Thirsty (for knowledge) Thursday: Getting the Most out of Protein Powder

>> Thursday, March 26, 2015

Katie Davis (MS, RD, CSSD, LDN) is the owner of a sports nutritional consulting business, and is only 1 of 550 registered dietitians in the United States to be board-certified as a specialist in sports dietetics. (She's also a runner, triathlete, snowboarder, and rock climber.) She recently offered 4 tips on how to use protein powder SO IT ACTUALLY WORKS in this article on Here were her 4 main points:

1. Assess your reason for using it. Are you trying to lose weight? Bulk up? Lean out? Are you a vegetarian or vegan needing to up your daily protein intake for overall health? Figuring out why you think you need a protein powder is an important step before you buy a powder. This is because powders are often formulated for specific reasons, from different protein sources and with different additives. Using a good powder for the wrong reasons makes it the wrong powder.

This is a great point, but I wish Katie went into detail as to what kinds of protein are good for those specific goals. What kind of protein is good for endurance athletes? She doesn't say. Dang.

2. Buy a good product. Once you determine your reasons for buying a powder and that you actually need it (note: often protein powders are unnecessary), buy a good product. Pick a product that is certified as clean and safe. Visit, or to view certified products. These products are certified to be free of illegal and banned substances and to actually contain what the label says. Whether or not you are an athlete being drug-tested, it is nice to know that you are using a clean product. Also, realize that often companies put a lot of extra "stuff" into protein powders when you really just need protein. More is not better when it comes to the ingredient list.

I didn't know about those links, but I'm not too concerned about foods/supplements that are "certified to be free of illegal and banned substances." I'm sure all of the candy/chocolates/junk food I eat contains trace amounts of "banned substances."

3. Time it correctly. The best time to incorporate a protein powder is post-workout because this is when liquid calories are most important. Using liquid calories post-workout assures the nutrients get to your muscles fast for efficient recovery. However, many athletes also like to use protein powders in smoothies for breakfast because it is fast and easy. This is the second-best time of day to incorporate protein powder.

Jenny Evans got on me about this one - she really pushed me to get in some protein within an hour after a hard workout. (If you've been around a while, you'll remember when Jenny interviewed me in 2010 about my eating habits.) And regarding this article, I hadn't heard that "liquid calories" get the nutrients to the muscles faster. It makes sense, but I never knew that was a selling point for post-workout protein shakes.

4. Don't go overboard. When it comes to protein powders, many athletes believe that more is better. However, I have had athletes put on body fat instead of muscle because they were using protein powders three or four times a day and/or double the dosage recommended. Too much protein intake can just as easily lead to body fat gain as too much fat or carbohydrate intake. Use protein powders no more than once daily to leave room for protein intake from real foods such as meats, poultry, fish, nuts, nut butters, dairy, beans, soy/tofu and legumes. Protein powders should really only be used for convenience; there is nothing magical about protein in powder form and you won't get everything from protein powder that you can get from food protein sources.

Oh, and another things related to Katie's final point here is that I was recently hearing about taking in too much protein at one time. If what I've heard is correct (and if I'm remembering it correctly), too much protein at one time cannot be absorbed by the body. So don't load up on 5 scoops of powder in a tall glass of milk post-workout. Refuel a bit post-workout, and then eat properly throughout the rest of the day.

For more "Thirsty Thursday" posts that discuss workouts, body science, and all kinds of interesting information, CLICK HERE.


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