If the fitness and health industry had a mascot, protein powder would be it. The supplement is popular among active people, both athletes and casual exercisers alike. Protein powder is also touted as a must-have supplement for myriad goals, including weight loss, weight gain, and muscle maintenance.
However, if you're new to the complex world of supplements, you might wonder if protein powder is something you actually need. To help you out, we asked registered dietitians for the 411 on this supplement. Ahead, experts explain the potential benefits and risks of protein powder, plus how to figure out if you need protein powder at all.
What is Protein?
Protein is anessential macronutrient, meaning the body needs it in large amounts. (The other macronutrients are carbohydrates and fats, ICYDK.) According to theNational Library of Medicine, protein is made of building blocks called amino acids, and there are 20 that humans use. Eleven of those amino acids are non-essential, meaning the body can make them on its own, says registered dietitianLinzy Ziegelbaum, M.S., R.D., C.D.N. The remaining nine—known as essential amino acids—aren't produced by the body, so we need to get them via food.
According to Ziegelbaum, amino acids are involved in many functions in the body. Examples include immune function, metabolism, muscle building and repair, and hormone regulation. Amino acids also give structural support to body tissues, provide energy, and maintain digestive function. In other words, amino acids are pretty darn important.
Animal products such as meat, dairy, and eggs contain all nine essential amino acids, so they're known as "complete" sources of protein, says Victoria Whittington, R.D.N., a registered dietitian atAtlas Optimization. Meanwhile, certain plant foods—think grains, legumes, nuts, and seeds—contain some, but not all, essential amino acids, earning them the title "incomplete" proteins. (There are several exceptions, likesoyandquinoa, which are complete proteins.)
It's totally possible to get all the amino acids you need by combining different plant-based proteins, says Whittington. This is helpful if you follow a vegan or vegetarian diet, or if you're simply trying to nosh on more plants.
What is Protein Powder?
Protein powder is a powdered form of protein sourced from animals or plants. It's a nutritional supplement, so it's not meant to be amain source of protein. Instead, it's meant to beaddedto your existing diet to bolster your protein intake. Because protein powder can include anywhere between10 to 30 gramsof protein per scoop, it can be especially useful if you eat little to no animal products, says Whittington.
There also are different types of protein powder that vary by source. The most common animal-based proteins are whey and casein, which are both derived from milk, says Whittington. "Whey protein is a byproduct of the cheese-making process. [To make it,] enzymes are added to separate the curd from the liquid whey, [which] is then pasteurized." This isolates the whey, which is dried into a powder. Casein is made from the curd of milk, which goes through a separation process that isolates the protein. Both whey and casein are complete sources of protein (meaning they contain all 9 essential amino acids).
Plant-based protein powder is often derived from soy, brown rice, pea, or hemp—but it can also come from foods like watermelon seeds, chia seeds, and pumpkin seeds. In general, the powder is made by extracting protein from the plant source, which is then processed and milled.
According to Whittington, most plant-based powders contain a blend of plant proteins to provide all the essential amino acids you need. Many versions contain soy, as it's one of the few plant-based complete proteins—but you can certainly find soy-free versions on the market, too.
Benefits of Protein Powder
Because protein powder can be sourced from a variety of animal or plant foods, the exact benefits of a specific protein powder can vary greatly. Still, when it comes to protein powder in general, the supplement has been shown to have myriad health benefits.
Protein increases feelings of fullness because it takes longer to digest, says Whittington. It also reduces ghrelin—a hormone that promotes hunger—and increases peptide YY (a hormone that promotes satiety), she adds.
When you add protein powder to a meal or snack, research shows it can keep you satisfied for a longer time. This could help reduce hunger in between meals, which can be a lifesaver on busy days. Additionally, if losing or maintaining weight is on your health to-do list, the increased feeling of fullness can help decrease overall caloric intake throughout the day, says Whittington.
If protein powder had a claim to fame, building muscle would be it. More specifically, it helps recover and grow muscle after exercise, resulting in increased muscle mass. Here's how it works.
During physical activity, muscle tissue breaks down, says Ziegelbaum. But, specific exercises (think weighted biceps curls or barbell squats) cause muscles to grow. In fact, research shows resistance training in particular stimulates the synthesis of muscle protein (aka muscle growth). Supplementing withprotein enhances this growth effect, as the amino acids trigger the production of muscle tissue. Amino acids found in protein powder also serve as structural components of the actual muscle, helping repair the tissue. (BTW: To maximize these effects, Ziegelbaum suggests consuming protein or protein powder 30 minutes to one hour after physical activity.)
