By Annie Jiang ’19
You scroll through your Instagram feed, see a video of some buff, muscular athlete chugging a protein shake after a workout, and you wonder: What’s in that?
Protein powder has come a long way. It has become quite popular both amongst athletes, as a way to gain and recover muscles after a workout, and for non-athletes, as a way to incorporate more protein in their diets.
“It helps reduce soreness after I workout,” said Zach Gian, a student of Stony Brook University.
Protein powder has also become popular because of its convenience. It is often quicker and easier to make a protein shake or smoothie after a workout than to cook a protein packed meal such as a chicken salad or an omelette.
Protein powder is a powdered dietary supplement consisting mostly of protein. A powder is considered a complete protein if it contains all nine amino acids needed for daily dietary intake.
“It’s used as a supplement for individuals who need extra protein or aren’t getting enough in their diets,” said Laura Oliver, a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist (RDN).
Elizaveta Golodnitsky ’18 said, “I am vegetarian, and so in order to supply my protein needs, I use a vegan protein powder.”
Protein is a nutrient made of amino acids and is essential for many bodily functions including aiding muscle recovery after exercise, burning fat, healing injuries and wounds, fighting diabetes, and balancing blood sugar and cholesterol, among others.
In addition to protein being beneficial and important for health, it is commonly found in many foods such as meat, seafood, dairy products, eggs, nuts, seeds, and beans. All these foods can be easily put into people’s diets in order for them to meet their recommended daily intake of protein.
“The recommended daily intake for teens is between 0.4 to 0.8 grams per pound of body weight per day,” said Ms. Judy Aqii, the school nurse.
However, there are certain people who may need more protein. This may include teenagers who are still growing, athletes, people who work out regularly and need to recover and build muscles, vegans or vegetarians who cut out a lot of protein rich foods from their diet, or people who are recovering from an injury or wound, according to the WebMD article “Do You Need Protein Powders?”
This can lead to the option of taking protein powders. For athletes, protein powders are most commonly consumed in a protein shake, a drink that consists of milk or water mixed with protein powder, after a workout. Protein powders can also be incorporated into meals that may be lacking in protein.
Although protein powder may be beneficial for those who need it, it should be consumed with moderation.
“Immoderate amounts of protein, about 80 grams per serving, makes it difficult for kidneys to metabolize, which can cause the body to become dehydrated,” said Ms. Aqii.
There is evidence that taking in too much protein can worsen an existing kidney problem, but high intake of protein hasn’t been proven to cause kidney diseases in healthy people.
Ultimately, protein powder is still a processed product. A recent study done by the Clean Label Project, a nonprofit organization focused on health and transparency of consumer product labeling, found that many protein powders contain unlisted metals. According to the Clean Label Project, these metals include lead, arsenic, cadmium and BPA (Bisphenol A), a chemical that has been used to make certain types of plastic and resin and is commonly found in plastic bottles.
“Not all protein powders are created equal, and athletes need to make sure that the powder they are using comes from a brand that is NSF certified,” said Megan Ware, RDN and owner of Nutrition Awareness.
Products that are NSF certified are tested to prove that their content matches what is printed on the label and that they do not contain any contaminants like pesticides or metals. This can help athletes find a safer protein powder if they feel the need to incorporate the supplement in their diet.
While protein powder is a good source of protein for people who are lacking this nutrient, users should keep in mind that they may be sacrificing other important nutrients from high protein foods when they opt for protein powder.