If you workout in any way, you’ve probably heard the guys that talk about the protein shakes they drink after a workout and what kind of shake they prefer. Protein powders which are made into a shake or consumed however you like are getting more and more popular as a nutritional supplement.

You can buy protein powders in many grocery stores and every nutrition store as well as all over the internet. You will likely find pre-mixed, ready-to-drink protein shakes in grocery stores or convenient stores. But many people ask are protein powders just for bodybuilders and sports people, or can the average everyday healthy benefit from them as well?

What Are Protein Powders?

Protein powders come in different forms. The most common three are whey, soy, and casein protein. “Whey is the most commonly used because it’s a water-soluble milk protein,” says Peter Horvath, Ph.D., associate professor in the department of exercise and nutrition sciences at the State University of New York at Buffalo. “It’s also a complete protein, so it’s got all those advantages.” Which complete proteins contain all nine of the amino acids that are necessary for the human diet. If you are vegan, you may prefer soy protein, although Horvath notes that it does not have that great of a taste and it does not dissolve very well in water.

High-Protein Diets: Do They Work?

Most protein powders come with widely varied price tags. “For the casual athlete who doesn’t have a specific need at a particular time of their training, the cost is not that important,” says Horvath. “So if you’re going to use them, you can get pretty much the same benefit out of the less expensive, more commercially available proteins.

In many different circumstances, protein powder can be useful. “They’re an easy and convenient source of complete, high-quality protein,” says Carole Conn, Ph.D., associate professor of nutrition at the University of New Mexico.

When might you want to use them you ask? There are a couple of reasons why an athlete might want more protein in his or her diet which are:
When a teenager grows, they need more protein to fuel their workouts because the body is still growing and uses more protein in general.
When you start a new program or begin to workout, you’re trying to build muscle; which will require more protein than you normally would without the extra exercise.
When you are increasing the number of workouts, you will frequently need more protein to help heal the muscle.
People who are vegan or follow a vegetarian lifestyle eliminate some common protein sources from their diet, including meat, chicken, and fish, and sometimes dairy and eggs as well. So another source of protein is needed to fuel the body and help it recover.

It doesn’t take much protein to achieve the goal of healthy protein levels. Most Americans already consume about 15% of their daily calories in protein. To build a pound of muscle, the body needs between 10 and 14 additional grams of protein per day. That’s not very much. Most of these powders have 80 grams of protein per serving. All your body is going to do is break it down for energy. Also, too much protein can be hard on your kidneys and your liver.

Protein Mathematics

How can someone tell if they are already getting enough protein? Do the math.

The following daily recommendations come from the American College of Sports Medicine and the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics:

  • The average adult needs 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight per day.
  • Those taking part in recreational athletics need 1.1 to 1.4 grams of protein for every pound of body weight.
  • Competitive athletes need 1.2 to 1.4 grams, and those involved in ultra-endurance sports may require up to 2.0 g per kg of weight.
  • Athletes who are building muscle mass need 1.5 to 2.0 grams per kg per day.

If your an adult athlete who wants to build muscle, and you weigh about 75 kg (165 pounds). The most protein you would need per day is 150 grams. That may sound like a lot of protein but if you think one 4-ounce hamburger contains 30 grams of protein, 6 ounces of tuna has 40 grams, and a single ounce of cheddar cheese has 7 grams its not hard to attain that much.

A Note About Teenage Athletes

Protein is also an essential for young athletes. Recommendations from the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics for teenagers are based on pounds of bodyweight rather than kilograms.

They say the average teen needs around 0.4 to 0.5 grams of protein per pound of body weight every day. Teenage athletes, according to the Academy, need a little more like 0.5 to 0.8 grams per pound per day.

The Academy cautions teens using protein supplements. Excessive protein can be hard on the kidneys. It also can contribute to dehydration. So to avoid these risks make sure your teen gets enough water to keep the kidney healthy and the body hydrated.

How to Use Protein Powders

If you find your protein intake and determine that you’re not getting enough for your athletic needs and see signs like you’re unusually fatigued, feel weak when lifting weights or doing other strenuous activity, or are recovering from injuries slowly you may be protein depleted. So how do you best use protein powders to improve your performance?

Ignore the conventional wisdom, that has been said over the years to only take protein powders immediately after a workout. You should be taking protein before, during, and after a workout, because carbs are what your body needs. They are what your body uses to fuel itself, and is what your muscles run on. Yes, protein is important for recovery after working out, but researchers have found that the body needs fuel with a 4-1 or 5-1 ratio of carbs to protein. Most protein powders have at least 20 grams of protein per scoop, so you would need about 80 grams of carbs to go with that scoop to get the proper proportion of nutrients.

So you should use protein powders, throughout the day as a snack or meal replacement but not in the immediate period surrounding your workouts.