Another benefit of protein powder is muscle maintenance. This is undoubtedly important for athletes, but non-athletes can also benefit from this perk. Unfortunately, muscle mass naturally decreases with age. A 2019 study shows this can increase the risk of falls and reduced mobility—so much so that muscle strength has a strong correlation with thechances of disabilityin older folks. However, consuming more protein can help slow down muscle loss, especially when paired withstrength training twice a week.
That's where protein powder comes in. According to a2019 scientific review, the combo of strength training and protein supplements can help improve muscle strength and mobility in older adults. Another2022 reviewfound similar results, noting that protein supplements can decrease the risk of sarcopenia, or age-related muscle loss. Meanwhile, a2021 study found that six months of whey, soy, or whey-soy protein supplementation helped maintain lean muscle and physical function in older adults.
Side Effects and Risks of Protein Powder
When it comes to adding protein powder to your eating plan, there tend to be few risks. "Most healthy individuals can consume protein powder without any side effects or risks," says Whittington. However, as with many supplements, it's possible to overdo it. Taking too much can cause gas and bloating, particularly if you have a dairy sensitivity and consume whey or casein.
Also, if you have an allergy to an ingredient in a protein powder (like soy or milk, for example), you can develop an allergic reaction. Thesigns of a food allergyare different for each person, but common ones include stomach cramps, wheezing, coughing, trouble swallowing, and dizziness.
In general, healthy folks can consume protein powder without worrying about kidney damage, says Whittington. But if you have pre-existing kidney disease, a high intake of protein may cause complications, so you may need to limit protein (from powder or otherwise), she adds. To be safe, if you have a kidney condition or another chronic disease, speak with a healthcare provider before taking protein powder—or any new supplement, for that matter.
How to Use Protein Powder
Protein powder is super user-friendly, as it's easy to add to things you already eat and drink. It's typically blended intosmoothiesor with liquid, such as dairy or plant-based milk, to make protein shakes. You can also sprinkle it into coffee, yogurt, oatmeal, chia pudding, or cereal. Unflavored iterations work well in savory preparations—such as chili or soup—while flavored versions are particularly tasty in pancakes, waffles, and baked goods.
Here's the tricky part: There's no overall recommended daily intake of protein powder. That's because protein needs are different for each person, says Ziegelbaum. The amount is calculated based on many factors, including age, weight, activity level, and health goals. Plus, protein powder is meant to supplement an existing diet, so your ideal daily intake depends on how much protein you'realreadyeating.
That said, the recommended daily allowance for protein is0.8 grams per kilogram of body weight, which is the minimum amount you need to meet basic nutrition needs and prevent protein deficiency. You can calculate your daily protein requirement (in grams) bymultiplying your weight (in pounds) by 0.36.
But again, that's the amount needed for basic health. If you're an athlete looking to build muscle, you'll likely need closer to 1.1 or 1.2 grams per kilogram of body weight. The best way to figure out your exact protein requirement is to chat with a registered dietitian. They can determine the amount of protein you need based on your personal factors and lifestyle, including how much protein powder you should take per day, if at all. As Ziegelbaum explains, you might not need protein powder if you're meeting your protein requirements through food. Perhaps it's a great option for you on-the-go or an easy way to add variety.
How Much Protein You Should Eat Per Day — Plus, High-Protein Meal Ideas to Try
The Bottom Line
From increased satiety to enhanced muscle growth, protein powder has an impressive list of health benefits. It also doesn't hurt that the supplement can be sourced from both animals and plants, making it easy to add to different diets. Plus, protein powder is generally well-tolerated, though taking too much can cause gastrointestinal issues like bloating and gas.
Despite its benefits, protein powder is not something everyone needs, says Ziegelbaum. Depending on your current diet, you might already be getting enough protein for your personal needs and lifestyle. Alternatively, if you're having trouble meeting your protein needs via food, a protein powder could help you meet the mark, says Ziegelbaum. A registered dietitian is the best person to determine if you need protein powder, and if so, how much to take each day.
