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Optimizing Your Health: Your Ultimate Guide to Protein Supplements



 


Everyone needs protein in their diet—regardless what type of eating pattern you follow. But does everyone need protein supplements? Protein supplements used to be thought of as a supplement only for athletes. And while, yes, athletes do need more protein than non-athletes, the way they are marketed and how they are readily available, you would think everyone needs protein supplements.


But let’s dive in and see if that is really the case.

 

In this blog we’ll go over what protein is and how to calculate your personal protein needs, protein content in certain foods and then finally we will evaluate if you actually do need protein supplements and how to pick one that best suits your needs.

 

So, what is protein anyways?

Protein is an essential nutrient that everyone needs every day. Protein, along with carbohydrates and fats, is considered to be a macronutrient because you need more of these every day than the micronutrients like vitamins and minerals. Plus, it’s these macronutrients that contribute to our energy daily needs.

 

The protein compound itself is made from a combination of several building blocks called amino acids. There are over 20 different amino acids, 9 of which are considered to be essential. Essential amino acids must be consumed through our diets as our bodies cannot produce these particular amino acids. Our bodies cannot store excess protein that we eat for later use, so you need a constant supply of them. Any excess protein that we consume, beyond what our bodies can use at that time, will get broken down and stored as a different substance. Protein sources that contain all nine essential amino acids are called complete proteins, and those that may be low in one or two are called incomplete proteins.

 

Protein is so important for good health that your body naturally contains over 10,000 different proteins!! Protein is critical for all parts of your body including your muscles, bones, skin, hair, enzymes, blood, hormones, etc. Protein helps with so many functions including promoting bone and muscle mass and strength, healing burns and wounds, and having a strong immune system. Some studies show that consuming enough protein each day can help you stay fuller longer, may help with managing weight, and can help maintain muscle mass as we age. 


How much protein do you need every day? 


An average person needs 0.8 grams of protein for every kg of body weight. This means that if you weigh 70 kg (154 lb), you need 56 grams of protein every day. If you weigh 90 kg (198 lb), then you need 72 grams of protein every day.


This is the minimum requirements for most people, however we are starting to see that slightly higher intakes are beneficial for a variety of different people/different circumstances. For example, people who are pregnant or breastfeeding, those who have difficulty gaining or keeping on weight, those who are eating a low-calorie diet, athletes, those who are at risk for losing muscle mass, may benefit from additional protein. For the clients I work with, I find myself rarely recommending 0.8 grams/kg, as we are continuing to see the benefits of having more protein in the diet. However, this doesn’t apply to everyone, so make sure to talk to a dietitian if you have any health concerns before increasing your protein needs.


If you are an athlete or are very physically active, you need more nutrients overall—including more protein for recovery. Research shows that eating high-quality protein within 1hour after exercise for women and two hours after exercise for men can enhance muscle repair and growth. Athletes should aim for 1.4-2.0 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight every day. This means that a 70 kg (154 lb) athlete needs 98-140 grams of protein every day, while a 90 kg (198 lb) athlete needs 126-180 grams of protein every day. Determining how much you need as an athlete can be tricky. This is why I always recommend working with a dietitian specializing in sports if you are an athlete or even a weekend warrior.



Fun Fact: According to the Office of Dietary Supplements, high-protein diets (e.g., those that have two to three times the recommended daily allowance of protein) are safe. Recent research shows that high-protein diets don’t increase the risk of kidney stones, kidney function, dehydration, nor do they negatively impact bone health. But you will need to make sure you are drinking enough water. Also note that in most cases eating more than 3.0 grams protein per kg body weight doesn’t add much benefit.


How much protein is in food? 

When thinking of protein-rich foods, most people’s first thoughts go to meat, eggs, seafood, and dairy. These are some of the foods that contain the highest amounts of protein. But did you know that protein is also found in many plant foods including legumes, nuts, seeds, and grains—and there is even some protein in vegetables and fruit?

 

Here is a list of the amount of protein per serving in a few higher-protein foods:

  • 33 g protein in 4 oz of sirloin steak

  • 30 g protein in 4 oz of grilled sockeye salmon

  • 28 g protein in 4 oz skinless chicken thigh

  • 22 g protein in 4 oz ham

  • 18 g protein in 1 cup of cooked lentils

  • 8 g protein in 8 oz milk (some milks are even processed in a way to get up to 15g protein per glass!)

  • 6 g protein in 1 oz of dry roasted almonds

 

Animal sources of protein are considered to be complete proteins because they contain all 9 essential amino acids. Some plant-based proteins are also considered to be complete, like soy, quinoa, and chia seeds. However, in order to get complete protein from other plant sources that may lack one or more amino acids, simply mix up you diet by eating a variety of plant foods every day to get enough of all of your essential amino acids. Another bonus is that eating more plant-based foods can be good for your health and the planet’s health because plants contain a variety of nutrients (like fiber), they don’t contain cholesterol, and the production of plant-based foods releases fewer greenhouse gases.

 

Not everyone gets the right amount of protein from food. Some who experience food insecurity, have certain dietary restrictions, malnutrition or have really high protein needs often do not get enough. Others may get more than enough protein, especially if they eat a lot of animal-based foods. Many people can get enough protein by eating a variety of nutritious foods throughout the day. However, as with any nutrient, if you aren’t able to get enough from your diet, you may benefit from supplementation. 

 

Choosing the right protein powder for you 


Protein powders are convenient sources of protein and often have added vitamins, minerals, sweeteners, and other ingredients. Different protein powders may contain protein from several different sources, and the amount of protein per scoop can vary between products. Please remember that in the U.S., nutritional supplements—including protein powders—are not regulated. (This is why it’s always so important to use reputable brands for all supplements or vitamins that you choose to take.) Some protein powders have been found to contain contaminants like heavy metals. These are the reasons why it’s important to read the nutrition labels and get a recommendation for a high-quality product from a healthcare professional (not the guy at GNC or from an influencer) that you trust before you change your supplementation regimen.

