I get this question all the time, usually from people who are starting a new workout plan and see everyone at the gym carrying shaker cups around with them.
Often it’s a personal trainer trying to give someone advice on what has worked for him or her: get more protein, and do it in a way that’s easy and portable. So should you use protein powder to build muscle, get stronger or get lean?
Here’s my advice:
If you are following a healthy diet and are including protein-rich foods such as chicken, fish, eggs, milk products, beans, nuts and lean meats at each meal and snack, you don’t need protein powder. It is best to choose real food rather than supplements as much as possible.
Research suggests that 30 grams of protein at a meal stimulates muscle growth. This is the amount of protein in 4 ounces of meat, chicken, fish or soy (about the size of the palm of your hand). Eating more protein that this is probably fine, but if you’re doing it for muscle growth, any “extra” protein beyond the 30 grams is in a sense, going to waste. If you’re watching calories and also trying to shed some fat, this is important to know. Yes, even calories from mighty protein can add up!
The other issue this research raises is that most of us have inconsistent amounts of protein at each meal. Most people tend to get very little protein at breakfast (think cereal or oatmeal), a little bit at lunch on a sandwich, and then sit down to a big piece of steak for dinner. That means we’re giving our muscles an unbalanced and unstable supply of protein. Focusing on getting roughly 30 grams per meal helps provide a steady stream of muscle-building protein!
You can make healthy and delicious protein shakes using whole foods instead of protein powder. For example, you could use 1 cup of milk (8 grams of protein) and blend in 1 cup of Greek yogurt (23 grams of protein) and you’d be getting more than 30 grams of protein in your smoothie.
Wondering how much protein is in some of the foods you could add to smoothies? Here are some free printable guides you can put up on your fridge or Pin for later. They are separated into Animal-Based Proteins and Plant-Based Proteins for the vegans out there!
Click and enjoy!
Animal-Based Proteins for Protein Shakes
Plant-Based Proteins for Protein Shakes
Don’t forget to add some berries, greens or other nutrient-packed ingredients to your protein shakes to get disease-fighting phytochemicals!
For more tips on making nutritious and delicious smoothies, check out my 3 Easy Steps to Perfect Smoothies!
Now that I’ve given you everything you need to make whole food-based protein shakes, I’ll let you know that I use protein powders once in a while. They have a place for some people. They can help you add protein to your smoothie without too many calories (usually 30 grams of protein in a scoop of whey protein isolate and about 120 calories).
Another great reason to use protein powders is they can be convenient when you are on the run.
If you are interested in buying protein powder, here are some tips on what to look for.
Protein Powder Shopping Tips
1. Choose a protein powder with a short ingredient list with words you recognize.
2. The three most common types of protein powder are whey, casein and soy. Whey and casein come from milk and soy protein comes from soybeans. Look for protein “isolate” meaning the product is mostly protein. You can add carbohydrates by mixing with milk, banana and other fruit in a smoothie. There are also some great vegan protein powders out there made from blends of pea, rice and hemp protein. If you can get a sample in the mail or at your health food store, definitely do that! In general, the vegan protein powders don’t mix as well and at worst can have a chalky taste.
3. Make sure your protein powder doesn’t have artificial sweeteners or added sugar. Artificial sweeteners that end in “ol” are sugar alcohols that can upset your digestive tract. Not a good look (or smell) at the gym or anywhere humans gather!
4. Pick a neutral flavour like vanilla. If you buy a large tub of protein powder with a wacky flavour, you’re likely to get tired of it more quickly. Personally, I use a flavourless version so I can add anything I want. If I’m craving a chocolate shake, I can easily add cocoa powder. If I want vanilla, all it needs is some vanilla extract. It’s that easy!