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Protein Powder FAQ

Q. What is protein?

A. Protein is one of three macronutrients the body needs to sustain life. Smaller components called amino acids are linked together to form different proteins, and when we consume these proteins, the amino acids are broken down and subsequently reformed into the building blocks our body needs in order to function properly.

All cellular action depends on protein and amino acids to function.

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Q. How much protein does the average person need daily?

A. That depends on who you ask. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recommend 50 grams of protein per day for anyone over 4 years old. This number is based on a 2,000 calorie diet, and as you can imagine, is pretty generic.

Since protein acts as the building blocks of life, a more reasonable way to calculate your needs is based on your body mass. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) suggests a simple equation where you can multiply your body weight (in pounds) by 0.36 for your daily requirement.

However, with active adults this number can increase dramatically and the idea of basing daily protein needs on bodyweight is a great way to determine more personalized needs. For active adults multiply your bodyweight (in pounds) by 0.6-0.9 based on activity level. This method is much more appropriate and useful.

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Q. How much protein do I need to grow muscle?

A. Growing muscle requires much more protein than typically recommended for the average person, this is due to the fact that the body’s principle use of protein is to support the essentials; and building muscle is far from “essential.”

This means bodily priorities like internal organ health and function and cell function will have their own protein needs taken care of before the body allows recovering muscles to be satisfied with their protein needs. When a muscle is exercised its tissue is broken down, causing a need for protein to support repair and essentially this leads to a bigger, stronger muscle.

Protein requirements for muscle growth will range based on the users mass and the intensity of the workouts. A healthy amount of protein can be found by multiplying your bodyweight by 0.7-1.0g to get a recommended total. In bodybuilding circles it’s not uncommon to increase this number to 1.5g or even 2.0g multiplied by bodyweight to achieve the massive physique of a Mr. Olympia.

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Q. Should I be taking a protein powder supplement?

A. Absolutely, unless you can get enough protein from whole foods in your diet, which is rarely the case for anyone who regularly works out. And even then, a protein shake post-exercise is much more effective than eating food because the protein can be digested, absorbed and utilized at a faster rate.

Protein shakes can be great additions to a well balanced diet of whole foods; they provide essential amino acids and can be much easier than eating several portions of meat every day.

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Q. When is the best times to have a protein shake?

A.There really isn’t a “best” time, but there is an “essential” time, and this is directly after exercise.

Directly after exercise the body is in desperate need of protein to help the recovery process. The faster the body can get what it needs, the faster it can repair itself. Drinking a fast-digesting shake as soon as you finish exercising can be an effective way to kick start the rebuilding and repair process.

Slower digesting shakes can be highly effective (but not essential) at additional times of the day including; snacks in between meals and before bedtime. Slow digesting shakes are also great to consume in the place of any whole food protein.

The versatility of protein powders is limitless, but whole food proteins are still necessary and powders should never fully replace healthy food sources.

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Q. How do I know which protein to take?

A. The type of protein powder you consume will depend on a number of factors. For example, if you’re vegetarian, then you may want to choose a plant based protein such as soy or wheat protein. If you have allergens to milk then you’ll want to steer clear of whey protein, or choose a highly filtrated version such as whey protein hydrolysate.

As a rule of thumb, fast digesting proteins are optimal for the morning, and before/after exercise. Slower digesting proteins are great as meal replacements, snacks, and right before bedtime.

If you’re looking for a one-stop protein powder, consider a blended protein that contains a mixture of fast, medium, and slow digesting proteins. They are usually the most cost-effective and versatile powders available.

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Q. Is a shake better than whole food protein?

A. No. Powders are derivatives of their whole food counterparts, and offer the user convenience and control over how fast the protein is digested and absorbed. Whole foods are usually more satisfying and contain nutrients beyond just protein (though powders often contain them as well).

The old “a time and a place for everything” is appropriate here. It’s often too difficult to meet daily protein requirements with only whole foods while protein shakes alone can leave you hungry and wanting more. Don’t be afraid to have multiple protein shakes a day but try not to let protein powder account for more than 50% of your daily protein intake.

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Q. Does too much protein cause kidney damage?

A. No. This is one of the oldest myths related to protein and it still persists today even though studies have concluded otherwise. In fact, new research suggests not enough protein can cause renal issues.

A quick note on hydration: Protein digestion does require more water than say carbohydrates, which means that dehydration is a risk with elevated protein consumption. However, this risk is to anyone NOT getting enough water already. If you’re drinking daily recommended levels of water (3 liters for men, 2.2 liters for women) then you’ll be just fine.

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Q. Can protein powders help me lose weight?

A. Yes! Protein powders aren’t just for athletes and bodybuilders who want to increase muscle mass. Protein can help weight loss in several ways, but mainly it can take the place of a high fat or high carbohydrate foods that prevent weights loss. Protein is also much harder to breakdown in the stomach, so it forces the body to work harder and burn more calories.

If weight loss is your primary goal then look for a slower digesting protein powder such as casein or milk protein concentrate to use as a meal replacement. You may also want to consider a traditional meal replacement protein powder to include in your diet. Meal replacement shakes often contain high protein mixed with carbohydrates and fat to mimic a well-balanced meal with much fewer calories and can take the place of breakfast, lunch, or dinner.

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Q. Is water the only thing I can make my protein shake with?

A. No, you can mix your powder into just about any liquid or semi-liquid such as yogurt. Protein powders are versatile; they can be thrown into shakes, used to cook with, and sprinkled on certain foods to fortify the protein content.

The only limitation on protein powder use is when you’re on a calorie restricted diet. Things like juice, milk, and even whole fruit may make your shake taste better but ultimately contain extra calories that might not work for your diet.

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