Do You Really Need Protein Powder?

If you’ve ever stepped foot in a gym, you’ve probably been told that a healthy serving of protein is needed to make the most of a workout. That’s true, as protein does a lot for the body; it helps build muscle mass, aids in post-exercise recovery, burns body fat, and so much more. It’s also necessary for a healthy immune system. As a result of our ever-increasing health consciousness, protein powder (mostly in the form of protein shakes) has become a popular addition to people’s diets, with advertised benefits promising big muscle gains and reduced appetite. But does the average American just trying to stay fit truly need protein powder, even after a moderate workout? Science says: maybe not.

It Works

To clarify: yes, protein powder does work. A 2017 meta-analysis published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine–the biggest of its kind–found that in 49 randomized controlled trials involving 2,000 participants, protein powder did indeed improve the muscle mass of experimental groups who were given the supplement, compared to those who didn’t. Both the control and experimental groups had the same exercise routine and roughly the same diet, so the results were pretty conclusive. 

But … 

…there’s a catch to protein powder use. Researchers found that the “benefit of protein supplementation plateaued after a total daily intake of 1.6 grams of protein per kilo, per day.” And if you’re the average American who eats both meat and plant products, chances are that you already get most of your protein intake through your diet. 

According to dietitians, the recommended daily protein intake is 0.8 grams per kilogram of weight. Weighing 150 pounds, for instance, translates to 55 grams of protein needed daily. The average American consumes about 65-90 grams of protein a day. Sure, downing a protein shake won’t hurt you, but it’s pretty unnecessary in terms of providing a significant nutritional boost. Plus, pure protein is only a small part of a balanced diet. Consuming pure protein may even lead to an overdose in overzealous consumers–and that can lead to dehydration, kidney damage, or even worse.

Oh, and that 2017 study? While protein powder did improve the muscle gains of the experimental groups, it only did so by 9%. Diet and a regular exercise routine were named as the most significant factor in reported gains by the participants. 

So?

While we’ve established that protein powder probably won’t do much for the average American (aside from being a convenient replacement for a snack), it can still greatly benefit certain groups such as athletes who are training more than usual, vegans who need more protein than their diet can give, people recovering from injuries, and those who can’t cook often.

As always, before trying any new supplement, consult with your doctor to see what is right for you.

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