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Do You Really Need Protein Powder? Pros and Cons to Consider

Updated: Jan 19


Everyone needs protein, but what about protein powder? Protein powders are frequently regarded as dietary supplements for athletes. This is totally understandable given that the majority of protein powder companies sell to athletes. While athletes require more protein than the average person, everyone requires a minimum quantity of protein every day for optimum health.

 

In this blog post, we'll define protein, look at how much protein is in different foods, and how to choose from the large assortment of protein powders on the market.


Protein powder in smoothies

 

What is protein?

Protein is a nutrient that everyone requires on a daily basis. Protein, along with carbohydrates and fats, is classified as a macronutrient since you require more of them on a daily basis than micronutrients such as vitamins and minerals. Furthermore, these macronutrients contribute to our daily requirement for energy.


The protein complex is composed of many building units known as amino acids. There are approximately 20 distinct amino acids, 9 of which are essential and must be eaten on a regular basis. Because your body does not store surplus protein and amino acids, you require a steady supply of them.


Complete proteins are protein sources that contain all nine necessary amino acids, whereas incomplete proteins have lower amounts of one or more of them.

 

Protein is so important for good health that your body naturally contains over 10,000 different proteins. Protein is critical for all parts of your body including your muscles, bones, skin, hair, enzymes, blood, hormones, etc.


Protein helps with so many functions including promoting bone and muscle mass and strength, healing burns and wounds, and having a strong immune system. Protein is part of a balanced meal, and also helps in food satisfaction. 


How much protein is in food?

When thinking of protein-rich foods, you're probably thinking of meat, eggs, seafood, and dairy. These are some of the foods that contain the highest amounts of protein. But did you know that protein is also found in many plant foods including legumes, nuts, seeds, and grains—and there is even some protein in vegetables and fruit?

 

Here is a list of the amount of protein per serving in a few higher-protein foods:

 

  • 33 g protein in 4 oz of sirloin steak

  • 30 g protein in 4 oz of grilled sockeye salmon

  • 28 g protein in 4 oz skinless chicken thigh

  • 18 g protein in 1 cup of cooked lentils

  • 8 g protein in 8 oz soy milk

  • 6 g protein in 1 oz of dry roasted almonds

 

Fun fact: All plant-based proteins have the same amino acids as animal sources, and only differ in amounts of each amino acid!


To get complete protein from plant sources that may have smaller amounts of one or more amino acids, simply mix up your diet by eating a variety of plant foods every day to get enough of all of your essential amino acids.


Bonus: Eating more plant-based foods is the recommended pattern for cancer protection, along with the planet’s health, because plants contain antioxidants, fiber, don’t contain cholesterol, and the production of plant-based foods releases fewer greenhouse gases.

 

Not everyone gets the right amount of protein from food. Some who are undergoing cancer treatments and surgery, have certain dietary restrictions, or malnutrition, often do not get enough protein. Others may get enough protein by eating a variety of nutritious foods throughout the day. However, as with any nutrient, if you aren’t able to get enough from your diet, for example, if you experience appetite changes in active treatment, you may benefit from supplementation. 



Protein powder

 

Choose the right protein powder for you: Pros and Cons

Pro: Protein powders are convenient sources of protein and often have added vitamins, minerals, sweeteners, and other ingredients. Different protein powders may contain protein from several different sources, and the amount of protein per scoop can vary between products.


Con: In the U.S., nutritional supplements—including protein powders—are not regulated. Some protein powders have been found to contain contaminants like heavy metals. These are the reasons why it’s important to read the nutrition labels and get a recommendation for a high-quality product from a healthcare professional that you trust before you change your supplementation regimen.


Con: Many protein powders contain unnecessary ingredients, which may impact the gut's delicate balance. These include fillers and artificial sweeteners.

 

Here is a brief overview of some of the most common types of protein powders.

 

Whey or casein protein powder


Pro: Whey is water-soluble and absorbed more quickly than casein. These animal-based proteins contain the essential amino acids your body needs.


Con: Whey and casein are made from milk and should be avoided if you are allergic, sensitive to, or otherwise avoiding dairy.


 

Collagen protein powder

 

Collagen is the most common protein naturally found in your body. It’s essential for the structure of your bones, skin, muscles, tendons, and cartilage. Collagen supplements, including protein powders, are animal-based, either from animals or fish.

 

Con: Many collagen powders don't contain enough protein, so look for a powder with at least 20-30 grams per servings, especially if you're using it to replace a meal.


 

Soy protein powder

 

Pro: Soy-based protein powders are a good choice for people who avoid dairy.


Con: Soy isolate powders are not recommended for breast cancer survivors. Whole soy foods are indeed recommended and even protective, but soy isolate powders are processed to increase their protein levels. They have not been studied as well as whole soy foods, and are therefore to be avoided.


 

Pea protein powder

 

Pro: Pea protein powders can be used by those who avoid dairy and soy. Pea protein is rich in eight of the nine essential amino acids, so it has low amounts of just one amino acid (methionine). Pea protein can be mixed with rice or animal-based proteins to provide a complete protein.


Con: Some people may experience digestive difficulties from this level of pea protein, so try a serving and wait 24 hours to see if you have a reaction.


 

Hemp protein powder

 

Pro: Hemp is a plant based protein and contains some essential omega-3 fatty acids.


Con: Hemp protein is low in two essential amino acids (lysine and leucine).



Blackberry smoothie


 

Bottom line

Protein is a key part of every nutritious eating plan. Protein is found in many foods—not only animal-based foods—and many people can meet their protein needs without supplementing. 


Meeting your personal protein needs is essential to good health, especially during cancer care. Work with an oncology dietitian like me to determine your exact protein needs and the best way to incorporate plant based protein.


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As a registered dietitian nutritionist who works with people experiencing cancer, I’d love to help. I offer clients support to plan, shop, and prepare more nutritious and healthy meals for yourself or your family. Here is my link to book a chat about making sure to meet your nutritional needs.


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