Today we're tackling one of the biggest questions in the entire universe: do you really need a protein supplement? To answer that, I'm going to talk about a few things:
1. How protein supplements FIT into your diet
2. Who DOES need protein powder
3. What to LOOK for in a protein supplement
So to start, I'm just gonna answer the question.
Nope. You don't NEED it.
Despite what all the marketing messages say, there really is nothing magic about any protein supplement that will make you gain muscle or lose weight or beat LeBron in one on one (though Michael's Secret Stuff might help with the last one).
HOWEVER, just because you don't NEED it doesn't mean it isn't helpful for some people. To start us off on how protein supplements fit into your diet, you should understand that all they really do is add protein - the way chicken, eggs, beef, or anything else - does. Now, some proteins are digested differently than others, but at the end of the day, for simplicity's sake, 20 grams of protein is 20 grams of protein.
The handy part about a supplement is in its convenience, as you can often just mix it with water and you're good to go. No extensive preparation and very little cleanup makes it it a good choice when you're in a hurry.
I write this as I'm happily cooking some chicken, by the way.
So don't think of these supplements as some extra magical fluff to power you through the day, you're simply just getting your protein from a chocolatey beverage instead of from a food. That said, I don't want you to go and stop eating real food forever and live off protein shakes, as nutrient-dense whole food is still definitely the way to go.
Like chicken with veggies.
Now, who would actually benefit from a protein supplement?
When I'm asked by people at the gym, my first suggestion is always to make sure they're getting adequate amounts of protein from their diet, then I ask them about their fitness goals. It's usually only for people who want to GAIN muscle mass or have a condition/aversion that keeps them away from whole food protein that I recommend supplemental protein.
In both cases, it is a matter of fulfilling protein needs that are unmet or are hard to meet by their normal whole food diet, so be honest and review your eating habits. If you could use a boost, go ahead and add some powder OR figure out how to eat more from your food.
Maybe have some chicken.
So if you've decided you could use some extra protein in your life, what do you look for? I personally DO use a powder, so here are a few of my guidelines in selecting a good supplement:
• Check the carb/sugar content - Many protein powders are loaded with so much junk and sugar you might as well just get some Nesquik and call it a day. I don't use any protein powder that has more than 7g of carbs per 20g of protein (meal replacements would be an exception to this).
• How about vitamins? - Many protein supplements have extra vitamins and minerals added, which is a pretty good bonus to me!
• Pick a suitable type - I like whey and casein, but if you are vegan or if you don't like dairy, you can try hemp, pea, or rice protein. I personally avoid all soy protein.
• Check the artificial stuff - There is so much to reading and understanding the junk on an ingredients list and you might go crazy thinking about it all, but a couple things I shy away from are carrageenan, aspartame, and artificial colorings.
Those are some of my criteria for a protein supplement, but I do always suggest you do your OWN research to determine what action makes most sense for your lifestyle.
So that wraps it up for protein today, please share or comment if you got value out of that!
I'm going to enjoy some chicken now :)