If you just started working out, you've likely heard that you need to get protein powder to start seeing results.
Protein is one of the three essential macronutrients that plays a crucial role in repairing and building muscle tissues. This is because protein supplies the body with amino acids, which serve as the "building blocks" our bodies use to create new tissues, hormones, neurotransmitters, and enzymes.
Getting enough protein each day is essential to achieving your fitness and physique goals.
And, you can satisfy all of your daily protein requirements without ever taking a single scoop of protein powder.
But, protein powder is affordable, convenient, easy-to-prepare, and delicious, which is why so many individuals use it to help achieve their goals.
Today, we give our 30,000-foot view of all things protein powder.
Protein Powder for Weight/Muscle Gain
As we stated at the outset of this article, you do not "need" protein powder to get results from your fitness program, be it muscle gain, fat loss, or body re-composition.
However, protein powder provides an easy, no-cook solution to help you meet the increased protein and calorie needs you have when trying to gain weight and build muscle.
As you've likely experienced when trying to add muscle mass, there comes the point when you can't choke down another plate of chicken and rice. At the same time, you know that if you don't get in those ever-so-important muscle-building calories each day, you're not going to grow as quickly as you'd like.
Protein powder provides a quick-fix option that is easy to digest and won’t leave you feeling overly stuffed.
Additionally, if you're one of those "hard gainers" who struggle with reduced appetite and/or gets fully relatively quickly, adding a couple of protein shakes throughout the day is an easy way to increase your calorie intake without making you feel bloated or uncomfortable.
Besides, amidst the slew of bogus supplements heralded as "muscle builders," protein powder is one of the few that has multiple studies documenting its ability to enhance lean mass gains.
A 2015 systematic review noted that: <1>
“Protein supplementation may enhance muscle mass and performance when the training stimulus is adequate.”
The takeaway here is that consuming enough protein each day is needed to support muscle gain. Protein powder isn’t required to gain muscle, but it can help you hit your numbers each day, especially if you’re someone who struggles to consume enough calories and/or protein each day.
Protein Powder for Weight Loss
In addition to helping build muscle, protein powder can also be useful for those seeking weight loss. It can serve as either a low-calorie snack or complete meal replacement, depending on how many calories you can eat each day.
When dieting, calories at a premium, making it difficult for some individuals to consume enough protein each day while adhering to a reduced-calorie diet.
In case you weren’t aware, protein is the most important macronutrient when dieting. The reason for this is muscle is incredibly expensive for your body to maintain, and when you are in an energy deficit (such as when you’re cutting), you are at an increased risk for muscle loss.
Consuming adequate protein daily (~1.2 grams per pound of bodyweight) helps prevent excessive protein breakdown and muscle loss when dieting.
As a bonus, protein powder is typically low in calories, carbohydrates, and fat, yet high in protein, meaning it puts a smaller dent in your total daily calorie intake while still helping you hit your protein quota for the day.
To top it off, research has also found that supplementing with protein powder can help reduce appetite and lower food intake. <3,4>
So, not only does protein powder help you retain muscle while dieting, but it may also help you to feel less hungry and consume fewer calories come mealtime -- thereby supporting weight loss.
Protein Powder Benefits
We touched on several protein powder benefits already in the article, but now we’ll lay them out in full.
To date, supplementing with protein powder has been noted in research to assist with the following:
- Improve Muscle Size and Strength <5>
- Help Reduce Body Weight <6>
- May Reduce Blood Pressure, Total Cholesterol, and Other Risk Factors Associated with Cardiovascular Diseases <6> (These Metabolic Improvements Are Likely Due to Weight Loss, Not Necessarily Protein Powder)
- Support Recovery Following Muscle-Damaging Exercise <7>
In addition to its research-backed benefits, whey protein is also:
- Easy to Prep and Clean
- Requires No Cold Storage
- Tastes Delicious
When To Take Whey Protein
Due to the notoriety whey protein has as a premier muscle-building supplement, many individuals think that it can only be used before or after a workout.
And, while you certainly can have a serving of protein powder before or after your workout, that only begins to scratch the surface of the many uses for protein powder.
Protein powder can be eaten at breakfast in the form of:
- A Smoothie with Frozen Fruit
- Mixed into Oatmeal or Cream of Rice
- Used as the Base for a Batch of High-protein Pancakes or Other Baked Goods
- Baked into Protein Muffins or Bars
You can also take whey protein as a between-meal or bedtime snack.
It can even be consumed alongside your regular meals if you want to increase your protein intake.
For instance, let’s say you’re having a garden salad for lunch, but you’re not really in the mood for grilled chicken, fish, or steak atop your salad.
Mix up a serving of protein powder and drink your shake alongside your salad to make it a complete meal.
Whey protein can be taken any time of day whenever you're in need of a quick fix of muscle-building, hunger-suppressing protein.
Protein powder can be a helpful supplement for individuals of all ages and goals, including those who want to build muscle or lose fat.
It may be especially useful for older adults and vegetarians who struggle to consume enough dietary protein each day as well.
As we mentioned at the outset, protein powder is not necessary to get results from your fitness program, especially if you are already consuming adequate protein.
That being said, if you do struggle to eat sufficient protein each day, having a high-quality protein powder by your side provides an affordable, convenient, and tasty whey to get your protein in each day.
- Pasiakos, S. M., McLellan, T. M., & Lieberman, H. R. (2015). The effects of protein supplements on muscle mass, strength, and aerobic and anaerobic power in healthy adults: a systematic review. Sports Medicine (Auckland, N.Z.), 45(1), 111–131. https://doi.org/10.1007/s40279-014-0242-2
- West DWD, Abou Sawan S, Mazzulla M, Williamson E, Moore DR. Whey Protein Supplementation Enhances Whole Body Protein Metabolism and Performance Recovery after Resistance Exercise: A Double-Blind Crossover Study. Nutrients. 2017;9(7):735. Published 2017 Jul 11. doi:10.3390/nu9070735
- Veldhorst MA, Nieuwenhuizen AG, Hochstenbach-Waelen A, van Vught AJ, Westerterp KR, Engelen MP. et al. Dose-dependent satiating effect of whey relative to casein or soy. Physiol Behav. 2009;96:675–682. doi: 10.1016/j.physbeh.2009.01.004.
- Hall WL, Millward DJ, Long SJ, Morgan LM. Casein and whey exert different effects on plasma amino acid profiles, gastrointestinal hormone secretion and appetite. Br J Nutr. 2003;89:239–248. doi: 10.1079/BJN2002760.
- Morton RW, Murphy KT, McKellar SR, et al. A systematic review, meta-analysis and meta-regression of the effect of protein supplementation on resistance training-induced gains in muscle mass and strength in healthy adults. British Journal of Sports Medicine 2018;52:376-384.
- Kamonkiat Wirunsawanya, Sikarin Upala, Veeravich Jaruvongvanich & Anawin Sanguankeo (2018) Whey Protein Supplementation Improves Body Composition and Cardiovascular Risk Factors in Overweight and Obese Patients: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis, Journal of the American College of Nutrition, 37:1, 60-70, DOI: 10.1080/07315724.2017.1344591
- Kim J, Lee C, Lee J. Effect of timing of whey protein supplement on muscle damage markers after eccentric exercise. J Exerc Rehabil. 2017;13(4):436–440. Published 2017 Aug 29. doi:10.12965/jer.1735034.517