Protein shakes, powders and supplements are big on the market right now. Athletes aren’t the only ones mixing them into their shakes in the morning, but the average adult is consuming more than ever before. So, what is the hype? Let’s take a look at the different types of protein, how much you really need, and if these protein products are right for you.

Little Miss Muffet must have been trying to gain some good lean muscle mass! She was always eating her curds and whey, otherwise known as cottage cheese. The curds, or lumps, are casein while the whey is the liquid. Casein and whey are proteins found in animal products, namely cow’s milk. While casein is a slow-acting protein, taking several hours to absorb into the body, whey is a fast-acting protein that absorbs in about an hour, which makes it a popular protein to take after hard workouts. Another popular protein supplement is soy protein, which plant-based and considered complete protein. It’s a great option for vegans or those with lactose-intolerance.

When protein is consumed, it helps to build muscle and other tissues, including collagen and skin. Any time your body is growing at a rapid rate, protein can be beneficial. That’s why athletes tend to benefit the most from protein shakes. Extra protein can help them build muscle, and help with injury recovery. Protein supplements are also beneficial for expectant mothers, adolescents, or during recovery from injuries such as burns, wounds and other infections.

In general, most of us get plenty of protein in our daily diets through regular foods and do not have a need for protein powders and supplements. It’s important to remember that any nutrient (carbohydrate, protein or fat) is stored if you eat more than your body needs, so when you consume excess protein it’s stored as fat.

The average adult, with a moderately active lifestyle only needs, roughly 60-90 grams of protein per day, depending on stature, activity level, age, and other factors. Most Americans are getting this much protein in their daily diets. Just one ounce of meat provides 7 grams of protein (so an 8 ounce steak is over half the protein you need in one day).

There are lots of great sources of protein, even if you are vegetarian or vegan.

• Meat/fish/poultry – 7 grams per ounce

• Egg – 6 grams

• Milk – 8 grams in 8 oz

• Cheese – about 8 grams per ounce

• Yogurt – 8-12 grams per cup

• Beans – 7-10 grams per cup

• Nuts/seeds – 8 grams per 1/4 cup

If you do choose to take protein supplements or protein shakes, be careful not to overdo it – you may end up consuming more protein than needed, and actually gain weight! The addition of protein to foods often comes along with artificial additives, plus calories, sugar, fat and sodium to make the product taste good. So it’s critical to comparison-shop and carefully inspect the nutrition facts panel to avoid unwanted pounds.

Protein does lead to fullness, so it can help you avoid snacking between meals and decrease caloric intake. But it’s not a silver bullet. It doesn’t matter what the nutrient is. If you are consuming more calories than you are burning, you are going to gain weight.


-- Erin Plumberg is a Clinical Dietitian at St. Mary’s Medical Center and can reached at 816-655-5597.