What You Need To Know Before Using Protein Powder

When you've developed an exercise regime that you both enjoy and enables you to work hard, it can be disheartening when you don't see or feel the results. Knowing how best to support your body before, during, and after workouts can be tough, and research suggests that what you consume can be just as important as how much time and work you put in at the gym (via Allure). So take protein, for example: Will your body require more of it if you start to work out regularly?

"Regular exercisers may require more protein than sedentary individuals in order to help replenish and repair the torn muscle fibers which occur naturally as a result of exercise," nutritionist Jenna Hope told Glamour UK. "Those engaging in more than 150 minutes of exercise per week require around 1.2 to 1.5 [grams] of protein per kg of their body weight per day. Athlete's requirements may vary depending on their sport and training regimes."

Indeed, in order to get the protein your body needs, and to help your muscles with post-exercise recovery, you may need to add a supplement to your diet (via The International Journal of Sport Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism). Should you choose to go with protein powder, experts outline the key things you should know before making the change.

What's your exercise goal?

One of the key things to think about before you start using protein powder is what your overall fitness goal is. Are you trying to build muscle, lose weight, or just get fitter? Healthline explains that protein powders can be a great way to aid in increasing muscle mass and strength but only if you take the right one.

Similarly, Matty Nguyen, an expert strength and conditioning coach, told Aaptiv magazine, "[P]ost-training, many people get hungry due to our sympathetic nervous system. We cool down and then need to metabolize food in order to refuel for energy." Having a protein powder instead of an unhealthy treat could aid in weight loss.

The Recommended Dietary Allowance for protein is 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight, per Harvard Health Publishing. If you want to bulk up, then you may benefit from increasing your protein intake. However, sadly increasing your muscle mass isn't quite as simple as adding two protein shakes into your daily routine. Different organizations have worked out different metrics for working out how much protein is sensible to build musical gains. The International Society of Sports Nutrition, for example, recommends around 1.4 to 2 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight.

What are the different types of protein powder?

Harvard Health Publishing outlines that most people can meet their protein intake goals through foods like eggs, meat, and fish. However, if you want to increase your options, then different protein powders can be used to achieve different goals. Whey protein comes from milk and some studies have found that it can be an effective way to build muscle mass and help you recover from exercise (via the American Journal of Sports Medicine).

Health Essentials notes that soy protein powder is another really popular choice as it can help reduce high cholesterol. Other supplement options include pea protein and hemp protein.

To reiterate, before investing in protein powder, consider whether you want to maintain muscle mass or to lose weight. If you're vegetarian or vegan you may also need to look into specialist options. Also, before buying the powder, check the sugar content and amino acids; and if you don't feel confident, then consult an expert at your gym or your doctor.

When to take protein powder

When you drink your protein shake can be as important as drinking it altogether. Daily Burn points out that some protein powders can act as meal replacements. You can either drink them as a shake or put them in meals to give you a boost before a workout. It'll fuel you and help you work harder. Similarly, studies have highlighted that protein powders can be beneficial in the short period after you work out (via The International Journal of Sport Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism).

However, sports dietitian and nutrition coach Brian St. Pierre told Daily Burn, "Basically, it's not a bad thing to have a shake right after you work out, but you don't have to. Don't drive yourself crazy thinking that you've wasted a workout because you didn't have a shake right after working out." Further, Emily Gelsomin, MLA, RD, LDN, explained to Harvard Health Publishing that for many people, "Protein powders are convenient but unnecessary for most." In fact, she points out that consuming large amounts of protein in one go can be counterproductive: adding calories while reducing one's muscle-building potential.

Bottom line: Everyone's different, so understanding your fitness goals and the nutrients you're getting from your protein powder — specific to you, is essential if you want to see results.