Protein and Protein Powder FAQs
Written by: Ryah Nabielski, MS, RDN
If you are reading this, you already know that protein is important in your diet, and you likely feel better when you are eating enough in terms of energy, performance, and other measures. Still, there can be lots of questions that come about dietary and supplemental protein.
Today’s article will cover some of the most asked questions about dietary protein and protein powder supplements, including:
- What is protein?
- What are essential amino acids?
- What are the health benefits of protein?
- How much protein do I need daily?
- Can I eat too much protein?
- Can I eat too much protein powder?
- Is a high-protein diet bad for my kidneys?
- What is the best protein powder for building muscle?
- What is the best protein powder for skin health?
- What is the best plant-based protein powder?
Plus, you learn some protein-specific nutrition tips. Let’s jump in!
What is protein?
Protein is a macronutrient, along with carbohydrates and fat; it can be used as energy by the body. Individual amino acids build larger proteins that break down via digestion and are absorbed into the body to build new proteins.
Your body makes some 10,000 unique proteins! In the body, protein has many crucial roles, including:
- Building the structure of muscles, bones, connective tissue, skin, hair, and more
- Enzymes required for all biochemical reactions
- Hormones, including insulin and thyroid hormones
- Hemoglobin – to carry oxygen
- Immune system function
- And many more
What are essential vs. non-essential amino acids?
Essential amino acids are the building blocks of protein we must obtain from the diet to live. Essential amino acids allow us to build muscle and synthesize new proteins throughout the body.
The nine essential amino acids include:
Non-essential amino acids come from the diet, and the body can make them out of essential amino acids. During growth and recovery, some non-essential amino acids, like arginine and glycine, may become conditionally essential, meaning you need to get more in your diet.
Protein from animal foods contains all the essential amino acids. However, plant protein sources are often low in one or more of them. Including a variety of whole grains, nuts, beans, and seeds (or some animal proteins) can help fill the gaps in a plant-based diet.
What are the health benefits of protein?
We’ve already covered many of the roles that protein plays in the body regarding structure, hormones, immune function, and more. Getting enough protein in the diet consistently has many health benefits. Here are a few:
- Protein increases satiety – Including protein with meals increases the sense of fullness and satisfaction of the meal. It signals the body to dial down hunger and stop eating.
- Protein reduces cravings – Because of the satiety effects and how it helps balance blood sugar, protein helps reduce cravings and unnecessary snacking throughout the day.
- Protein improves strength and muscle mass – All the strength training in the world won’t increase muscle mass unless you have the amino acid building blocks for muscle in your diet. In addition to increasing muscle mass, eating enough protein helps prevent muscle loss as you get older or lose weight.
- Protein improves metabolism – After eating, your metabolism increases because of the thermic effect of food, meaning an increase in calorie burning required for digestion. Protein has a higher thermic effect than carbohydrates and boosts metabolism for a couple of hours after a meal.
How much protein do I need?
The minimum protein needed daily is 0.8 grams per kilogram of body weight, which is about 54 grams per day for a 150-pound adult. However, according to updated research, optimal protein intake may be around twice this much (or more).
Please read All About Protein – How Much You Need + Protein Powder Options for details on estimating your daily protein needs. Note that the amount of protein you need depends on your body size, age, activity level, stage of life (such as pregnancy), and other factors.
Since it can be hard to visualize protein in grams, a general recommendation is to eat 3-5 ounces of protein at meals and include a protein-centric snack if needed. For example, three eggs at breakfast, three ounces of chicken at lunch, four ounces of salmon at dinner, a handful of almonds, and one serving of protein powder will provide about 95 grams of protein in a day.
Can I eat too much protein?
Protein is filling and satiating; it’s challenging to overeat. Your body will send signals to stop eating when you’ve had enough protein at a meal.
Often, I see people have a hard time eating enough protein, but when they do, they notice fewer cravings, a more balanced mood, and less overeating.
It’s also important to note that whole food sources offer other nutrients besides protein. Eggs and fish, for example, contain anti-inflammatory, omega-3 fats. Meat is rich in minerals. Plant protein sources, like legumes and nuts, contain fiber and bioactive compounds. Eating enough protein helps you meet other nutrient needs, too.
Can I eat too much protein powder?
If you were to consume only protein powder as the protein in your diet, you’d miss out on other nutrients present in food sources of protein. However, most people easily consume a mix of protein-rich foods.
Protein powders are a convenient way to increase the total protein in your daily diet to meet your needs and reach your health goals. Choosing quality protein powders from trusted sources is important to avoid contaminants and other unwanted ingredients.
Is a high-protein diet bad for kidney health?
It’s a common misconception that high protein diets or high use of supplemental protein will affect kidney health. Abundant data supports protein intake above the 0.8 gram/kilogram mark, which is safe for healthy people and doesn’t influence kidney function.
You may require a lower protein diet if you have kidney disease, especially advanced kidney disease. Please work with your Registered Dietitian for personalized guidance.
What is the best protein powder for increasing muscle mass and strength?
Whey protein is the most studied protein powder for building muscle mass and strength. Whey protein powder is a complete protein, rich in branched-chain amino acids to support protein synthesis.
Many studies over decades suggest that whey protein supports:
- Lean muscle growth
- Muscle maintenance
- Muscle recovery
To learn more about whey protein, please read Whey Protein Benefits for Muscle Health.
What is the best protein powder for skin health?
Collagen is the main structural protein in the body. It’s part of your connective tissue, skin, joints, hair, and found throughout the body. In the skin, collagen helps with skin structure and hydration, making it appear firm and tight.
As you naturally lose collagen with age, you might notice more fine lines, wrinkles, dehydration, and other signs of skin aging.
Increasing collagen in the diet can help improve the skin’s structure and appearance. Learn more about the health benefits of collagen protein here.
Collagen isn’t a complete protein by itself, but Twenty2 Nutrition Collagen-Egg Protein combines collagen and egg for a complete protein with all the benefits of collagen and more.
What is the best protein powder for vegetarians and vegans?
When whey and collagen aren’t good options, look for a quality plant-based protein powder that provides complete protein from a combination of sources. Twenty2 Nutrition Vegan Protein combines pea and almond protein to provide all essential amino acids and 30 grams of protein per serving.
For more nutrition strategies for vegetarians and vegans, please read How to Optimize Your Plant-Based Diet.
Get the most out of the protein in your diet with these top dietitian-approved tips:
- Choose a variety of protein sources each day and each week.
- Eat protein with meals and snacks.
- Prioritize a protein-rich breakfast.
- When choosing animal protein, opt for grass-fed, pasture-raised, or organic options.
- Protein is essential, but ensure you also eat healthy fats and colorful plant foods for overall health.
- Use protein powder to supplement your diet and help you meet your protein goals.
Protein intake is significant for health from head to toe, and chances are, you could benefit from meeting your daily needs. It might be as simple as swapping breakfast for a higher protein option or adding in a protein smoothie after your workout.
This article is for educational purposes only and is not intended as a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or another qualified healthcare provider before changing your diet or beginning a new supplement, especially if you are pregnant or breastfeeding, take medication, or have a medical condition.
Ryah Nabielski, MS, RDN is a Registered Dietitian, functional nutritionist, writer, and recipe creator. Ryah helps clients use a natural, food-as-medicine approach to improve fertility, pregnancy, hormone balance, autoimmunity, and discover a healthy relationship with food and body. Learn more about Ryah and her private practice at econutrition.co.