If I workout, do I need to supplement with a protein powder?

Catherine Holly
Nutrition & Dietetics
Whether or not you need a protein powder for a workout depends on how long you are exercising. For a general walk or a workout less than 30 minutes, you don’t need it. If you’re doing heavier weight lifting or longer distance and endurance activities for more than an hour, you may benefit from a protein supplement after working out.
When choosing a protein powder, watch out for cholesterol and saturated fats, as most of them have more than you expect. There is something to be said for taste preference as well -- if you don’t like it, you’re not going to use it. 
If you are just working out, you will not need a protein powder. Is there a reason you might? Yes. Protein powder is used to replace or supplement food protein when food is inconvenient or unavailable. Generally, foods high in protein (chicken, beef, fish, etc) are costly and require cooking and preparation. A protein powder can be used at those times when you do not access to these foods or have the time to prepare and cook them. If protein foods are not your favorite and you tend to fall short on it in your diet, a powder can help you meet your needs. Protein powders tend to bring in fewer calories attached to the protein grams. A steak, due to its fat content, can add a significant number of calories to the protein in the meat. Protein powders often are just the protein calories. This is why a lot of bodybuilders or dieters may use them because they help to control excess calories. If you are eating sufficient calories and your protein intake is equal to or greater than what your body needs, there is absolutely no benefit to taking a protein powder.
You don't need protein powder for your workouts but if you look at the average persons diet they usually lack protein in their diet. So having a protien powder is a quick way to provide those nutrients that they are lacking from their diets. With todays schedule of people living such a fast paced life it is a convienent way to fix this problem. Just remember supplements are really meant to just supplement not replace food choices.
Joel Merritt
A protein powder supplement isn't absolutely necessary, but has many benefits. For one, after a resistance training workout, you have a window of about 1 hour in which your body is ready to take protein and rebuild lean muscle mass. By giving your body that protein you are basically supplying fuel for increased muscle development. This can also speed recovery time and reduce soreness. Some reasons why many people use a protein powder after a workout is because of it's liquid form the body can begin to use it more quickly than with protein in solid form (like you would get from food like chicken or fish). Another reason is that it's probably going to save you money. Many quality protein powders provide a cheaper way to get the protein and other nutrients that your body is looking for. Also many protein powders contain branch chain amino acids (BCAAs) that help the body's recovery and muscle building process.
No, if you are consuming an adequate diet that has the proper array of protein, carbs, and fat you are fine. A potential reason to supplement with a protein powder is in fact that you are not intaking enough protein from whole food. 

The Recommended Dietary Allowance for protein is a good place to begin to formulate how much protein is a generous and safe protein intake. If you are not intaking the RDA amount, a protein supplement might be for you. The RDA for protein is based upon the requirements of an average 154-pound male. These requirements were established to ensure that a particular individual would be able to receive the amount of protein necessary to repair and replace tissue proteins under normal conditions. The RDA for protein is 0.8 gm/kg/day. Additional allowances can be made depending on the individuals, sport/task, and goals.

If you work out, it is not "necessary" to take a protein supplement but it does make it easier to consume the protein your body needs, especially if you are exercising. As a former Competitive Bodybuilder, I can tell you that I relied heavily on protein powders to consume the amount I needed without getting extra unwanted calories from other sources. Food is always your best option but like I said a good protein powder makes it much easier to consume protein and I am a big fan of taking a protein supplement post-workout!

Protein consumption comes down to what you need. A competitive bodybuilder or high level athlete needs more protein than a sedentary person or light exerciser. Light to moderate protein levels can usually sufficiently be supplied by the diet.

If you lifestyle and sport require more protein then protein supplements become important. Also the workout window also makes protein consumption from supplements sources important.  

The answer is it all depends on the person and if you can get your protein from food then more power to you. However, from my experience I have found that most people do not get enough protein in their diet and therefore can benefit from a protein supplement.

One final point is the amount of protein is important but it is not as important as the quality of protein and the ability of your body to use the greatest percentage of the protein you ingest. So my rule of thumb is worry about protein but mainly worry about the quality of protein from good lean protein sources, dairy and eggs and if you need it good quality protein supplements.

How do you know if a supplement is good? This is way to complex to answer here but the simple answer is follow the integrity of the company. If a company has a good standing and good reputation then ALWAYS the company makes a good quality supplement.

Always consult your coach as they can help you with your protein consumption, amount and timing.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.