Maybe you're a vegan worried about your protein intake, maybe you're on a diet, or maybe you're looking to build a little muscle mass. Either way, you've probably heard a lot about protein powders from both sides of the debate. Some tout them as a miracle meal supplement, and others insist that they're leaching away your bone mass. The answer to the great protein powder question is -- like so many other debates -- found in moderation. Protein powders can be a great supplement to a healthy lifestyle, but make sure that you're using them correctly.
Do Check Your Protein Intake
Before you guzzle down that fourth shake, analyze your protein intake. The Recommended Dietary Allowance from the US Food and Nutrition Information Center is 46 grams of protein a day for adult women, 71 grams for pregnant or lactating women, and 56 grams for men. If you're extremely active or trying to build muscle mass, you may need more than the RDA, which is where protein shakes come in. But if you're sedentary or mildly active, chances are you're getting enough protein in your regular diet. Keep track of your diet for a few days to see how many grams of protein you're consuming without the addition of protein powders.
Don't Overdo It
Unlike some nutrients, it is possible to get too much protein. If you're getting the RDA of protein in your regular meals, while supplementing that with a few daily protein shakes, you're putting yourself at a serious risk for osteoporosis, or loss of bone density. Your body releases acids that help with the digestion of protein, but these acids need to be neutralized with calcium. If you consume too much protein, your body takes the calcium directly from your bones. Over time, a high-protein diet can lead to bone-thinning and weakening.
Do Use Healthy Powders
Even if you're getting the ideal amount of protein from your powder shakes, there's still a health risk to watch out for: additives. Since protein shakes can taste chalky, bland, and even unappealing, manufacturers often mix the protein with sugar, flavorings, artificial colors, and other chemicals. Don't undo the benefits of the protein by filling your body with harmful additives. Look for the most natural powder you can find, with the fewest (and most pronounceable) ingredients.
Don't Replace Meals
If you're eating six small meals a day, don't replace more than two of them with a protein shake. Whole food sources of protein (eggs, beans, etc.) have an entire spectrum of vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients that powders just can't compete with. And any protein that your body can't use will be turned into fat -- which defeats the purpose of meal replacement, anyway.
Do Enjoy the Health Benefits
There's no question that the human body needs protein. It's known as a macronutrient, meaning that the body uses it in large amounts. Protein is essential for muscle and tissue development; healthy skin, hair, and nails; and healing wounds. Protein powders are an extremely easy way to get these benefits: they're quick, cheap, and easy to make. Use them wisely, don't overdo it, and enjoy!
- Photo Credit flickr.com, Zemin Liu
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