Yes, if it is a good quality third-party tested product with minimal sugar and void of harmful additives. Protein powders can fit into most eating patterns and help you meet your health goals. Just remember—protein powder is a dietary supplement. This means it enhances your diet.Is it healthy to use protein powder? ›
Yes, if it is a good quality third-party tested product with minimal sugar and void of harmful additives. Protein powders can fit into most eating patterns and help you meet your health goals. Just remember—protein powder is a dietary supplement. This means it enhances your diet.Is it OK to have protein powder every day? ›
There's no known safety limit for protein powder. Most research shows healthy people can tolerate up to 1.5 grams of protein per pound (3.3 grams per kg) of body weight per day from both food and protein supplements with no side effects.What are the main side effects of protein powder? ›
High doses can cause some side effects such as increased bowel movements, acne, nausea, thirst, bloating, reduced appetite, tiredness, and headache.Are there negatives to protein powder? ›
It may be high in added sugars and calories.
Some protein powders have little added sugar, and others have a lot (as much as 23 grams per scoop). Some protein powders wind up turning a glass of milk into a drink with more than 1,200 calories. The risk: weight gain and an unhealthy spike in blood sugar.
Protein powders are nutritional supplements that may help build muscle, repair tissue, and make enzymes and hormones. Using protein powder may also aid weight loss and help people tone their muscles. There are many different types of protein powder, including dairy-based and plant-based powders.Is protein powder safe for kidneys? ›
It's unknown whether high protein intake could damage your kidneys. Some experts suggest it's unlikely to cause harm in people without health conditions. However, there appear to be greater risks for people with kidney conditions. Ask your doctor if whey protein is right for you.What happens if you drink protein without working out? ›
There can be health consequences if you drink protein shakes without exercising are: (1) less muscle gain, (2) unwanted weight gain, (3) increased risk of kidney-related problems, and (4) abnormal spike in blood glucose level.Is protein powder good for heart? ›
Whey protein may have beneficial effects on blood fats
High cholesterol, especially LDL (bad) cholesterol, is a risk factor for heart disease. In one study in overweight individuals, 65 grams of whey protein per day, for 12 weeks, led to a significant reduction in total and LDL cholesterol (17).
It's generally best to drink a protein shake within 30 minutes of working out. If you're drinking it for post-workout recovery, aim to drink it within 60 minutes. For general health and wellness, you can drink a protein shake at any time of day.
Bodybuilders do not need protein shakes to achieve their muscle building and fat burning goals. Whole foods contain all the amino acids the body needs to recover from intense workouts. Protein shakes merely provide a convenient source of amino acids that digest quickly.How much protein do I need a day? ›
According to the Dietary Reference Intake report for macronutrients, a sedentary adult should consume 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight, or 0.36 grams per pound. That means that the average sedentary man should eat about 56 grams of protein per day, and the average woman should eat about 46 grams.Should you drink protein shakes on non workout days? ›
Protein shakes are a great option on non-workout days. According to a study in 2017, whey protein may enhance protein metabolism and speed up recovery. Protein shakes may also reduce muscle sorenessfrom physical activity. Protein shakes are a convenient way to consume adequate protein on rest days.Does protein powder affect sperm? ›
Masturbating cannot affect your sperm count neither can taking protein powders! Sperm count measures the concentration of sperm, and the normal concentration is 20 to 150 million sperms per millilitre, whereas the normal level for sperm volume is 1.5 to 5 millilitre per ejaculation.How often should you take protein powder? ›
If you're of average build and go to the gym regularly, two protein shakes a day is enough to maintain your body mass. But if you're seriously involved in athletic sports, fitness practices and strength exercises, you may need to drink three to four protein shakes daily to sustain your physique and performance.How can I increase my protein intake without protein powder? ›
- High-protein smoothies. Add nut butter, oats or a high-protein yoghurt to a homemade fruit smoothie to up the protein content and help your body repair and recover after a workout. ...
- Hard-boiled eggs. ...
- Greek yoghurt and fruit. ...
- Chocolate milk. ...
- Apple slices with nut butter. ...
- Overnight oats.
A protein shake is the easiest way to use your protein powder. Simply combine the recommended serving size of protein with your choice of liquid, shake, and consume! True protein powders taste great when mixed with just water, or if you are after a different consistency, combine with your choice of milk.What is the main purpose of protein powder? ›
Protein powder is a type of nutritional supplement that is typically made from plant-based foods, eggs, or milk. While it is often taken to promote muscle recovery after exercise, it can also give people who don't get enough protein a way to meet daily needs.Who needs to drink protein powder? ›
Protein is ideal for the repair and growth of your muscles. So whether you're focused on building muscle or losing weight, protein shakes can help supplement your diet and achieve your wellness goals.Is it better to take 1 or 2 scoops of protein powder? ›
There is no set limit to how many scoops of protein powder a day you can consume. However, 1 or 2 scoops of protein powder is enough for most to maintain a good ratio between convenience and nutritional balance.
