Is Protein Powder Really Good for You?

Reviewed on 9/2/2020

What Is Protein Powder?

Protein powder is not necessary for people with a normal diet. It can be useful for medical conditions that require extra calories and people starting certain exercise regimens.
Protein powder is not necessary for people with a normal diet. It can be useful for medical conditions that require extra calories and people starting certain exercise regimens.

Protein powders are nutritional supplements that are usually mixed into beverages to give users additional dietary intake of protein. Common types of protein powders include whey, casein, soy, pea, rice, and hemp proteins. Whey and casein are proteins found in dairy, while soy, pea, rice, and hemp proteins are plant-based. 

Protein is made up of building blocks called amino acids, and many of the essential ones the body needs come from the foods we eat. 

How Much Protein Do Adults Need?

The National Academy of Medicine recommends adults get a minimum of just over 7 grams for every 20 pounds of body weight. 

  • That is about 50 grams of protein each day for a 140-pound person and about 70 grams of protein each day for a 200-pound person

The National Academy of Medicine suggests adults get anywhere from 10% to 35% of their daily calories from protein sources. 

Most protein powders have more protein than the body needs. Excess protein will just be broken down by the body, and if it’s too much, that can stress the liver and kidneys.

When Are Protein Powders Useful?

In people who eat a balanced diet, protein powders are usually not needed. Most people – even vegetarians and vegans – get adequate protein in their diets. 

There are some circumstances in which protein powders might be useful, including: 

  • People who are starting an exercise program to build muscle
  • People who are increasing their exercise regimen 
  • Recovering from injury or surgery
  • Growing teenagers
  • New vegans, who may not yet have their diets balanced 
  • People who have decreased appetite, such as from cancer treatments or other medical conditions
  • Any medical condition in which the body requires extra calories and protein to recover, such as burns

QUESTION

A bagel 20 years ago was 3 inches in diameter and had 140 calories. How many calories do you think are in today's bagel? See Answer

Are Protein Shakes Good for Weight Loss?

Some protein shakes may be helpful for weight loss. A 2017 review found that use of whey protein may help people who are overweight or obese lose weight. Other studies have found that protein may increase metabolism because it requires more calories to digest than carbohydrates. 

Protein-rich foods may help people feel fuller, longer, which may help people eat less and lose weight. Replacing a meal with a protein shake may reduce caloric intake and also aid in weight loss.

What Are Possible Risks of Protein Powders?

Protein powders may be useful in some circumstances, but they can also carry some risks. 

  • Because protein powders are classified as dietary supplements and not regulated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), there is no way to know if they contain the ingredients listed by the manufacturer
  • Some people may have gastrointestinal distress such as gas or bloating if they used milk-based proteins such as whey and casein 
  • Many protein powders can be high in sugar and calories, and low in other nutrients outside of protein
  • There is not much data on the possible long-term side effects of high protein intake from protein shakes and supplements

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Reviewed on 9/2/2020
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