Protein powder: What does it do to your health

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Especially as they age or attempt to develop muscle mass, many people take protein powder supplements. Are they justified for taking?

Now that protein powder use has surpassed the realm of professional athletes and bodybuilders, it seems relevant to review the studies on this topic.

When they don’t have time to eat a meal, some people consume protein shakes as a substitute. To improve their protein intake, for instance, if they don’t get enough, vegans occasionally use the pills. Moreover, a huge variety of fresh food products, from cereal bars to ice cream and chocolate, are now available in supermarkets and proudly advertise their protein content.

There are several strengths available, with bodybuilders receiving the highest dosages. The powder may originate from a plant or an animal source, such as milk or eggs. For instance, extracting and powdering the protein from peas, potatoes, rice, and soybeans is possible, often adding flavorings to make them more palatable.

How many additional protein powder do we need?

There is no denying that a diet must include protein. We require it to maintain the immune system, to help our muscles grow and mend, to keep our bones strong, and to keep our brains, hearts, and skin functioning the way we need them to.

Most adults in high-income nations get at least the recommended amount of protein in foods, including eggs, milk, yogurt, fish, lentils, meat, soy, nuts, and seeds.

The average protein consumption from people’s meals at the start of the research was, for instance, more than 75% higher than the recommendations for the US and Canada, according to a meta-analysis of 49 studies. As a result, some experts in the field, including Stuart Phillips from McMaster University in Canada, contend that more than the suggested levels might be required for everyone.

Understanding how much you would require as an individual is one of the challenges. The answer is dependent on your age, health, and workout regimen. Therefore, the general advice might not apply to you. For instance, some older people discover they don’t have much of an appetite, which can cause them to eat so tiny that they don’t consume enough protein. Additionally, compared to the average adult, professional endurance athletes require more protein in their diets.

Is it true that the more protein powder you consume, the better off you’ll be since we know that it helps you grow muscle, maintain strong bones, and boost your immune system? Could more help us all? Or does this method of adding extra protein carry any risks?

Fortunately, some of our difficulties have served as teachers. They generally support the widespread belief that protein powder can aid muscle growth. The caveat is that this only functions if you also engage in resistance training, such as lifting weights using a machine. Furthermore, the extra protein is useless if the muscles aren’t working.

In a meta-analysis published in 2014, researchers merged the data from 14 randomized controlled studies. For instance, half the participants drank whey protein powder produced from the liquid left over after making cheese from milk, and the other half drank a placebo. Consuming protein powder increased lean body mass as long as people trained in resistance. Still, there was no statistically significant increase if they only drank the beverages without exercising.

Comparing studies can be challenging because some are carried out on obese individuals, some on elderly individuals, and still others on younger gym-goers, which makes it difficult to draw broad conclusions.

The trials conducted on healthy adults who were not overweight are the focus of a more recent study that compiles the best findings and was published in 2022. Again, if people were also in resistance training, protein powder did make a difference, increasing lean body mass and lower body strength. Additionally, there was a slight difference in people’s capacity for bench presses, but not in other strength tests like handgrip. Therefore, some magic powder will not make you suddenly strong. It would be best if you put in the effort.

Although it was interesting to see that people over 65 didn’t need to consume as much protein powder to make a difference, the authors state that the ideal amount of protein still needs to be determined even after looking at all these studies.

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Stuart Phillips, one of the authors of this review, has spent two decades researching how our diets affect our muscles. He summarized it in his remarks on the BBC’s Food Programme last year by saying that while individuals who exercise four or five times per week would get a slight benefit, those who consume more protein powder will have a minimal benefit. So it’s likely to make that much of a difference if you’re very committed, like a professional athlete.


Reference: Protein powders: Are they bad for your health?

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