill are classified as “Nutritional Boosters”, so they are actually more than just a protein powder. They are made with pea protein and are vegan, kosher and gluten free. With more and more information coming out about the benefits of a plant-based diet, I appreciated having a non-animal protein option. I was also happy to see that these contained some extra fiber, since I feel like fiber is so important but often gets ignored!
Side note: I received the Bob’s Red Mill’s products for free but did not receive additional compensation for this post
Tips for You
If you’re looking into protein powders, I recommend deciding which type of protein you want first. Then I recommend checking out the ingredient list. Try to avoid one with a super lengthy list or funny-sounding ingredients. If the powder is advertised as a pea protein powder then the pea protein should be listed as the first ingredient. You might also find that “low carb” protein powders have an artificial sweetener like aspartame. I try to avoid those.
If you’re concerned that you’re not getting enough protein then try tracking your food intake for a day or two to determine how much protein you’re actually consuming. My favorite app for that is My Fitness Pal but there are plenty of other free programs online.
If you’re not getting enough protein then evaluate whether you can make some changes in your diet, or whether a protein supplement could be beneficial. If you’re not sure then I would recommend seeking out the help of a registered dietitian (obviously ).
Are you concerned that you’re not getting enough protein in your diet?
Do you supplement protein?
Have you ever looked at the ingredient list of your favorite protein powder? The ingredient list is the first thing I check out these days!