Protein requirements will vary greatly depending on many things; what type of athlete you are, your weight, age, exercise intensity, duration, physical preference, and diet quality. Endurance athletes require 1.2-1.4 g/kg of body weight per day where as strength and power athletes require 1.2-1.7g/kg. Some suggestions recommend 1.1 to 1.4 g for recreational athletes. (Fink, 2009)
Protein supplements are no more or no less effective than food for building muscle mass when dietary energy intake is adequate (PEN, 2014). Even though that may be the case, I don’t ever rule out protein powder. Of course as a Dietitian I am a big supporter of food through nutrition, but powders can be of benefit for some.
For starters it’s extremely convenient. Here’s a scenario; you finish your workout, socialize with your pals for 10 minutes, commute home, answer some emails, make your meal, and finally start eating 2 hours post exercise. You have already missed the most critical time for refueling. Taking protein powder and having this on your way home with carbohydrates would be of benefit to your recovery.
I might also recommend a supplement for those who don’t have much of an appetite following a workout. By simply not eating any protein you risk protein catabolism; where your body may utilize muscle protein as an energy source when its glycogen stores are depleted. Powders are also an easier and faster way of consuming protein. Making a smoothie with some yogurt and fruit, or munching on a homemade protein bar with dried fruit and whole grains is clearly a much better alternative to not eating, which many of us are guilty of doing when the thought of making a meal is exhausting in itself.
At the end of the day, taking a protein supplement comes down to lifestyle habits and really what’s most convenient for you. Is it a good source of protein for recovery? Sure. Should you substitute it for a meal? No. If protein powder is what works for you, try to accompany it with food sources that are rich in carbohydrates, electrolytes and fluid for recovery. Now at this point you might be asking yourself “but what kind of supplements would you suggest”? A topic for another time readers…
Emilie Trottier, RD, Sports Dietitian
Fink HH, Burgoon LA, Mikesky AE. Endurance and Ultra-Endurance Athletes: Practical Applications in Sports Nutrition. Sudbury, MA: Jones and Bartlett; 2009
PEN. Sport Nutrition Evidence Summary. The Global Resource for Nutrition Practice. 2014