Protein Powder: Is it needed for progress?

I’m sure many of you have gone into a supplement store at some point and listened to one of the workers go on and on about the fact that protein powder was essential in order for one to see any sort of progress in the gym.  In fact, some may have even said that without protein powder to take before and after workouts, going to the gym would prove to be a fruitless effort! 

The truth is that contrary to what many of these individuals will say, protein powder is by no means an essential part of seeing results from working out.  As long as you are consuming an adequate level of high quality complete proteins from a variety of sources, you won’t notice a difference from using powder or not.  What’s a complete protein source, you ask?   A complete protein source is something that contains a sufficient proportion of all nine of the essential amino acids (essential amino acids are amino acids that our bodies cannot synthesize on their own, and therefore must be consumed in our diets).

“But what about that magical whey protein I keep on hearing about?”  This is a question often asked by many, as many supplement companies have hyped up whey protein’s remarkably fast digestion rate.  While this is an awesome attribute of whey, the fact is that in most instances, when someone consumes a whey protein shake, he or she is very rarely doing so in a fasted state, so other food that this person has consumed prior to the shake is most likely still being digested, which basically erases the importance of its fast digestion rate.  That’s not to say that whey protein is a poor choice for protein supplementation, though, as it has an outstanding amino acid profile and has a very high bioavailability, meaning that much of what gets ingested is absorbed by the body.

Now, keep in mind that the key to seeing the same gains from eating your protein from whole foods is that the total amount of protein and calories consumed in a given day remains the same as it would have had you been consuming powder.  So, if you’ve been eating 150 g protein from whole foods and getting an additional 50 g protein and 200 calories from powder by using two scoops, then if you were to stop using protein powder, you’d need to make sure that the 50 g protein and 200 calories you are losing from no longer consuming the powder is replaced by some type of high quality complete protein source. 

Also, remember that depending on your location and goals, it may be more beneficial for you to include protein powder as part of your diet because of variations in costs of groceries throughout the U.S. and the world.  In some regions, meat and dairy are extremely inexpensive and often significantly cheaper than protein powder, while in other regions, these items along with other groceries are prohibitively expensive, leaving protein powders as a very cost-effective way for one to hit his or her target protein amount.  Another thing important noting is knowing where to look for deals on protein powder.  When I was younger, I fell victim to the game of going into a store and paying whatever they charged for their various protein powder selections.  However, now that I’ve been into fitness for some time, I know some of the tricks to getting powder for significantly cheaper.  The best method I know of is to use the “Google Shopping” option in Google and type in your desired protein powder.  With this great comparison tool, you can see who has the best deal for your favorite protein powder online, and you will often save up to 50-60% off of what you would have otherwise paid had you not used this.

As far as your goals are concerned, it really depends on what you are going for.  For many people who are trying to add mass, they find it very difficult to eat the number of calories required for them to gain weight (and hence, muscle mass), so using protein powder as part of a well-balanced diet could be a wise move because it allows for some of their protein and calories to be consumed in liquid form, which is much less filling than whole foods.  Another huge benefit of protein powder is that it can help those who have a sweet tooth to satisfy their decadent cravings.  Over the years, formulations for protein powders have made tremendous strides, and now many of them taste quite delicious, especially when mixed with milk.  Powders can also make traditionally “unhealthy” foods become quite “healthy” by making them well balanced in terms of their macronutrient content.  (Note: below the end of this blog post, I’m posting one of my favorite recipes for protein pancakes, which I’ve used both with and without powder – for your convenience, both variations are shown).  But, for others who are dieting (and often perpetually hungry because of their sustained caloric deficit), getting in 50 g of protein from chicken breast might be a better move than getting 50 g of protein from powder because of the chicken breast’s superior satiety effect.  Also, lifestyle can also play another huge factor in whether or not you should consider using protein powder, and to what extent you end up using it if you choose to.  For people who are constantly on the go and traveling, using powder often proves to be a very convenient and reliable method of getting in enough protein, as some places don’t always have the best options for protein-rich foods. 

So there you have it.  While I’ll be the first to say that protein powder is by no means an essential part of making sure you’re making the progress you wish to see happen in the gym, I will also be the first to advocate for the benefits of using protein powder, depending on what your goals are.


Protein Pancake Recipe:

With protein powder:

6 egg whites

1 scoop of your favorite protein powder

1.5 cups of old fashioned oats (plain oatmeal)

1.5 cups of low-fat cottage cheese

¾ teaspoon of baking powder

(optional): 2 tablespoons of ground cinnamon

This usually makes about 10 pancakes for me and can generally serve two people.  So, if you want to make more pancakes than this, then just scale the amounts of the ingredients accordingly.  Just take all of the ingredients and mix them in a bowl, using a whisk (or you could also just use an electric mixer).  Once everything is completely mixed together, you have your batter.  Now, get a pan, turn on the stove to a low to medium setting, and start making these delicious pancakes!

Macros (per pancake, assuming the one scoop of protein powder has 25 g protein, 2 g fat, and 2 g carbs): 10.6 g protein, 9.8 g carbs (1.2 g of which are from fiber), 1.85 g fat (98.25 calories)


Without protein powder:

12 egg whites

1.5 cups of old fashioned oats (plain oatmeal)

1.5 cups of low-fat cottage cheese

¾ teaspoon of baking powder

(optional): 2 tablespoons of ground cinnamon

Macros (per pancake): 10.5 g protein, 9.6 g carbs (1.2 g of which are from fiber), 1.65 g fat (95.25 calories)

*Putting some almond butter, blueberries, and bananas on the finished pancakes, along with some Walden Farms 0 calorie syrup, is a great finishing touch!

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