The truth about protein powders

Protein powders are everywhere, a multi billion dollar industry. The answer, it seems, to all of our weight problems and apparenly the protein shake is essential if you are striving for a lean physique.

‘Eat less carbs, more protein’ is the message in all the health magazines, Facebook health pages and healthy instagram accounts. The health message has now morphed completely this year  into ‘eat more protein, eat more protein, eat more protein.’ I shudder when I see people advocating this message, as it  is premature and extremely generalised. Studies have shown that the Australian diet is already too high in protein (America and other countries showing similar results).

Sadly, our western diet now consists of a high proportion of nutrient poor processed forms of carbohydrates such as breads, cakes, biscuits, cereals and pastas.  While we should certainly be choosing less refined forms of carbohydrate and avoiding a diet comprising MOSTLY of carbohydrate, eating more protein is certainly not necessary.

So do you need that protein powder in your morning smoothie? In this article, we will take a look at protein. Why we need it, where to get it, how much you need, and the dangers of too much protein. 

WHY DO WE NEED PROTEIN?

Protein is essential for the growth and repair of all bodily tissues, formation of hormones and conduction of nerve impulses. Protein also makes us feel full, so it’s important to have a serve of good quality protein at each  meal.

HOW MUCH PROTEIN?

Whilst protein is essential for our body, did you know that more protein isn’t necessarily better and excess protein can in fact be dangerous for our body?

The recommended dietary intake (RDI) for protein:

  • 0.75 g/kg for adult women
  • 0.84 g/kg for adult men
  • Around 1 g/kg for pregnant and breastfeeding women, and for men and women over 70 years

So, the average 65 kg female requires 49 grams of protein per day.

Let’s take a look at the protein content of the average diet

 

Wholegrain Toast  (2 slices) – 7g

Eggs (2)    –  12g

Coffee with 1/2 cup dairy milk –  4 g

Salad with 100g chicken – 30g

Stir fry with  100g meat + 2 cups egg noodles – 50g

Spinach (1/2 cup) –  2.5g

Yoghurt – 1 small tub greek (200g) – 17g

 

Total 122.5 grams total protein

You can see from the table above that this person is consuming more than adequate protein from whole food sources. At a total of 122.5 grams of protein for the day they are consuming more than double the recommended daily amount of protein, without the addition of protein powders

Vegetarian diet

Even a vegetarian diet can adequately achieve protein.

protein in vegetarian diet

 

BUT I’M EXERCISING!

While protein is essential for optimal recovery after exercise, we can obtain our protein needs from foods very easily, without the need for protein supplements. As well as this, the average person doing a 1 hour work out every day, does not need additional protein. It is only elite athletes training 5 hours a day with the main emphasis on muscle growth or endurance which need EXTRA protein and even then, their requirements are only marginally increased to 1.2-2 grams protein per kg body weight. Even exercise programs focused heavily on weight training and inducing muscle bulk do not require protein above these levels, with studies showing no greater muscle mass achieved with protein intakes above this maximum of 2 gram/kg.

So do you need that protein shake after your morning run? No. Do you need that protein shake after your morning walk? Certainly no. Protein shake after your 1 hour pump class? No.

The timing of protein intake is much more important for exercise recovery, rather than the amount. Shortly after exercise, aim to eat a small protein rich snack combined with carbohydrate such as a glass of milk, small tub of yoghurt or handful of nuts combined with a piece of fruit or slice of toast to assist with recovery.

And here’s a tip: The humble glass of milk contains the perfect amount of protein, carbohydrate and electrolytes needed for exercise recovery!

THE DANGERS OF TOO MUCH PROTEIN

High levels of protein is dangerous for the body. There is a level of protein intake of which your body will use to build muscle and repair tissue. Contrary to popular belief, or what supplement companies will tell you, the body cannot store excess protein to build muscle over that level of which it requires and will need to get rid of the excess in order to maintain balance in the body. Excess protein is metabolised into a toxic by product called ammonia. It is sent to the kidneys which have to work extremely hard to filter and excrete it via the urine. This process can lead to kidney disease, long term kidney damage and can leech calcium from the bones.

Consume more protein that your body needs and you simply pee the excess protein down the toilet. Not only is this a waste of your money but you are in fact paying to put your body under stress.

PROTEIN POWDERS/SHAKES

I’m asked every day which protein powder I recommend. I  prefer people get their protein from whole food sources. Why? Protein powders are not a real food, often contain all sorts of synthetic filler ingredients and are highly refined. They are a creation of the modern world and even the protein powders using all natural ingredients still go through a very unnatural process to extract the protein, turn it into a powder and put it into a container to sell.

The marketing of protein powders is a multi billion dollar industry. The information touting protein powders as ‘must h ave weight loss’ answer, or ‘only way to add bulk ‘ is written by supplement companies as advertorial. They cleverly list all the benefits of the powders on the packaging, but remember this is a clever marketing ploy.

Plant based protein powders are good for vegans/vegetarians but even then your main protein source should be from beans, legumes and tofu, with powder only as a top up if you calculate that you aren’t reaching your protein requirements.

PROTEIN FOR WEIGHT LOSS

Protein can help keep us feeling fuller for longer so in this way, adding a source of protein to each meal can help to maintain or lose weight.  Remember, that like anything, if eaten in excess protein will be stored as fat so it is important to have a well balanced diet of carbohydrates, fats and protein which is within the kilojoule requirements for your body.

If you add protein powder to your smoothies and having trouble losing weight, ditch the protein powder. Just the scoop of powder normally contains 100+ calories – the equivalent of a snack right there. A smoothie with fruit, yoghurt, nut or dairy milk, oats already has plenty of calories and protein without the addition of protein powder.

 

WHO NEEDS EXTRA PROTEIN?

There are some circumstances where extra protein is required:

  • Those clinically diagnosed as malnourished (losing a lot of weight in a very short time)
  • The elderly who have broken a bone and who are malnourished
  • Vegans
  • Elite body builders in the initial training phase

 

TAKE HOME MESSAGE

  • The average person exercising 1 hour per day does not need extra protein
  • Obtain protein from whole food sources such as lean meats, cheese, legumes, mushrooms, wholegrain cereals/breads, dairy, soy products rather than powders
  • Protein powders are highly processed, often containing un-natural filler ingredients, flavours, colours
  • Too much protein can cause puts the body under stress and can cause kidney damage
  • The body does not store excess protein as muscle. It is excreted via the urine to save the body from becoming toxic
  • Most people using protein powders already  have an adequate protein  intake and are simply peeing the protein shake down the toilet
  • Protein powders may are useful for those struggling to achieve the minimum recommended amount of protein per day

 

The Nutrition Guru and The ChefThe Nutrition Guru is a university qualified Nutritionist, keen cook and all round myth buster. She cares passionately about advocating for holistic health and providing credible and up to date nutrition information in order for people to make their own educated decision about nutrition