By Awesome Supplements, Read time: 3 minutes
Set your mind back about 20ish years
(No, that's not 1980, it's 2000. Take as long as you need to process that)
Back then, protein powder was almost exclusively something bought, used, and spoken about by athletes and people who referred to themselves as bodybuilders. It was a gym-loving meathead thing, and to everyone else it was something viewed with something ranging from indifference to skepticism or even hostility.
Does it contain steroids?
It's just for men, right?
What if I don't want to be bulky? It can't be for me.
Fast forward to today and protein powder is everywhere. The hardcore gymrat, Supa-Protein 8000 with a veiny bicep on the tub is still there for those who want it, of course, but you'll also find protein in tubs and pouches that wouldn't look out of place in a regular ingredients cupboard. Some are promoted explicitly for use by people who don't go to the gym, and some that come in pink with grrrl power written on the side. Protein is being promoted as being for quite literally everyone...but is that just marketing?
Some of it is, sure, there is no reason to use a different protein powder because of your gender, but there really are benefits to using protein powder in general; reasons to use them even if you don't have aspirations to challenge Hafþór Björnsson for his title or pose on stage next to the Miss Universe elite.
So what are they?
A quick note on what we're not saying
Often when people write about protein powder they do so in a way that suggests that these products are in some way special. That with all else being equal, you would be better off using protein powder than not in order to achieve your goals.
Which is to say that protein powder directly helps you build muscle or recover more than other sources of protein.
This is, however, not really the case. In this blog we are not saying that protein powder has unique nutritional effects that are critical for progress in your training, or for optimal health. We're not even saying that you would necessarily be better off if you used protein powder than if you didn't...but we are saying that there are really good reasons to use them anyway that could make your life far easier, and your ability to chase your goals significantly improved.
A balanced view is perhaps best summed up by the International Society of Sports Nutrition Position Stand on Protein and Exercise (1), which states: "While it is possible for physically active individuals to obtain their daily protein requirements through the consumption of whole foods, supplementation is a practical way of ensuring intake of adequate protein quality and quantity, while minimizing caloric intake, particularly for athletes who typically complete high volumes of training."
But what does that look like for you?
Real World Benefits Of Protein
Speaking in general terms is nice but let's get specific. In two hypothetical worlds, world A where you are as you are now, but without access to protein powder, and world B which is exactly the same but you just stocked up on your favourite flavour of Awesome Protein, why would you be better off in world B?There is a list of reasons!
- Awesome protein gives you a large hit of protein for far fewer kcal than you would get from an equivalent serving of meat, beans, mycoprotein, or similar. This means that you can get a long way towards your total needs without chipping into your overall kcal intake much. For many this can make consuming an adequate intake (which may be 2 grams per kilogram of bodyweight or higher! (1)) far easier.
- In addition to the above, because packaging, shipping, and storing protein powders is a lot easier than doing the same for fresh and even frozen produce, per gram of protein, powders are typically one of the cheapest high quality protein sources available.
- The convenience of a protein powder - just add a scoop to liquid and shake - means that you don't have to prep, store, or clean up from the preparation of food. Going to the gym then off to do some other stuff? Drink a shake then get some food later, no worries.
- If you are a cyclist or triathlete you can add protein to your intra ride carb solutions on those longer rides, which can reduce soreness and accelerate recovery (1).
- And of course there's dietary variety! We don't know about you, but stirring some delicious chocolate powder into our morning porridge is a lot more appetising than doing the same with a tin of tuna or some beans. Protein powders can also be used in baking, to make pancakes, and for almost incalculable numbers of different shakes and smoothies. Variety is the spice of life after all!
So no, protein powders aren't essential in the same way as Vitamin D or Magnesium are. From a nutritional perspective they're a source of nutrients, and nothing more, but from a lifestyle perspective they're something that is rarely if ever seen: A short cut with literally zero drawbacks. Or to put it another way, protein powder isn’t magic but it is useful, cost effective and can really help to make things a lot easier, tastier, and more enjoyable all-around.
And that's all there is to it!