Thoughts on Protein Powder

As a trainer I get the protein powder question A LOT.

Do I like it? What brands do I recommend? When is the BEST time to consume it? Thoughts on using it as a meal replacement? Should I be baking with it? Mix with water or almond milk or both? Does it help with fat loss? Will it make me bulky? 

You get the idea... 

So I thought I'd go on record with my official view. But before I dive into the powdery details, let's talk about protein in general, and the role it plays in our health, fat loss, and energy. 

High level, protein is made up of amino acids and helps our bodies produce things like enzymes, hormones, and antibodies. If you are not consuming enough protein, you will have a hard time functioning in an optimal way (don't always write off headaches, sluggishness, and brain fog as stress related, look at what you are eating).  

Why else should you care about it? Because it can help regulate body fat. Not only does it use more energy to digest than carbs and fat (higher thermic effect of food, or TEF), it increases satiety hormones, and decreases hunger hormones. Simply put, you are much less likely to overeat when you have a meal with adequate protein. 

So how much protein should you eat? The official daily recommended intake is between 10-35% of total calories, or 0.8 grams per kilogram of body-weight. Umm, what? Thanks National Academy of Sciences for that easy to digest guideline (see what I did there?). An easier formula is to take 0.36 x your body-weight (BW) in pounds.

Keep in mind however, this formula is to prevent protein deficiency. If you are active, and do an intense workout, you can up this to 0.6-0.8 grams x BW. But don't worry about lugging a scale around with you everywhere or obsessively checking food labels, just aim to eat high quality protein (an amount that is roughly the size of the palm of your hand), with each meal. 

So this brings us to protein powder. In no particular order, here are my thoughts on it.  

  1. You don't NEED it (i.e. it's not the magic addition to your diet that will all of a sudden make you lose tons of weight and have glowing skin). The key is to eat enough protein in general.
  2. I prefer to get my protein from whole food sources because it's more filling and satiating. That said...
  3. Sometimes it can be a life saver! When you are having a crazy week, a lazy day where you don't feel like cooking, or if you are on the go, a protein shake can really come in handy for ensuring you hit your daily intake (or helping you avoid caving to those damn cinnamon rolls at Starbucks...). I do half water, half almond milk. 
  4. I usually have them about 3-4 times per week, depending on my schedule (interestingly, I'm drinking one as I write this post now...). 
  5. Don't bargain shop. You will get what you pay for with most supplements, and if you cheap out with protein powder, you may end up with higher amounts of lactose, fat, and fillers (my favs are listed below). 
  6. Be sure to rotate brands occasionally so that you don't build up any intolerance's.
  7. I don't recommend protein shakes as a meal replacement. Once in a while is fine, but in my experience (and for MANY clients), if you rely on it for a meal you'll likely overeat later in the day. 
  8. Bake away with it! My favorite quick thing is a protein pancake: vanilla protein powder, banana, and an egg. Mmmmm. 
  9. The best time to consume it is when you need protein... don't over-think it. Most of us aren't elite level athletes where nutrient timely becomes vitally important. Just. eat. it. 
  10. NO IT WILL NOT MAKE YOU BULKY. If I had a dollar for every time a girl asked me if a long list of things will make her bulky, I could pay rent for a year! Ladies, eating protein will not turn you into the hulk, and if you wanna get "lean" and "tone", protein is your best friend in helping your body efficiently burn fat and build lean muscle. 

These are all just my opinion and preferences.

As with anything health and fitness related, you are the best judge of what works for you. So if having a smoothie every morning with scoop of protein powder works well for you, great! Keep it up! (I'm honestly too lazy to clean my blender everyday... true story). The important part of being "healthy", or obtaining and maintaining your ideal weight and physique, is to consistently eat real food that nourishes your body, and protein is a huge part of that equation, especially for us women who tend to be deficient. 

Here are some of my favorite brands. I've tried a ton and these 3 are my trusty standbys. I personally have a hard time with whey, so I stick to plant-based proteins, but added a reputable brand for it as well, because if it works for you, whey is a great option. I'll continue testing things out and will update you if I find any new obsessions. 

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  1. Vega One Performance Protein
  2. Thorne Research VegaLife or Whey
  3. Nutiva Hemp Protein 

Hope this helps to clear up some questions you may have about how/when/should you use protein powder.