How can you protect your kidneys and lose weight, too? For weight loss that won't compromise your kidneys, it's all about balance. “Don't get your calories from one source — combine protein with more fruits and vegetables,” Dr. Calle recommends.How much is too much protein? ›
For example, studies show that chronic high-protein intake that exceeds 2 grams per kilogram of body weight per day for adults may cause digestive, renal, and vascular dysfunction and should be avoided. Excessive protein intake, most notably, can cause kidney strain and can be deleterious to bone health.Does protein turn to fat if you don't exercise? ›
"Protein has calories, so if you eat a little too much, and don't exercise, it can get stored as fat."Will I gain weight if I drink protein shakes? ›
Since protein has calories, consuming too much can make it harder to lose weight. This can happen if you drink protein shakes along with your usual diet and you're not eating less calories or exercising. The Dietary Guidelines for Americans state that an average adult needs about 46 to 56 grams of protein a day.Will I gain weight if I drink protein shakes without exercising? ›
In short, if you drink a protein shake on a rest day, or a day when you're doing less than you might usually do, there's no need to worry about any adverse effects. However, if you're drinking high protein shakes on their own and not to supplement your protein intake when working out, this could cause weight gain.What is the healthiest protein for your heart? ›
Legumes (e.g. chickpeas, beans and lentils), nuts, seeds, fish and seafood are the most beneficial sources of protein. Eggs and poultry do not impact your risk of heart disease. Red meat should be limited to less than 350g (1-3 meals) a week. Processed meat can increase your risk of heart disease and should be avoided.Is it better to take whey protein with milk or water? ›
A scoop of whey protein consists of 80 to 110 calories with no or low carbs and fat. So, it is preferable to take protein with water instead of milk if your goal is losing weight or gaining lean muscle mass by minimizing the intake or carbs, fat and hence calories which will help to achieve better results.Why do I feel sleepy after a protein shake? ›
There are a few reasons why you might feel sleepy after drinking protein shakes. One reason is that your body is trying to process the extra protein and it can be taxing on your system. Another reason could be that you're not used to the caffeine in some protein shakes, which can make you feel more tired than usual.Is it good or bad to drink a protein shake before bed? ›
Protein has many benefits and having a certain amount of it before sleep optimizes its advantages. Slow-digesting protein in a bedtime shake prolongs the duration of muscle protein synthesis, building muscles as you sleep. A protein shake at bedtime can preemptively fuel you for the day ahead.When should I start taking protein powder? ›
Whey protein can be consumed as a pre or post-workout supplement, in the morning with breakfast or at night before bedtime. Most people choose to consume Whey Supplements 30-45 minutes before their workout (pre-workout meal) or within 30 minutes of their workout (Post-workout meal).
Protein supplements — in the form of shakes and bars — are no exception. They work best when used as part of a training program since they fuel your muscles into growth and increase fat burning. The doctors say that incorporating protein supplements in your diet with no workout at all is not recommended.Does protein powder actually help build muscle? ›
Protein shakes promote muscle gain and improve performance and recovery. They also prevent muscle loss and may even help increase muscle mass during weight loss.Can you build muscle without protein? ›
Building and repairing muscle tissue requires protein—and that's a nutrient that our bodies have to use as it comes in; we can't store it for future use. Whenever we eat foods containing protein, we get a little burst of muscle-building activity.Is 2 eggs a day enough protein? ›
Yes, two eggs can provide enough protein. Eggs are an excellent source of protein, containing around 6–7 grams of the nutrient in each egg. This means that two eggs can provide 12–14 grams of protein. For comparison, an average adult needs 46–56 grams of protein per day, depending on their weight and activity level.What to eat to gain muscle? ›
- Lean meat. Animal products are usually a great source of protein, especially lean meats like chicken and turkey . ...
- Eggs. ...
- Dairy products.
- Fish. ...
- Whole grains. ...
- Beans and lentils. ...
- Whey protein.
