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Do I Need Protein Powder in My Nutrition Plan?

That depends on the goal.

Will Protein Powder Help Me Burn Fat and Lose Weight?

Fat loss comes from eating fewer calories than you burn. Ideal health and muscle retention during fat loss requires the highest nutrient foods available. Protein powder isn’t ideal as a real food replacement on a fat loss plan. If calories are reduced, every morsel of real food consumed will increase satisfaction, satiety, and sustainability. If you are trying to lose body fat, protein supplementation should come after real food options are exhausted. Most protein powders are filled with sugars or artificial sweeteners. Whole fresh foods have naturally occurring vitamins, minerals, and fiber that the body needs for optimal health. Adequate protein is important on a reduced calorie diet, but most people do not need to add protein supplements unless they cannot regularly access fresh foods.

Will Protein Powder Help Me Gain Muscle and Get Big?

If the priority is to consume more calories in order to add muscle mass, then adding a protein powder supplement can help reach those goals without adding the bulk of more food. Those struggling to reach their calorie goals may find liquid meal replacements helpful without creating overfullness. Try to get most protein from whole food sources and add shakes in between meals for an extra boost.

I Usually Eat Well, but Sometimes I am Not Prepared. What Can I Do?

Food Emergencies. Stuck somewhere without real food? Or perhaps you have a melted and squished granola bar in your car when the hanger kicks in. Protein powder packets do better than bars in a hot car or the bottom of your bag or purse. Consider keeping a shaker cup in your car. Didn’t plan ahead? Find a water bottle, mix it up and you are good to go.

Travel. Airlines are not known for their nutritious and healthy food options. Although traveling with plastic baggies of white powder may not go over well in security, it can certainly help you balance out your meal of peanuts and pretzels. Try bringing your own shaker cup with a few pre portioned bags of protein powder. Just add water and ice and keep those tummy grumbles away for a couple of hours. A high protein meal replacement bar would work well here too. On a road trip? Bring a cooler with healthy snacks and ice instead.

Busy Work Schedule. Stash easy open packets of tuna or chicken in your desk. Those mysterious single packets of mustard and relish you are saving at home for some rainy day? Pair them with your work food stash for adding flavor in a hurry. Have a freezer at work? Single serving packets of guacamole freeze well and thaw quickly to balance out your sad desk lunch. No protein powder needed here if you plan ahead.

Balanced Macros. Sometimes a frozen fruit smoothie sounds amazing on a hot day. Try half of a banana, a handful of berries, 1 cup of almond or coconut milk, and a scoop of unflavored or vanilla protein powder. You could also skip the protein powder completely and add a side of hard boiled eggs. Include protein with a fruit-based snack to keep blood sugar balanced and slow digestion.

Popular Types of Protein:

Whey. Made from the remaining liquid from milk during cheese making. Best for pre or post workout muscle repair and growth, and is the most abundant protein powder on the market today. Whey protein isolate is the lowest lactose of milk-based protein powders, but lactose free does not mean dairy free. Most whey based powders contain unnecessary added artificial flavors. Pick an unflavored version and add your own flavor with cinnamon, maple syrup, or honey.

Casein. Made from milk and high in calcium. Slow digesting casein is often recommended before bed to support protein absorption overnight. Thicker than whey protein and can be made into a pudding-like dessert. Avoid casein unless you are certain you tolerate dairy.

Plant Based. Commonly made from peas, hemp, flax, chia, rice, or pumpkin. The vegan’s choice. More easily digestible. Macro breakdowns vary, as plant sources of protein also contain carbohydrates and fats. Plant proteins contain more naturally derived vitamins and minerals and is usually only mildly processed. Ingredient sleuthing is key.

Collagen. The new cool kid in town. Collagen is the most abundant protein in the human body and additional protein supports hair, skin, nails, joints, and gut health. Collagen powder is made from grinding the most collagen rich animal parts like hooves, bones, and connective tissues. If this makes you want to turn vegan, keep in mind that our ancestors ate “nose to tail” with nothing wasted. Try adding this tasteless powder to your morning coffee for an added health boost. Bone broth is also a high collagen food known for joint and immunity support. Channel your inner cave(wo)man and make your own by simmering leftover meat bones.

Bottom Line:

Protein supplements aren’t necessary if you are eating a fresh whole foods diet. If you are part of the small population that needs a protein supplement, look for protein that is third party certified for proper industry standards. Read the ingredients like you would a packaged food label. Choose a protein that is simply just protein, without the added sugars or flavors. Also skip the additional vitamins and mineral additions that make you feel like you are getting more value for the money. (Insert bad memories of chalky Slim Fast shakes here.) Save your hard-earned cash and buy simple protein powders to pair with your whole fresh foods diet.


Breanna Barton

Certified Nutrition Coach and CrossFit Trainer with over 20 years of experience in the health and fitness industry.


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