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Should I be using a protein powder?

Updated: Jul 19, 2023

There are mixed messages out there about how much protein we need in our diets. Most people have heard somewhere that the average American consumes too much protein, but diet culture and marketing promote high protein diets and protein supplements. Of course, like many topics in nutrition, the answer lies somewhere in the middle "moderation" zone. Active people and athletes should be aiming for 1.7-2.4g of protein per kg of body weight per day. Factors such as sex, age, and training load determine more precisely the appropriate amount of protein for a given person. For anyone though, this target should be achieved spread throughout the day in servings of 15-35g per snack or meal. For athletes, the most important window to consider for protein intake is immediately following a workout. Consuming protein allows the body to switch from a catabolic (muscle breakdown) state to an anabolic (muscle building) state. This switch allows an athlete to begin recovering from a workout and adapting to the training stress they are putting on their bodies. It is in this window that protein powders have the most benefit (the rest of the day, I say get your nutrition from whole foods!).

What type of protein powder is best for you?

Whey protein isolate is the gold standard for post workout protein, for good reason. It's quickly digested and absorbed into the blood stream for uptake in to the cells. An average serving contains 25g of protein per serving and an adequate amount the amino acid Leucine, critical for enabling the switch to muscle building and repair. Additionally, whey protein has been found to reduce inflammation and be beneficial for gut health. Moreover, it easily mixes into water or a shake, is pleasantly creamy, and has added benefits.

For vegan athletes, or athletes who can't tolerate whey protein, pea protein isolate is the next best option. It takes slightly more to get adequate Leucine, roughly 1.5 servings, or combined with another protein source such as hemp seed powder. Pea protein is more chalky than whey protein when mixed into water, but works better in a shake or smoothie.

Collagen peptides or hydrolyzed collagen is becoming a popular "protein supplement" so I will spend a little time on that as well. Collagen peptides are great for supporting tendons, ligaments, and bone health by providing the building blocks for those tissues, however it does not serve as a source of protein for recovery after a workout. Collagen comes from animal sources, such as chicken or bovine cartilage and bones, fish bones, and eggs. Different sources provide different types of collagen with slightly different functions and benefits. There are no vegan sources of collagen, but there are vegan supplements providing a combination of nutrients to boost the body's collagen production.

Please reach out with questions about protein, or to schedule a consult about your protein intake. I love talking about protein and hearing from you!

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