Protein powders have become synonymous with being healthy. What was once targeted to an elite group of athletes has now become so mainstream that anyone wanting to lead a healthy, active lifestyle feels the need to use protein powders.
This may in part be attributed to social media as the image of a protein powder user has shifted from a body builder to someone like you and me. Protein powders are now being used for weight loss and/ or to get lean.
As we become more health conscious, we are more interested in what others are eating. One of the most popular types of videos on YouTube, especially by those in the health and fitness industry, are those titled ‘what I eat in a day’. Because lets face it, we all want to know what someone else eats! These videos can be interesting to watch, but for some they can be used to try and look like the vlogger (video blogger), however unobtainable, by eating what they eat. It’s not uncommon for a protein shake or two to feature in these videos. This makes for perfect marketing at the prime target audience without the company even doing anything! In our attempt to eat ‘clean’, we are told to consume these powders that can’t be found in nature and many of which contain preservatives, heavy metals and sweeteners. Not quite the whole food we originally thought it was right?! That being said, there are so many different types of protein powders on the market and some are a lot better than others. Being dairy based, whey protein doesn’t sit well with many people. However, there are now some really good quality plant-based proteins on the market such as hemp and pea.
So how much protein do we actually need?
Most people these days are actually consuming more protein than they need. In the Western world it’s pretty difficult to become deficient in dietary protein, even as a vegetarian or vegan! Protein is found in a wide range of whole foods. Protein is actually an essential part of our immune system. The current recommendation for dietary protein intake for an average person is around 0.5-1g of protein per kilogram of body weight. However, intake is highly individual as physical activity, age, current muscle mass and health status can affect requirements. For most people though, this recommended range is very easy to achieve and most people can effortlessly consume twice this amount! We’ve been told that fat makes us fat, then carbs make us fat, but how many people know that excess protein can makes us fat? Protein that isn’t immediately processed is stored as fat or excreted via the urine. Some people have very expensive pee! High intakes of protein can put unwanted pressure on the kidneys and can displace other nutritious foods. As a rough guide, ¼ of your plate should be a meat or meat-alternative or a palm sized portion. Excess consumption of red meat has been linked to bowel cancer. However, protein keeps us feeling fuller for longer so including protein-rich foods at every meal will help to prevent snacking between meals. My favourite protein-rich foods include peanut butter, tuna, chicken, eggs, nuts and seeds, quinoa and legumes such as lentils. I am a great believer in consuming less animal meat (in a day or over the week), but better quality when you do choose to eat it (i.e. organic, free-range and grass-fed).
What’s the deal with protein powders?
Protein powders definitely do have a time and place and can be a really great way for people with high energy requirements or high protein requirements to fit in the extra energy into their day without needing to eat another meal. Protein powders can also be great for convenience as a better option for a quick breakfast than pancakes from a drive-through or a café muffin that contains more than 1/3 of your daily energy requirement. For the most people though, a smoothie can still be complete without protein powder.