The Truth Behind Protein Supplements
Rebeca Person, RD, LDN, CNSC
Protein Supplements: Pros and Cons
Protein supplements have always been popular with athletes and body builders, but are they necessary for the average person? There are many reasons to consider using a protein supplement, and with so many varieties, including many new plant based drinks and powders on the market, it can be hard to know what to choose, or if you even need one. Let’s look at the pros and cons of using protein supplements.
If your typical breakfast is a handful of cereal or a toaster pastry on your drive to work, adding a protein shake can be a good way to incorporate protein in your morning routine. Consuming protein in the morning with breakfast can help you stay fuller longer and provide lasting energy. Look for a supplement with moderate calories (200-350) and at least 15 grams of protein. Bonus if it contains calcium and fiber as well.
Con: Nutritionally Deficient – Whole foods are better.
Protein shakes are low in fiber, compared to plant proteins, and lack the benefit of vitamins and antioxidants found in whole foods. A high protein snack can provide just as much protein as a shake, can be cheaper, and provide the added benefit of a more complete nutritional profile. One Greek yogurt can contain 17g of protein with the added benefit of calcium. Other high protein snacks include low-fat cottage cheese, edamame, almonds, hardboiled eggs, cashew butter, and pumpkin seeds. However, if you are on the run, or meal prepping is not a practice you follow, having a protein shake can be a better alternative to a bag of chips or a handful of cookies.
Pro: Aid with weight gain/weight loss.
Protein can help you stay full for longer, and so a protein shake as a snack can be a better choice than traditional high fat and high sugar snacks. Choose a lower calorie (110-160 calories) shake with at least 15g protein. Shakes can also be a good way to gain weight if you have had a recent illness and unintentional weight loss. In this case, choose a higher calorie shake (> 300 kcal) with moderate protein to drink in between meals to promote a high calorie intake.
Con: Possibility to over supplement.
The average person needs 0.8-1.0 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight. This would be 54-68 grams a day for a 150 pound person. Most Americans tend to consume more protein than is actually needed by the average person; however, some people may have a medical condition or activity level that requires additional protein. For example, if you doing vigorous exercise or are a high performing athlete your protein needs are likely to be greater. Always be sure to check with a dietitian or physician to get an individualized recommendation based on your health and lifestyle.
Despite all this talk about protein supplements don’t forget that our bodies need a balance of fat and carbohydrates in order to function properly so be sure to continue to eat balanced meals even if you chose to add a protein supplement or incorporate more protein rich foods into your diet.
Using a protein supplement or protein shake can be beneficial depending on your individual goals and needs. Always discuss any supplements with your physician, especially if you have any chronic conditions, such as kidney or liver disease.