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If you follow health, fitness or walking news, you’ve probably heard about protein powder and protein shakes. But how much protein do you really need, and are protein shakes useful to regular people? Protein supplements can be a great way to eat a healthy snack on the go or recover from an intense workout.
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What is protein?
There are a lot of misconceptions surrounding protein, so we’ll take it back to basics! Protein is an organic compound made up of amino acids, which are the building blocks of our bodies. Tissue in the body use these amino acids to build and repair. So, hair, skin, nails – these are all built from protein. Even your body’s immune system – it really is amazing! Protein is one of the three major nutrient types, the others being carbohydrates and fats. Although there’s been a lot of debate about low-carb, low-fat or mixed diets, very few experts recommend a low-protein diet (people with some conditions including kidney disease may need a low-protein diet).
There are twenty amino acids that your body needs to function. Eleven of these are made by your body while nine come from food sources and are known as ‘essential’ amino acids. For most people, eating a balanced diet will get you all of the amino acids you need. Vegetarians and vegans in particular need to make sure that they take in a variety of protein sources, as many vegetable protein sources are high in some but low in other essential amino acids.
The Recommended Daily Allowance of protein is 0.8 grams per kg of body weight (about .36 grams/pound). That means that most adults could meet their daily protein requirements with just 10% of calories coming from protein. Americans on average eat about 16% of their calories from protein, but research from the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition shows that Americans may actually eat too little protein, rather than too much. Although this research is not definitive, people may benefit from eating as much as twice the RDA of protein, or 15-25% of calories from protein.
Important note: People with serious illnesses, especially kidney disease, need to carefully consider their protein intake. Make sure to consult your doctor before making major changes to your diet, like adding in protein shakes. Your doctor can examine your unique situation and make recommendations tailor-made for you.
Why should I consider protein supplements?
You don’t need to be a competitive bodybuilder or serious athlete to benefit from protein powders. Yes, if you train intensively, supplements can be a massive help in repairing your muscles post-workout. But the amino acids in protein are the building blocks of EVERYONE’S body, not just gym-goers.
Taking a protein supplement is useful for busy people who want to stay healthy on-the-go, helping to make sure you still have the energy you need to do everything you love. That might be running after your kids at the park or keeping up a balanced diet whilst on a hectic travel schedule. If you’re always skipping breakfast and tend to suffer from mid-morning fatigue, whipping up a simple shake or protein smoothie could help you stay energized and satiated throughout the day!
Here are some reasons you may want to consider adding protein shakes as part of your healthy food choices:
To support your busy lifestyle
Let’s face it – people are busy these days. We all know that eating a balanced diet is important, but sometimes we’re just too busy to eat something healthy. Often the easiest and most convenient foods are the worst choices, like fast food, donuts or other easy to grab treats. A simple protein shake made with a good quality protein powder is easy to grab and go, and is more nutritious and lower in calories than a croissant or chocolate bar.
This isn’t to say that you shouldn’t enjoy a balanced diet, with a variety of whole foods. However, high-protein foods can help you feel more full than carb or fat-heavy foods. That can make a protein shake or light smoothie more filling than the fatty, sugary snack you may be tempted to reach for.
As a blended drink alternative
Blended coffee drinks, sugary juices and smoothies are very popular on-the-go snacks. These are often extremely high in calories, with little in the way of nutrition. They’re typically not cheap either. For a healthier alternative, make your own lower-calorie smoothie, or perhaps grab a protein shake and water. 1 serving of Neat Nutrition protein powder is only 131 calories, compared to up to 500 or more with a coffee drink or smoothie.
Check out some tasty smoothie recipes here. They’re not all low in calories, but you can always swap or leave out ingredients to make them as decadent or clean as you want.
To feel more full – especially if you’re a snacker
Research has shown that consuming a diet that is higher in protein diet promotes satiety. Unlike simple sugars such as chocolate or sweets, a high-protein snack or shake will take longer for your body to digest, therefore keeping you feeling fuller for longer! This makes swapping out a carb-heavy snack (that may leave you feeling hungry after only a few minutes) with a protein shake can help you snack less and save calories.
If you’re always skipping breakfast and tend to suffer from mid-morning fatigue, whipping up a simple shake or protein smoothie could help you stay energized and satiated throughout the day!
Likewise, when you don’t have time to sit down and cook a full meal, whipping up a smoothie packed with protein, fruit, vegetables, and milk is a great way to fuel your body in a hurry. This is especially true at breakfast, which often features carb-heavy food like sugary cereals, waffles, pancakes and the like.
Who else, in particular, can benefit from protein supplementation?
Athletes looking to refuel
Drinking a protein shake straight after your workout will not make you look like Arnie. Promise. When you work out, you create tears in your muscles which your body needs to repair. Protein aids this process, so having a shake right after your workout will help feed those muscles you’ve strained during exercise.
Mixing your protein powder with water is the quickest way to get it into your system (around 30 minutes), where it will start to absorb. However, you can use protein powder in whichever way suits your lifestyle: in a smoothie, stirred into your breakfast porridge or even in baking!
Vegetarians & Vegans
Vegetarians and vegans can still eat a wide range of foods, but may need to get creative to meet their protein needs. This is especially true on the go or when eating out.
Taking a protein supplement is an easy and convenient way for vegetarians and vegans to hit their protein goals. A lot of vegan protein sources, such as beans or nuts, don’t contain high levels of all nine essential amino acids that our body needs. This means you need to look a little more carefully at your diet to make sure you’re consuming a variety of protein sources. Vegan diets are often particularly low in lysine, which supports your body with building muscle, injury recovery, production of hormones, enzymes, and antibodies.
A vegan protein powder, like Neat Nutrition’s curated blend of pea and hemp protein, is packed with all the amino acids your body needs, including lysine.
Older adults worried about muscle loss
A protein-rich diet is important to help older adults stave off muscle loss. The older we get, the more difficult it is for our body to process protein. That means older adults need to consume more protein as they age to preserve their muscle mass. This is especially important because as we age, our appetite decreases and exercise becomes more difficult.
Protein supplementation is a great way for older people to get additional protein in an easy to swallow, easy to digest form. In addition to exercise, like walking, this can help preserve muscle mass. It’s not to say that seniors can’t take in additional protein any other way, but adding protein supplements to a balanced diet can help ensure that you’re getting enough.
Protein shakes are a quick, easy and convenient way to increase your protein intake or to replace an unhealthy snack. You should still eat a healthy, whole food diet with a variety of fruits, vegetables and protein sources. If you’re on the go or tempted to reach for a high-calorie, unhealthy snack, consider grabbing a protein shake instead!