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Protein Powder: Do you really need them?

Who would take them?

You’re at the gym having a workout and you see someone drinking a protein shake. Often this tends to be in the weights section of the gym. In a gym or exercise environment protein is perceived to be required in huge amounts, often via diet of chicken and rice and supplemented with protein shakes. Protein powders or nutritional supplements can also be used in a weight management setting, as meal replacement shakes or an additional source of calorie intake.

Protein is an essential macro-nutrient our body needs daily for activities such as immunity, muscle repair, sports performance and healthy cell production. How much we need can depend entirely on the individual and any excess intake we will just urinate out.

Why take them?

Protein isn’t needed in huge amounts daily. For an average individual an ideal daily protein intake would be approximately 0.75 x KG in bodyweight (BW) (Lonnie M et al, 2018). For example, if a person weighed 65kg, their daily requirement would be 0.75x65 = 49g of protein daily. This figure is more representative of the someone with a low physical activity level (PAL). For someone who is more physically active or has an acute or chronic illness, they would require between 1.2-2g x KG/BW. So, a protein shake, or nutritional supplement might be suitable for those people who weren’t reaching those daily targets through food alone, or purely for convenience.

What are they made of?

Protein shakes are often made from sources such as whey or casein from milk, egg whites, soy, pea, and hemp. Animal sources tend to be a more valuable source because they are a complete protein. They contain all the essential amino acids (protein building blocks) our bodies need. Whereas plant-based proteins might need a varied selection to get all essential amino acids.

Do you need them?

No, not necessarily. If you have a varied balanced diet with each meal containing protein, then do not worry about taking extra supplements. On the other hand, if protein shakes allow you to hit your protein target daily in a convenient way, then why not! Usually, we tend to increase our volume intake of food to meet our activity requirements. Protein is proportionally increased as well.

Food first approach

It is always ideal to take a food first approach in any setting but knowing what to have may often be the barrier. Protein does not need to be taken post exercise but spreading your meals evenly with snacks throughout the day is highly recommended. Unless you are going to be exercising again that day, then protein directly after a workout is ideal.

1. 1 Boiled egg – 7g of protein

2. 2 Babybels – 10g of protein

3. 125ml yogurt – 7g of protein

4. 1/3 pint of milk – 6g of protein

5. 40g cottage cheese – 7g of protein

6. ½ can of mackerel – 8g of protein

7. 50g chicken – 14g of protein

8. ½ can baked beans – 12g of protein

9. 50g lentils – 4g of protein

10. 50g of tofu – 9g protein


Lonnie M, Hooker E, Brunstrom JM, Corfe BM, Green MA, Watson AW, Williams EA, Stevenson EJ, Penson S, Johnstone AM. Protein for Life: Review of Optimal Protein Intake, Sustainable Dietary Sources and the Effect on Appetite in Ageing Adults. Nutrients. 2018 Mar 16;10(3):360. doi: 10.3390/nu10030360. PMID: 29547523; PMCID: PMC5872778.

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