Did your great-grandmother or grandfather rely on protein supplements to get through their busy and active lives? Probably not. But for some of us, the thought of going through a day without a protein-enhanced bar, drink or cereal feels like an experiment in malnutrition.
The industry of protein supplements is a new one, but the marketing behind it is exceptionally successful because they’ve got us pretty-well convinced that we can’t live without protein-enhanced products. Look on the shelves of your grocery store and you’ll find cereal supplemented with protein, high-protein yogurts, protein-packed drinks, mega-super-protein bars (so many bars!!) and more protein powders than I care to count.
I’m about to blow your mind here:
Despite what the protein-pushing manufacturers would tell us, the typical American gets more protein than his or her body needs long before we crack open the carton Muscle Milk or tear into a Builder Bar.
So exactly how much protein do you and I need?
I prefer not to fixate on numbers and nutrients, but sometimes it’s helpful to use the numbers to get a reference point. On average, an adult requires .8 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight, with the most intensely training endurance athlete requiring 1.3 grams of protein. That means a typical 150-lb adult would need somewhere between 55-89 grams of protein daily depending on their activity level, age, and other factors.
Where do we find protein if not in specially processed foods?
Surprise: From real food! Whole grains, nuts and legumes, whole soy products, and (for those who choose to consume them) animal products. Even vegetables and fruits often contain small amounts of protein.
But don’t we need far more protein than what is found in whole foods?
I hear this question from vegetarians, vegans and meat-eaters alike. Take a look at a few common foods and their protein content, and I think you’ll see that meeting your protein needs is a snap without touching a supplement whether you choose to eat meat or not:
1 serving of oatmeal: 5 grams
1 serving whole wheat pasta: 8 grams
1 serving quinoa: 6 grams
1 oz almonds or a serving of almond butter: 6 grams
1 cup broccoli: 2.5 grams
1 cup kale: 2 grams
1 avocado: 2.5 grams
1 small baked potato: 3.5 grams
1 medium banana: 1.5 grams
1 x 5-oz container of plain Greek yogurt: 10 grams
1 egg: 6 grams
1 serving chickpeas: 6 grams
1 serving tofu: 7 grams
1 x 3-oz portion of shrimp: 17 grams
1 x 4-oz serving of tempeh: 22 grams
1 x 4-oz portion of chicken breast: 26 grams
I don’t eat a balanced diet, so what’s my best option for protein?
If you must use a protein supplement, consider using products that use real food as a protein source: Chia and hemp seeds are wonderful sources of protein and you can find a growing selection of products containing these seeds and other whole foods as the protein source.
If you really love your protein bar and don’t want to give it up, enjoy it as a treat, but understand that it’s not a replacement for eating a balanced diet full of fresh, real food. Read those ingredient labels, because many protein-supplemented foods include poor sources of protein and other ingredients of questionable (or flat out lousy) quality, like artificial sweeteners.
Is it true that the protein we eat never turns into fat?
This is one myth I’ve got to bust. Know this: When we consume more food than our body can use for energy—and this includes protein—we store it as fat and we put on weight. Period.
Got more questions about protein and how it fits into your lifestyle? Let’s chat! firstname.lastname@example.org