If you buy something through a link on this page, we may earn a small commission. How this works.
Protein powder is a popular nutritional supplement. Protein is an essential macronutrient that helps build muscle, repair tissue, and make enzymes and hormones. Using protein powder may also aid weight loss and help people tone their muscles.
There are many different types of protein powder, including dairy-based and plant-based powders. In this article, we discuss some of the health benefits of protein powder and the different types available.
Protein is one of the building blocks of bone, muscle, and skin. The body needs it to produce hormones, enzymes, and other chemicals.
The possible health benefits of protein powders include the following:
Eating protein-rich foods and taking supplements may help people feel fuller for longer. Feeling full tends to result in smaller portion sizes and less frequent snacking, which can help a person maintain a healthy weight or lose weight if necessary.
Protein is essential for muscle growth. Many athletes and gym enthusiasts consume protein shakes because they believe that these drinks will help them bulk up after strength training.
A 2018 analysis of 49 studies supports the use of protein supplementation for this purpose. The research suggests that protein supplements significantly improve muscle size and strength in healthy adults who perform resistance exercise training, such as lifting weights.
Protein supplementation was equally effective in men and women. However, the effectiveness may decrease with age, as older adults have higher protein requirements than younger people.
The researchers also noted that once protein exceeded 1.6 grams (g) per kilogram (kg) of body weight (or 0.73 g per pound (lb) of body weight), the participants did not experience any additional benefits.
Recovery after exercise
As well as contributing to muscle growth, protein can help repair damaged muscles and tissues. As a result, athletes may use protein powder to speed up recovery from muscle soreness after exercise.
Many studies report that taking protein supplements after exercise can aid recovery by reducing muscle damage and improving muscle performance and muscle protein synthesis.
The recommended daily intake of protein for people aged 19 years and over is 46 g for women and 56 g for men.
People who find it challenging to meet these amounts, possibly including some vegans and vegetarians, may find that protein powder offers an easy solution to the problem.
Athletes, weight lifters, older adults, and people with a chronic illness may need to exceed the general protein intake recommendation.
Research shows that athletes with an intense training regimen may benefit from having about twice the daily recommended intake of protein, ranging from 1.4 to 2.0 g per kg of body weight. This is equivalent to 111–159 g per day for a person who weighs 175 lb.
There are several different types of protein powder. Whey is the most popular protein supplement and the one that researchers have tended to focus on, but it is not the only one. Common types of protein powder include:
- Whey: This water-soluble milk protein is popular among athletes. It is a complete protein, meaning that it contains all of the amino acids that the human body requires from food. The body absorbs whey protein quickly and easily.
- Casein: This type of protein is rich in glutamine, an amino acid that may speed up muscle recovery after exercise. Casein comes from dairy, making it unsuitable for vegans and people with milk allergies. The body digests this protein more slowly, so it may be best to take it at night.
- Soy: Soy protein is an excellent alternative to whey or casein for people who do not consume dairy. It also contains all the essential amino acids.
- Pea: Many plant-based protein powders contain pea protein, which is a high-quality alternative to soy- and dairy-based proteins. Pea protein is a good source of the amino acid arginine.
- Hemp: Hemp seeds are complete proteins that also contain essential fatty acids. This makes hemp an excellent choice for vegans or those with dairy or soy allergies.
Protein shakes vary in price and quality. The United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) do not regulate protein powders.
According to a 2018 study, many of the best-selling protein powders contain heavy metals, such as lead, cadmium, and arsenic.
Therefore, people should always proceed with caution when buying protein powders and choose a product from a reputable supplier.
Before using protein powders, people should calculate their nutritional needs. Those who do not get enough protein from their diet could consider supplementing with protein powders.
However, it is best to avoid consuming too much protein. Some powders contain up to 80 g per serving, which is too much for most people.
Excessively high levels of protein in the diet can also result in a reduced intake of other beneficial foods, such as fiber-rich fruits, vegetables, and legumes that the body uses to feed and sustain gut bacteria.
The optimal timing of protein supplementation is unclear. Many people suggest taking it after workouts, but research findings are inconclusive due to studies producing conflicting results.
For example, a 2018 study reported that taking protein supplements with meals is more effective for weight management and reducing fat mass than taking them between meals.
In contrast, a 2014 study reported that a 30 g protein dose after exercise improves protein synthesis in those following a reduced-calorie diet.
People can mix flavored protein powder with water according to the directions on the packaging. Alternatively, many people blend protein powder into milk or fruit and vegetable smoothies.
Protein powders can be a beneficial supplement for many people, especially for athletes, older adults, vegetarians, and vegans. They are a convenient source of complete protein. Sometimes they also contain other nutrients.
However, not everyone needs extra protein. People who eat a diet that is rich in meat, fish, dairy, and eggs and do not do intense weight training are unlikely to need to take protein supplements.
People who wish to supplement their diet with protein powder should choose a high-quality product and speak to their doctor or a dietitian before using it.
The different types of protein powder in this article are available online: