Probably one of the question I get the most asked about is if women should take protein powder and if so how much? You can’t miss it protein shakes are everywhere. If you are a gym goer, you’ve probably heard some guys talking about their protein shakes, or your gym might even sell some, and if you are on Instagram, you definitely didn’t miss those girls posing with their pink shakes in every two posts. When I first started lifting weights, I thought I couldn’t gain muscles without taking protein shakes… Everybody was drinking that magic powder, so I had to right? I wasn’t even sure why I had to drink that powder, I hated the taste, it made me feel sick, but I thought I had no choice.
So what are actually protein powders and is it necessary to take some?
WHAT IS PROTEIN
First things first, we need to understand what is protein and why it’s important for our health, and for building muscles.
As you might know, protein is an essential nutrient for your body. The term protein actually comes from the Greek word proteos, meaning “primary” or “taking first place”.
It’s an organic molecule that once digested, is broken down into amino acids into our body, the building blocks of proteins. Protein is an important component in every cell of our body, it is essential to produce important molecules in our body like hormones, enzymes, neurotransmitters and antibodies and it is also essential to build, strengthen and repair tissues such as muscles, but also skin, bones, hair, nails…
Some of those amino acids are essentials and they can’t be produce by our body, so we must include them in our diets, in total there are 9 essential amino acids:
In short, we could not live without proteins and it’s actually what’s going to help you build muscles if you do include some sort of weight lifting in your exercise program.
HOW MUCH DO YOU NEED
Ok this is where it gets more complicated than it looks… A lot of people actually know they need to get more protein in their diet, especially if they are active, but they often have no idea on how much they should get.
The Recommended Daily Allowance is actually pretty low as it’s only 0.8 grams of proteins per kilogram of body weight (or around 0.36 grams per pound of body weight), so for a 140 pounds woman it would be around 50 grams of protein per day. Bear in mind that those RDA are often for people who do not exercise and for instance is the bare minimum to avoid protein deficiency, it is not an optimal amount. If you are active, your needs in proteins are more important. Indeed, you are going to need those amino acids to help your body grow and recover from exercise. 1.3 up to 2.0g of proteins per kg of bodyweight seems to be the adequate amount for protein synthesis (the creation of new proteins – building and repairing process). If you do more endurance, you can stay towards the lower end and if you are a bodybuilder, the higher end is more optimal. For women who strength trains several times a week, I would recommend to stay around 1.6/1.8g per kg of bodyweight. So for that 140 pounds woman it would be 102-114g per kg of bodyweight. Eating over 2.0g per kg of bodyweight is unnecessary, as it doesn’t seem to increase muscle protein synthesis.
The best thing to do when it comes to protein consumption is to integrate a bit of protein at every meal (including breakfast), it will help you reach your protein target and it’s also a great way to feel full longer.
WHERE TO FIND PROTEINS
There are two categories of proteins, the complete, and the incomplete.
The complete proteins are the one that contains all the essentials amino acids your body needs, while the incomplete proteins only contains some of the essentials amino acids.
Complete proteins mainly come from animal based products but some plant-based products are also considered as complete:
- Dairy products (milk, yogurt, whey)
- Mycoprotein (Quorn)
- Nutritional yeast
- Soybeans (Tofu, Edamame, Soybeans)
Incomplete proteins do not contain all 9 essential amino acids or don’t have sufficient quantities of them to meet the body’s needs, and must be supplemented with other proteins. These include:
Incomplete doesn’t mean useless, you can get all essentials amino acids by combining different sources of incomplete proteins – they are known as complementary proteins.
WHAT IS PROTEIN POWDER
Now that we know what proteins are, how much we actually need and where we can get them from, we can finally talk about our protein powders!
Protein powders are extract of proteins from various whole foods such as whey (milk – the most common one), casein, egg, and the one suitable for vegetarian/vegan: soy, hemp, rice and pea.
Protein powders are supplements, which means that in no case it replaces a healthy and nutritious diet. Supplement as the name suggest it, is a way to supplement your diet with some essential nutrients, in this scenario, amino acids. But really, protein powders won’t provide you with something that food wouldn’t (or maybe unhealthy and/or toxic substances).
Now let’s clear out something… Protein powders are definitely not essential in order to build muscles! Like I said, protein is essential and will help you grow muscles but you can definitely get all the protein you need from real whole foods.
Since a few years we can notice a change is the way society sees women… It became more and more trendy for women to lift weights in order to look strong and not skinny. “Strong is the new sexy”, you see that everywhere. I’m not going to complain about that, it’s a great mentality change even though sometimes we can wonder if it is actually always healthier. But what came with that movement is a tendency to sell all sort of new supplements. Before it was magic pills and teas to make you look skinny, now it’s magic powders and other various supplements to make you look strong in no time… Just drinking a protein shakes won’t make you look like those fitspo girls on Instagram. It’s not the place to talk about that right now but they get paid hundreds to simply shoot with a nice pink shake, just to make you think that you too you can look like her by drinking that magic powder… Errrr no, it doesn’t happen like that. It comes from hard work and dedication, done, end of story. No secrets, no pills, no powders, simply a healthy and balanced diet, including all the essential nutrients your body needs with several sessions of weight lifting per week.
HEALTH CONCERNS ABOUT PROTEIN POWDERS
With so much consumption of protein powders, it is normal to ask ourselves if protein powders are safe for our health.
When it comes to protein powders it’s a bit the same as any processed food. Although protein powders come from whole foods, they are not whole foods. They are extracted by various processed methods such as protein concentrates, isolates or hydrolysates. And like every industrials and processed food protein powders can sometimes contain some toxic and unhealthy substances such as preservatives, GMOs, colorants, waste products, artificial flavours, aspartame… That’s why it’s really important to read carefully the ingredients when choosing a protein powder and not being blinded by the reputation of the brand.
On top of that some protein powders are highly processed and heated to the point where the protein is denatured and is nearly impossible for the body to recognize and appropriately use. This can result in higher toxicity and levels of acidity in your body and can cause many unnecessary side effects.
Again, it’s not because the brand is known and popular that they produce a good high quality protein…
In conclusion, yes you need protein for your health and for building muscles, and yes you can get all the protein you need to achieve your goals by simply eating whole foods. That being said, if you do choose the right protein powders, it can be an easy and convenient way to get more protein in your diet, especially if you are on the go and can’t eat your usual daily chicken-rice-broccoli (errrr), or if you are a vegetarian/vegan and struggle to hit your protein target.
Life is a about balance in my opinion, if you want to include protein shakes for convenience, and if you don’t abuse it, go for it! You’ll be fine, just makes sure to buy a good protein powder.