Medically Reviewed by
Dr. Carla Montrond Correia ND, CNS
7 min read
Protein and exercise go together like peanut butter and jelly. Cookies and milk. And while protein is essential for muscle development, increasing daily energy levels, and improving sports performance, it’s a mistake to think protein powder is just for athletes. In fact, protein powder can even help you support your weight management program.
Protein is needed for numerous processes in the body in order to function optimally including muscle repair, managing hormones, enzymes, hair, skin, and nail health too. Protein once consumed gets broken down into smaller units called amino acids. There are amino acids that can be made in the body from other amino acids, while some of them are considered essential meaning we must get them from our food. Both types of amino acids serve as building blocks for body function, repairs, and growth. So it is crucial to eat enough protein.
First, let’s review what happens when you gain or lose weight. The general idea is that weight loss occurs when we burn more calories per day than we consume, which creates what is called a calorie deficit. However, it is important to keep in mind that there are additional factors to consider when it comes to what can impact weight such as hormone changes and stress levels.
Regarding diet, this is where protein comes in. Adding protein to your diet may help you stay fuller longer, which helps you not only consume less during meals, but additionally, may help to curb food cravings throughout the day. Take it from professors at University of Texas, in this article originally published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition: “There is evidence that modestly increasing the proportion of protein in the diet, while controlling total energy intake, may improve body composition, facilitate fat loss, and improve body weight maintenance after weight loss.”
If you’re someone who likes to snack, this may help you cut down on your daily calorie intake.
When protein is broken down in the body it helps to fuel muscle mass, boost metabolism, and promote satiety. By combining protein consumption with regular exercise, your body is able to build lean muscle and burn fat. This [study] (https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/25926512/) suggests that higher-protein diets that contain between 1.2 and 1.6 grams protein per kilogram of weight and potentially include meal-specific protein quantities of at least ∼25-30 g protein per meal may provide improvements in appetite, satiety and body weight management. The specific amount of protein for each person will vary based on several factors such as health goals and activity levels.
If you are looking to manage your weight, the best way to ensure you are doing so in a healthy way is [through a combination] (https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0091743502911266) of a balanced diet (that includes proteins, fats, and carbohydrates), sufficient exercise, adequate sleep, and hydration.
Now that you’ve learned about protein’s role in weight loss, it’s time to make a decision on how you’d like to include protein in your diet. The question you want to first ask yourself is: do you choose whole foods or protein powder?
In general, it is recommended to get protein through your regular diet, by consuming whole foods. Beans, seafood, nuts, dairy, poultry, and meat are all full of protein, so if you’re looking for a place to start, begin with adding some of these foods to your meal plan. This is the route that doctors and dietitians generally suggest as well, as consuming whole foods not only helps with your weight management goals, but additionally, whole foods provide plenty of essential nutrients that benefit your body, ones that a protein powder alone may not necessarily have.
That being said, your diet may not give you enough protein, especially if you have dietary restrictions and are vegan, dairy-free, or vegetarian. Protein powder is a great option here, as it can help to truly guarantee that you are getting the amount of protein you need, on a schedule of your choosing. And they are convenient, for those who don’t have time to prepare a full meal or snack — you can add to a drink or blend into a smoothie at your convenience.
With all the protein powders on the market, however, it can be hard to choose the right one. Do you go for the flavorless, or the chocolate? Do you want whey or casein? We’ve put together the questions you need to ask when choosing protein powder to support your overall health and weight management.
Get ready –– if you’re shopping for protein powder, you’re going to see this phrase quite a bit. The word “complete” means that any powder labeled as such contains the essential amino acids that your body is unable to produce on its own, and can only get through supplementation: histidine, isoleucine, leucine, lysine, methionine, phenylalanine, threonine, tryptophan, and valine. These amino acids are necessary as they help to repair and build tissue throughout your body, and so should be at the top of your list when picking your powder. Casein and whey are complete proteins. Certain plant-based powders can be complete proteins too with combining two or more sources of protein. For instance, brown rice and pea protein can be combined to produce a complete protein powder. Since brown rice protein powder lacks lysine and the pea protein can provide lysine so the pair create a complete protein.
Be sure to check the amount of protein per serving––will you be able to get the right amount?
Depending on your goal and grams of protein you aim for daily this can help you choose which protein powder to go with or which foods to incorporate into your diet.
Like anything you’d go to eat, you’re going to want to enjoy it. This is going to be part of your routine, so think about something you will feel excited about tasting every day. Most protein powders come in chocolate, vanilla, strawberry, or flavorless, but you can even find some that come in flavors such as “cinnamon bun” or “red velvet cake.”
At the end of the day, you may be using protein powder to work towards your health goals, so be sure that the ingredients in your protein powder support your goal. Check the ingredient lists and ask yourself:
Protein is essential for overall health and an important factor in weight management. If protein powder is an option you are considering, it is best to choose your protein sources based on your dietary preferences, quality of ingredients, flavor profile, and protein content to optimize your health.