PROTEIN POWDER: IS IT REALLY NECESSARY?
By: Chris Hintz
First of all what is protein? Protein is found in every cell, muscle and tissue of our body and is also present in many of the foods that we eat. The protein in our body is essentially the same as the protein in our food, except that it is structured differently. Basically proteins are made up of long chains of amino acids. There are 22 different types of amino acids and the body needs all of them to function properly. Of these 22 aminos, 14 are “non-essential” as they can be manufactured by the body and do not have to be obtained through food. The body, on the other hand, cannot produce the remaining 8 “essential” amino acids and therefore must be derived from the foods that we eat. When the proteins that we consume in our food are broken down through digestion into individual amino acids, these amino acids are then absorbed and reform in order to create new proteins that are then used by the body. Some of these new proteins include; collagen, IGF-1, and insulin to name a few. There are literally thousands of different amino acid sequences that can be formed by the body to create these different types of protein. Even though there are only 22 total aminos, they can be combined into more complex sequences like insulin which is comprised of 51 amino acids. To keep this article from getting too scientific I will switch gears and explain what sources of protein are best for the body.
If we were to give each protein containing food a rating on a scale of 1-100 (1 being the lowest, 100 the highest; Whey=100, Eggs= 90, Meats=80), what we would be measuring is the total amount of amino acids available to the body after ingesting that particular protein source. To clarify, there is many different ways to measure a food protein’s benefits for the body, but what we are looking at is specifically how the different sources of protein relate to building muscle. This list would look entirely different if we were measuring which protein was best for the development of healthy hair, skin, or nails (since some protein sources have a better chance of converting into collagen than IGF-1). Obviously then the best muscle building foods are going to contain the full range of amino acids and will be considered “complete” protein sources. These include Milk, Eggs, & meat. All animal based proteins. The other common vegan types of protein like rice, beans, soy, etc are all missing some of the essential amino acids to be considered a complete protein.(Yes you can food pair and make complete proteins, but we want to find the single best source of protein for muscle building.)
Now that we have a basic understanding of the proteins, we want to know why you cannot just drink milk, eat eggs and meat and call it a day. Why do we even need protein powders? The truth is we absolutely DO NOT need protein powders, BUT they can be highly beneficial in our quest to build the maximum amount of muscle possible while simultaneously reducing body fat. Whey & Casein, two of the most popular protein powders are actually derived from cow’s milk. Cow’s milk contains 20% Whey and 80% Casein per serving. The problem is that to get 25 grams of protein from Non-fat milk you must consume 3 full cups, or 257 calories and 36gms of Carbs. Conversely, a pure 100% whey isolate shake can give you 25 grams of protein in just 1 scoop, or 100 calories, and 0 carbs! So to use myself as an example, I consume roughly 100 grams of protein a day through shakes which gives me about 450 calories and only 6 carbs. To get the same from milk I would need to drink 12 glasses of milk and thereby consume the same 100gms of protein, but with an additional 1,029 calories and 146gms of carbs. So really I guess it depends on what your goals are. If it is to maximize protein consumption while simultaneously limiting total calorie intake then obviously just regular milk will not cut it. Plus I am not sure how my body would do drinking all that milk. And since protein powders can be very cost effective at around $1 a serving with 30gms of protein, I think it would be hard to find another food option that provides the same protein benefit at that low price point. $60 for a month’s supply of protein at 1,938gms of protein (Intek Evolution 5lb) is much more affordable than consuming the same amount through milk 60 quarts of milk! I am not sure what a quart of milk costs but I am sure it is more than $1. Can you imagine buying 60 quarts of milk every month? I guess this could explain why bodybuilders and fitness enthusiasts have opted for protein powders.
To conclude, I definitely recommend consuming a variety of different sources of protein as part of a balanced clean eating regime. But ultimately if you are trying to increase overall protein consumption while limiting the total amount of calories in your diet then protein powders are a more than reasonable option. And lastly, Protein in the body is lost daily and therefore must be replenished daily through the diet (unlike Carbs which can easily be stored from one day to the next). The best way to maintain a steady intake of protein at all times is to consume frequent high protein meals throughout the day so that your blood stream is constantly receiving a supply of the necessary amino acids it needs to build and repair muscle tissue.