To increase muscle mass in combination with physical activity, it is recommended that a person that lifts weights regularly or is training for a running or cycling event eat a range of 1.2-1.7 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight per day, or 0.5 to 0.8 grams per pound of body weight.How many rest days a week? ›
The Answer? Rest One or Two Days Per Week. For the best performance and to reach your goals in the safest and most effective way possible, plan for one to two rest days per week. Olenick recommended spacing these out — take one rest day mid-week and the other on the weekend, or in between bigger workouts.Can I skip protein shake on rest day? ›
Do I Need to Eat Protein on Rest Days? In short, yes. Your muscles need protein even on the days you're not spending time in the gym. Your muscles and other tissues are actively recovering on rest days, and recovery can take up to 24-48 hours.Should I eat a lot of protein on rest days? ›
Generally speaking, the recommended amount of protein consumption on rest days is between 0.3 – 0.7 grams per pound of body weight or 15 – 25% of total daily calories. For example, a 130-pound woman who consumes 2000 calories per day should aim to consume approximately 156 grams of protein on her rest days.What foods is highest in protein? ›
- lean meats – beef, lamb, veal, pork, kangaroo.
- poultry – chicken, turkey, duck, emu, goose, bush birds.
- fish and seafood – fish, prawns, crab, lobster, mussels, oysters, scallops, clams.
- dairy products – milk, yoghurt (especially Greek yoghurt), cheese (especially cottage cheese)
- Transparent Labs 100% Grass-Fed Whey Protein Isolate - Top Pick.
- Dymatize ISO 100 Protein Powder - Runner Up.
- Isopure Zero/Low Carb Whey Isolate Protein Powder.
- MuscleTech Nitro-Tech Whey Protein Powder.
- Optimum Nutrition Gold Standard Whey Protein.
- Naked Nutrition Naked Whey.
The Bottom Line. Choose a protein powder that's ideally unsweetened with as few ingredients as possible, protein as the first listed ingredient, and the NSF seal. If you can tolerate dairy, opt for whey-protein isolate. A ratio of about 150 calories per 25 grams of protein is good for muscle building and fat loss.What is the negative side effect of protein powder? ›
Potential side effects of protein shakes
Gas, bloating, diarrhea, stomach cramps. This happens most often with whey protein powders. This can be related to a lactose intolerance.
High doses can cause some side effects such as increased bowel movements, acne, nausea, thirst, bloating, reduced appetite, tiredness, and headache.Are protein shakes good for you if you don't workout? ›
Protein supplements — in the form of shakes and bars — are no exception. They work best when used as part of a training program since they fuel your muscles into growth and increase fat burning. The doctors say that incorporating protein supplements in your diet with no workout at all is not recommended.How often should you use protein powder? ›
To be clear, there is no hard-and-fast rule about drinking protein shakes, and having too many of them in one day likely won't have any long-term detrimental effects. For most people, anywhere from one to three protein shakes per day should be plenty to help them meet their nutritional needs.When should you take protein powder? ›
Fitness enthusiasts often recommend taking a protein supplement 15–60 minutes after exercise. This time frame is known as the “anabolic window” and said to be the perfect time for getting the most out of nutrients like protein ( 16 ).How much protein is too much? ›
General recommendations are to consume 15–30 grams of protein at each meal. Studies show higher intakes — those more than 40 grams — in one sitting are no more beneficial than the recommended 15–30 grams at one time. Don't waste your money on excessive amounts.Is it better to shake or blend protein powder? ›
Blending your protein powder is the way to get more muscle-building benefits.Is it better to eat or drink protein powder? ›
Having protein rich food in your diet is shown to positively maintain blood pressure. Less risky than drinking protein: It is far more difficult to go overboard with eating protein. Having too many supplements and protein shakes can have a negative impact on your body but it is not often the case with eating protein.
If you're a beginner who's aiming to increase muscle mass and get lean, I generally recommend whey protein. It's popular amongst fitness aficionados and gym goers. It's also got all the essential amino acids and is the easiest to digest UNLESS you have sensitivity to milk. If this is the case, go with pea protein.When should I stop taking protein powder? ›
If you experience any symptoms of chronic, low-level heavy metal poisoning, such as unexplained muscle and joint pain, constipation or fatigue, stop using your protein powder.What is the purpose of protein powder? ›
Protein powder is a type of nutritional supplement that is typically made from plant-based foods, eggs, or milk. While it is often taken to promote muscle recovery after exercise, it can also give people who don't get enough protein a way to meet daily needs.Should you drink protein shakes fast or slow? ›
So how can you avoid the bloating, nausea, gas and cramps that might come along with drinking your shake too fast? The obvious answer is that you slow down and sip your shake as you would any other drink.How much protein do I need to build muscle? ›
To increase muscle mass in combination with physical activity, it is recommended that a person that lifts weights regularly or is training for a running or cycling event eat a range of 1.2-1.7 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight per day, or 0.5 to 0.8 grams per pound of body weight.