 

Here is a brief overview of some of the most common types of protein powders.

 



Whey or casein protein powder

Whey and casein are made from milk and should be avoided if you are allergic, sensitive to, or otherwise avoiding dairy. However there are some that are processed in a way that some folk who otherwise don’t tolerate dairy can tolerate these products. These animal-based proteins contain all of the essential amino acids your body needs. The difference between them is that whey is water-soluble and is absorbed more quickly than casein. 

For post-workout proteins, I tend to recommend whey protein as it is absorbed and used fairly quickly.


Casein protein is great to use before bedtime or if you know you need to be tided over for a while between meals. 


Pro Tip: For my athletes and gym goers: if you’re main goal is muscle growth, make sure your post workout protein contains at least 2.5 grams of leucine. Leucine is the amino acid that “turns on” muscle protein synthesis. Many protein supplements will list the leucine content on the label, but if yours doesn’t or if it doesn’t have the minimum 2.5 grams of leucine, you can buy a leucine power, like this one by Now Sports, to add to your protein shake. (Also make sure you are getting carbs in post workout for maximum muscle growth as well!)

 

Collagen protein powder

 

Collagen is the most common protein naturally found in your body. It’s essential for the structure of your bones, skin, muscles, tendons, and cartilage. Collagen supplements, including protein powders, are animal-based.


Collagen is great to use if you are looking for something to target joint injury, tendon injury, or for hair, skin and nail health. But be warned!! Lots of the collagen supplements on the market are misleading in how they should be taken.


For proper use of collagen make sure to follow these guidelines:

  • 15-20 gram of collagen paired with 50mg of vitamin C (this can be included in the powder or just mix the powder with some orange juice)

  • DO NOT take collagen with coffee. I know there’s a TON of collagen coffee creamers on the market. But caffeine actually stops collagen production, so taking collagen with caffeine will not actually do anything for you.

Collagen supplementation will only make an impact on your tissue if you are consuming adequate complete protein in your diet, so make sure you are getting that in first!


There is some controversy surrounding the use of collagen too. Research is starting to show that in absence of an injury, supplementing collagen may not be the best thing, but rather just consume more complete proteins instead. (So maybe you can save a buck or thirty and skip the collagen protein powders next grocery trip)


If you need help deciding if you would benefit from collagen, pop over to the “for clients” page and schedule your appointment today! 


Soy protein powder


Soy is one of the plants that are high in protein and contains all of the essential amino acids (it’s a complete protein). Soy-based protein powders are a popular choice for people who avoid dairy.


I personally like the Evolve Plant Based protein, Orgain and Momentous vegan protein.


However, there are plenty of good options on the market. I do recommend using a vegan protein powder that is considered a complete protein if you are using it as a meal replacement or as a post workout shake. While there are essential amino acid powders you can buy, it’s better to just opt for a protein supplement that is a complete protein on its own.

 

Pea protein powder

 

Pea protein powders can be used by those who avoid dairy and soy. Pea protein is rich in eight of the nine essential amino acids, so it has low amounts of just one amino acid (methionine). Pea protein can be mixed with rice or animal-based proteins to provide a complete protein.


Pro Tip: Mix your pea protein powder with rice milk or add some plain cooked rice to your blended smoothie to make this a complete protein source.

 

Hemp protein powder


Hemp protein is low in two essential amino acids (lysine and leucine), however it does contain some of the essential omega-3 fatty acids. If you are opting to use a protein powder as a post-workout, I recommend skipping this one and saving it for a snack or meal replacement.

 

Final Thoughts

Protein is a key part of every nutritious, health-promoting eating pattern. Meeting your personal protein needs is essential to good health. Protein is found in many foods—not only animal-based foods—and many people can meet their protein needs without supplementing. 

 

However, there are some people who need more protein than others (e.g., athletes or those on a low calorie diet). If you think you may need a professional nutrition assessment or to consider starting or changing your supplementation regimen, consult a registered dietitian who can help, like one here at Wellness and Sports Dietetics.

 



Looking for some examples of higher protein recipes? Check out these recipe packs to help get you started!


Want more guidance on incorporating more protein in your diet? Book an appointment with the dietitian today or sign up to get started on a custom meal plan!

 

References

Casparo, A. (2020, July 20). Protein and the athlete — How much do you need? Eat Right. https://www.eatright.org/fitness/sports-and-performance/fueling-your-workout/protein-and-the-athlete

Cleveland Clinic. (2021, January 29). 13 of the best vegetarian and vegan protein sources. Health Essentials. https://health.clevelandclinic.org/13-of-the-best-vegetarian-and-vegan-protein-sources/

Harvard T. H. Chan School of Public Health. (n.d.). Collagen. The Nutrition Source. https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/collagen/

Harvard T. H. Chan School of Public Health. (n.d.). Protein. The Nutrition Source. https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/what-should-you-eat/protein/

Harvard T. H. Chan School of Public Health. (n.d.). Workout supplements. The Nutrition Source. https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/workout-supplements/

Hunnes, D. (n.d.). The case for plant based. UCLA Sustainability. https://www.sustain.ucla.edu/food-systems/the-case-for-plant-based/

Mayo Clinic. (2020, November 13). Whey protein. https://www.mayoclinic.org/drugs-supplements-whey-protein/art-20363344

Medical News Today. (2018, September 18). What are the benefits of protein powder? https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/323093

Office of Dietary Supplements. (2022, June 2). Dietary supplements for exercise and athletic performance. National Institutes of Health. https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/ExerciseAndAthleticPerformance-HealthProfessional/

 

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