As a dietitian, nutritionist, and mother of a high school athlete I am often asked an array of questions regarding protein powders. What is the best protein powder to take? How much protein do I need? How do I gain muscle?
The first thought in my head is that I worry about the advice these teenagers are getting from the clerk at the nutrition and vitamin shop whose only education is from gym locker rooms,weight floors, and muscle magazines. All of which in my opinion are terrible places to get advice. Most muscle magazine’s information comes by way of advertisements, with shiny muscular men in flexed positions and grueling expressions on their faces. These bait teenage boys to want to use excess amounts of the advertised products in order to achieve the same distorted body they see on the magazine page. Unfortunately, the advice they get is not from trained professionals such as dietitians, nutritionists, doctors, or in the rare occasion, strength and conditioning coaches who truly understands human physiology and nutrition in addition to human anatomy.
High School athletics are so competitive today and every athlete wants to be the best. With busy schedules and a reliance on junk food, it is not surprising that protein powder is so popular. I believe that as many as 40-60 percent of young male athletes use it daily. I do not necessarily think this is bad as long as it is used correctly. So what is the right way? I will give you my opinion, which no doubt will differ from others, but here it is….
Lets start by looking at the amount of protein in some of the natural protein sources we often eat:
4 oz chicken breast: 36 grams
4 oz tuna: 28 grams
4 oz hamburger: 28 grams
6 oz steak: 42 grams
1 large egg: 6 grams
2 tablespoons peanut butter: 6 grams
¼ cup almonds: 7 grams
8 ounces milk: 8-9 grams
A trend you might notice is that none of these exceed 36 grams for a 4-ounce serving which is the average serving someone would eat. The steak has 42 grams but is a 6-ounce serving. The body cannot absorb much more than 36 grams of protein at a time. Therefore my first caution with using protein powders is to not use too much at one time. Most protein powders have about 25 grams a scoop. That is approximately 4 ounces of what natural food sources offer. It is just the right amount to ingest.
At this dosage, the body has the most opportunity to absorb and use all the protein it is given to build and synthesize muscle. That being said, some athletes that do not have a protein rich diet may need to use protein powder multiple times a day. This is fine. There are some times during the day that supplementing your diet with protein powder may be more advantageous than others.
Using protein powder first thing in the morning in a smoothie has been shown to increase the metabolic rate and provide an environment for the body to increase its muscle tissue. Another great time to use protein powder is immediately following training after the athlete has exhausted all stores in the body. Giving the body protein at this time can improve recovery, and help keep the immune system working well. It is best that the protein is ingested with some carbohydrates as well.This makes a great recovery meal. Many protein powders have good carbohydrates in them. Chocolate milk has been proven to be an excellent post-workout recovery drink. It is an excellent combination of protein and carbohydrates in an easily digestible form for those that are not lactose intolerant. For those that are, lactose free milks are available.
So how much protein is enough for any given athlete? For your athlete? For yourself, if you are an athlete reading this? Here are some guidelines.
Most competitive athletes will benefit from consuming protein in reasonable doses. The right amount for most is 1 gram per pound of body weight.
Example 1: An activey training 185-pound football cornerback should consume 185 grams of protein a day from a combination of natural foods and protein powder.
Example 2: If this athlete is lifting extra weights and trying to achieve the reasonable weight gain of 10 pounds to be 195 pounds, it is acceptable for this athlete to consume 195 grams of protein a day instead of the 185 pounds of his current body weight. If he would like to weigh 205 pounds, 205 grams of protein may be too much. This athlete should consume somewherein the middle of 185 grams and 205 grams. 190 -200 grams would be the right amount.
So what is the right kind of protein for the teenage athlete? This is so debatable. It is important to note at this time that protein is a supplement, and the supplement industry is poorly regulated and the quality of many proteins is not to be trusted. Many proteins have been shown to have contaminants and banned products when tested by third party laboratories. This is the last thing an athlete wants to put in their body. Use caution when choosing your protein and discuss your use with a true professional, your family doctor or a registered dietitian may be best. Be wary of sales clerks .Remember, too much of anything is not a good thing.