What you need to know about protein

Protein drinks are ubiquitous in the health and fitness industry. You see people buy them at the gym. You see protein powders at your grocery store. Your girlfriend likes to mix it with her fruit smoothies. You may know someone who leaves a trail of protein powder everywhere he goes, almost as if it was a magical, muscle-creating, meathead-making pixie dust.

Fitness enthusiasts swear buy it, but most of us are also riddled with questions.  Should I be drinking protein drinks? Does consuming protein add muscle? What kind of protein powders should I buy? Can I have too much protein?

Typically we think of meat as our main source of protein, but beans, cottage cheese, eggs and soy are also great sources of protein. Many athletes, particularly weight lifters, consume protein drinks after workouts to nourish their bodies.

The common misconception about protein is that it adds muscle mass to your body. In reality, protein delivers amino acids to the muscles that were torn during weight training, enabling the muscles to recover faster. By aiding in recovery, protein allows us to work our muscles more efficiently during our workout, which ultimately leads to bigger gains.

If your goal is to build muscle, consider consuming whey protein shortly after your workout. Having whey protein immediately after your workout means it will be absorbed quickly into your body and help your muscles recover faster. When you are weight-lifting with the goal of bulking up, it is important for your muscles to recover the protein it lost during your workout. Whey protein can help with that.  I usually have 1-2 scoops of  whey protein mixed in with milk and water after my workout when I am trying to bulk up. There are benefits of consuming protein before a workout as well, as your body calls on those proteins as you work.

Protein drinks can also be beneficial for those who aren’t weight training. Many people add protein to smoothies and meals to make sure they get the recommended daily amounts of protein and to help curb their hunger. Studies have shown that people feel more full on high-protein diets and may consume up to 200 less calories a day. Mixing a protein shake with fruit and milk can be a great way to help keep you more full and stop you from snacking on less healthy foods throughout the day.

If you are interested in using protein powder as a meal replacement, casein protein is a good choice. It is absorbed slowly by the body, and it stays in your body longer. Soy protein can also be used as a meal replacement.

When you are calculating calories, don’t forget to count the calories of the other ingredients you added to your protein shake. A healthy 200-calorie shake can quickly become a 700-calorie drink if you are adding too much to it.

Consuming too much protein can be dangerous and unhealthy. The recommended daily allowance of protein is roughly 15 percent of your total caloric intake, and most people have no problem reaching that goal without adding protein supplements. But that doesn’t mean protein drinks don’t have their place.

If you decide to get protein powder, I highly recommend getting one of these little babies to help mix your drinks. They are fantastic.

Sources: WebMD, The Benefits of Protein and Will Eating Protein Help Your Body Gain Muscle Faster.

Mark Spurbeck

4 Comments on “What you need to know about protein

  1. I have been having a protein shake for lunch every day for a few weeks now and am very pleased with it’s ability to curb my need to snack in the afternoon. I mix mine with ice and pack in it my thermos for lunch – it can stay in it’s ideal “smoothie state” for 8 hrs!! How do you feel about adding instant coffee to your protein drinks when using them as a supplement? I like how it cuts the protein taste that can sometimes be overwhelming. I’m going to check that I’m keeping to my 15%, I’ve often wondered if I’m taking too much. Thanks for the great post!

    • What brand of protein powder do you get? Some of the cheaper ones taste significantly worse than the ones that cost a little extra. Could be worth the cost if the taste is that bad, otherwise I think adding coffee to a protein smoothie is a great idea! I had never thought of it before, but now I’ll have to try it. A little caffeine to pick you up with a little protein to fill you up. Sounds fantastic. If you are drinking coffee or caffeinated drinks on top of your coffee protein smoothie, you might want to keep an eye on that. I generally try not to have more than one or two caffeinated drinks per day.

  2. I’ve been using Herbalife Formula 1 Healthy Meal. It doesn’t taste bad in comparison to other protein drinks I’ve had in the past. I think I’m just picky! Looking back at your percentage recommendations for protein intake, this one is a bit higher. Recommended powder with 8 fl oz of milk comes to 35% protein. Is this in the dangerous/unhealthy range? Perhaps I should cut the protein in my shake in half? I will keep an eye on my caffeine intake, I don’t want to become dependent on it. Thanks for the tip!

    • Double check the way you are calculating your protein. The 15% number is saying 15% of your calories should come from protein. Based on a 2000 calorie diet (which yours may be lower or higher) that would mean 300 calories should come directly from protein. Each gram of protein equals four calories, so that equates to roughly 75 grams of protein per day.

      Some experts say you can be fine with up to 30% of your calories coming from protein. So doing the math on that 2000 calorie diet again, that’s 600 calories or 150 grams of protein. If you do heavy weight training you may want more protein for example, but there have been studies that show there is a point where adding protein to your diet plateaus and doesn’t give additional benefits.

      I highly doubt you are consuming too much protein – but if you do some calculations and you think that you are, I’d touch base with a nutritionist or dietitian who would be more qualified to assess your individual dietary needs.

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