Should you take a protein supplement?

Our average diet these days seem to come out of convenience vs purpose.  It’s so easy now to grab fast food, skip the dishes or simply make a plate of anything without really understanding the nutritional value or macronutrient composition of our meal.  Specifically, how much protein should we really be eating?  


Questions I often get are….

Why is protein important?

Will protein help me lose weight? 

Can too much protein be bad for my health?

Should I take a protein supplement?


Today, we’ll explore the facts on protein and whether a supplement can help you.  


Why Protein Is Important...

First, let's do a quick summary on what protein is and why it's beneficial. Protein is one of the 3 main macronutrients we eat containing calories and is made up of amino acids. These amino acids are like little building blocks for most structures in our body.  Since we don’t store a lot of amino acids (like we do fat), our body will take it from other important structures such as muscle if we are lacking in protein.  


How Much Protein Do We Need?

We need protein to survive… without it, our bodies will simply breakdown or even die in extreme cases.  The typical RDA for protein is around .8g/kg of bodyweight.  So if you weigh 150lb(68kg), you will need approximately 54g of protein.  However, this is the minimal requirement for survival.  The guidelines for someone who is active, aging, pregnant as some examples, require closer to 1.4-2.0g/kg of bodyweight.  So about double of the suggestion above… This is typical of someone who wants to live and move optimally.    


Can Too Much Protein Be Bad For My Health?  

Research shows that it is very difficult to eat too much protein.  In fact, there have been some studies of people eating over 3.0g protein/kg of bodyweight for a long period of time, who have not encountered any health issues.  The most common concerns of a high protein diet are related to kidney/liver damage and heart disease.  Most studies are inconclusive in this matter and didn’t prove that high protein is harmful.  However, if you have some existing health issues, it’s best to speak to your doctor first. 


Protein For Building Muscle And Losing Fat

Your muscles need protein to grow...period.  It’s shown that a fast-digesting animal protein supplement like a whey isolate is more readily usable for your muscles vs plant based proteins.  It’s not to say plants are bad, just that whey is absorbed easier and faster.  Also, “real” food is typically the best source if you can find lean forms of protein at every meal.  But, with the fast paced society we live in, making sure this happens at every meal is challenging if not impossible.  That’s why a protein supplement is just that… a great back-up or replacement when you can’t get that high quality protein source. Here are some other reasons protein helps you lose fat:

  1. Protein keeps you full longer, leading you to eat less

  2. Protein takes more work/calories calories to digest

  3. Protein helps you keep muscle while you lose fat

I’d really like to emphasize the last point. Most of us think just by taking protein powder that we’ll build muscle but that’s simply not true if you don’t put the work in and lift some weights.  Having said that, when we’re in a period of focusing on weight loss, our bodies also burn muscle in the process especially if we’re losing weight quickly.  So, think of protein more as a muscle guard when you’re trying to lose that last 10lbs in a hurry.  


Protein For Aging

As you age, you lose lean muscle mass and bone tissue.  This of course affects the quality of your life and even how long you live.  Research shows that many older people, especially women over 55 need more protein to slow down muscle loss.  “Experts recommend over 2.0g/kg of bodyweight for aging populations.”


So, Should I Take a Supplement?

Protein supplements are a great way to “supplement” your protein needs especially if you have a hard time making sure you have high quality protein sources throughout your day.  If you follow the guidelines of 1.4-2.0g/kg per day, that means roughly 30% of your plate should consist of protein.  Also, keep in mind that protein quality matters too.  If you live a busy life and can’t make the time to cook or keep up with your protein needs, then a supplement will definitely help. We typically recommend 1-2 servings of a protein supplement per day in addition to your regular diet - especially on days you exercise.  

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