protein supplements, whey or nay?

Oh hello Friday, so good to see you!


Today we’re talking protein supplements! Within the past 10-15 years, protein supplements have become incredibly popular within the fitness industry. Many of you like them and feel they add to your workout recovery and muscle building. Others, not so much. When I tweeted to get your thoughts on protein supplements and whether or not you’re for or against them, here’s what a couple of you said:



It was about 50/50.

I got the idea for this post as I was recently approached by not one but two protein supplement companies to receive samples of product and, of course, blog about them in return. Now, I love a free sample as much as the next person (especially skincare and makeup samples) but when it comes to blogging about a product, I have to be totally honest with both myself and you. That honesty starts before I ever accept the product.

Here’s the truth. I don’t use protein supplements, never have and most likely never will unless I need them out of medical necessity. Almost everyone I’m seeing these days in the hospital need protein supplements because their needs are just so, so high – think trauma, surgery, burn and cancer patients that require a lot of protein for healing. Fortunately, I, like most Americans, get plenty of protein in my diet. I have tried to steer clear of protein supplements in an attempt to choose more nutrient-dense foods and cut fewer corners at mealtime. For example, instead of grabbing a protein shake for breakfast, I’ll have a quick bowl of cereal with berries or Greek yogurt and fresh fruit.

Here are just a couple quick facts about how much protein we need and how much the typical American usually gets.

  • The research varies from study to study slightly but in general, the well-nourished, recreational or endurance exercisers (i.e. most of us), need 0.8-1.2 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight per day. Of course, the type, intensity and duration of exercise also impact protein needs.
  • Strength/power athletes have higher protein needs (1.6-2.0g/kg) largely due to greater muscle repair/recovery than endurance athletes (1.0-1.6g/kg), but again, it all depends on how, how long, and how intense you’re exercising. (To get your weight in kilograms, divide your weight in pounds by 2.2.)
  • Based on the most recent national health survey, the average American gets between 66-91 grams of protein per day. Us 17-30 year olds average 91 grams/day & the elderly around 66 grams/day.

I’m no body builder or professional athlete but I exercise 5-6 times per week, take the stairs when I can and prefer not to fight for the closest parking spots at the grocery store.

So, at 56.4kg (124 pounds), I estimate that I need 1.0-1.2-g/kg or 56-68 grams of protein per day given the amount and intensity of my usual workouts and daily activities. Let’s see what that might look like in terms of my main protein sources for typical day of eating earlier this week. Again, I’m only listing the high protein foods.

  • Breakfast: 
  1. 1 cup of milk: 8 grams protein
  2. 1 cup Barbara’s Shredded Oats cereal: 6 grams protein       TOTAL: 14 grams 
  • Lunch: 
  1. 1/4 cup black beans: 3.5 grams protein
  2. 1/4 cup pinto beans: 3 grams protein
  3. 1/2 cup chicken breast: 22 grams protein
    1.  TOTAL: 28.5 grams
  • Snack: 
  1. 1 cup Greek yogurt: 22 grams protein          TOTAL: 22 grams
  • Dinner: 
  1. 11 shrimp: 13 grams protein            TOTAL: 13 grams

Daily Total: 77.5 grams of protein, from just the high protein sources alone. My intake exceeds the upper amount of the needs I just estimated and is pretty close to the national average! I’m actually getting around 1.4g/kg.

There is such a thing as too much protein, by the way. Too much protein can be dehydrating because the body requires extra water to deal with protein and get rid of a nitrogen waste via urine. Also, much like too many carbs or fat in one’s diet, excess protein is also stored as fat. Protein has calories too. Take in too much and your body will break it down and pack it away for a day you might go hungry.

I think protein supplements are a wonderful thing but the fitness industry has abused the terms “healthy” and “performance enhancing” in marketing these products to the general public. Products like these are marketed towards people just trying to do the right thing, but is this the right thing?

Let’s take a peek at a Nutrition Facts & ingredients label from a popular protein drink. 

Healthy life with style 2

I’m aware there are probably some legitimate supplements out there that contain way less crap but I don’t see the point in chugging 300 calories after I just killed myself on the treadmill for 30 minutes, burning 300 calories. Do any of you drink vegetable oil at home? I sure as heck don’t but if you drink any number of popular protein supplements, it’s a common ingredient that’s pretty high up on the list. When it comes to reading ingredient labels, the higher up on the list something is, the more of it there is.

One Greek yogurt has 22 grams of protein for only 140 calories and there’s no vegetable oil drinking or fructose involved. A tall glass of ice water and a handful of almonds also do the trick for me. After a super tough or long, training run, I’ll treat myself to a cold glass of organic, chocolate milk for a little protein & sugar.

The long and short of it is, I don’t endorse protein supplements because I don’t find them necessary to be a fit, healthy human being. Not to mention they’re expensive, processed, and quite often, filled with things I normally try to avoid consuming on the reg, like vegetable oils, fructose and preservatives. I understand how a “meal replacement” protein shake might be appealing to some but personally, I’d rather eat good, old-fashioned food.
A balanced diet with ample sources of lean protein like low-fat dairy, beans/legumes, meat, poultry, fish and shellfish, will meet the needs of almost every athlete out there, except maybe you, Mr. Phelps. I enjoy all of the protein and calories I get out of the foods I eat because they help me feel full and well-fueled. Drinking extra protein and calories that negate all the hard work I put in at the gym just doesn’t fit into my healthy lifestyle.
So, what are your thoughts?
Are you a protein-supplement supporter or do you prefer do get it au naturel?
Do any of you use protein powders?

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  • I’ve been out of protein powder for the last few months and was thinking of restocking, but now that I read this, I realize I probably don’t need to. Thanks for the information!

  • I use Nutribiotic brand vanilla protein powder…Its ingredients are enzymatically processed brown rice protein (I’m guessing they use enzymes to separate the protein component of the rice from the rest of it) and natural vanilla flavouring. That’s it. I actually enjoy the taste of it, and it is only 55 calories for 1 heaping tablespoon which contains 12 grams of protein. I eat eggs, egg whites, salmon and other fish, beans/lentils and greek yogurt, but I find that I have a higher need for protein. I also eat small meals, so if I just relied on beans and nuts, I would not be getting nearly enough protein. I think for vegetarians it can be a good thing to use in order to supplement their diet. Also, I think it’s great for people recovering from ED’s, such as anorexia, as it is an easy way to get lots of protein without feeling like you’re eating a lot. I also like it because I can get protein without any carbs, something which can’t be achieved when you turn to bean/lentil and nuts sources. Just my take on it.

  • Thanks for the mention! I still stand my my use of them, though. Mine have no where near 300 calories, lol! I also make sure to incorporate the 120 or so calories that are in mine into my daily caloric goals. :-) I don’t use them as meal replacements, though, I may have a casein protein shake as a snack. My goals are different than others’ are so I say everyone should research and do what’s best for them. I’m happy as is WITH my protein shakes. :-)

  • Great post! Good for you for thinking hard before just accepting a free sample :) I see so many people around me buying expensive meal replacement options and protein powders, but it just doesn’t seem natural or particularly healthy to me either!

  • Great post and I totally agree! Protein powders/supplements are not necessary for most of my college athletes, and they even have really high needs! It doesn’t mean its easy though, the glitz, glam, and convenience of them make them quite popular and appealing! I usually remind them that excess protein is stored just as excess anything is, as excess fat and weight. Usually that works :)

  • For the most part, I don’t do commercial protein powder. I do use ground hemp powder in smoothies or pancakes if I feel like I need a protein boost, but the only ingredient is hemp, so I dont exactly think of it as a typical protein powder!