If you have been on social media, in a grocery store, drugstore, or gym lately, you may have noticed that there are a ton of protein supplements out on the market. Which means you have also most likely asked yourself these two questions:

  1. Should I use a protein supplement?
  2. Which one is the best?


Since you know that here at Nourished: Nutrition Counseling and Education, we are all about research and evidence based recommendations, we want to break down all things protein supplements for you. Keep reading to find out the answers to those 2 questions, along with all of that fun science-y stuff behind protein supplements.


Why do people use protein supplements?

These days we hear so much about protein, so why exactly do we need it? Protein helps us build and repair cells and tissues, promotes wound healing and provides our bodies with energy. There are many different reasons why people use protein supplements. Professional athletes and weekend warriors alike may use protein shakes for recovery and to help build muscle mass after intense strength training workouts. Vegetarians might use protein shakes to bump up this important micronutrient in place of meat. People with serious illnesses, cancer, poor appetite, wounds, end stage renal disease and post-op bariatric surgery patients may also use protein supplements to help meet increased protein needs.

Another reason people might consider using protein supplements is weight loss. This is actually a multi-billion dollar industry and often presents a very common question, “Will this protein shake make me lose weight?” The short answer is no, drinking a protein shake is not going to make you lose weight. If it we’re that easy, everyone would drink a shake and be at a healthy weight, right? First of all, you can’t just add a protein shake to what you are currently eating and call it a day. If the company is advertising, “Drink this shake, do nothing else and see results!” then it is too good to be true. Sadly, I have seen this before and, even worse, have had patients who have fallen for the gimmick. However, if the question is, “Can I use a protein shake as part of a healthy lifestyle to lose weight, with other nutrition and lifestyle changes?”, then yes, research shows that they can be helpful as part of a weight loss plan! This review of randomized control trials that were published in various journals, shows how effective a reduction in calories, behavior modification, exercise and the use of liquid shakes can promote long term weight loss.


How much protein do people really need?

The Recommended Dietary Allowance, which is the amount that will sufficiently meet the needs of a healthy adult, is 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight. This means a person who weighs 150 lbs would need about 55 grams of protein per day. The jury is still out though on whether people should limit themselves to the RDA, because it is the minimum amount recommended, not necessarily the amount a person needs to thrive. The Protein Summit 2.0 from the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition explored this further. When trying to figure out how much protein you should be eating, it may be more helpful to calculate the Acceptable Macronutrient Distribution Range (AMDR) of 10-35% of total calories. This would mean that a person who is following an 1800 calorie meal plan would eat 45-157.5 grams of protein per day. The AMDR is the recommended amount associated with a reduced risk of chronic disease while still providing your body with adequate intake of essential nutrients. On the other hand, be cautious about consuming too much protein, because any nutrient (including carbs and fat too) in excess can turn into extra calories, leading to weight gain. If you want to learn more about your specific needs you can consult with a registered dietitian who can perform a full nutrition assessment to determine exactly how much protein you should eat.


Quality counts.

Check out the chart we made below to find out how the different types of protein supplements out there rate. If you are looking at this on your phone, you might need to turn your device to see the entire chart.


Type of Protein Supplement Where does it come from? PDCAAS Score Biological Value
Whey Protein Dairy 1.00 104
Soy protein Soy 1.00 74
Egg protein Eggs 1.00 100
Casein Dairy 1.00 77
Rice protein Rice .47 83
Pea protein Peas .69 65


The quality of protein supplements matters. The Protein Digestibility Corrected Amino Acid Score assesses the amount of amino acids, which are the building blocks for protein. PDCAAS is the most widely used and accepted way to rate the quality of protein. Biological value rates the quality of protein by calculating a percentage based on nitrogen utilization and how our bodies actually use the protein. Even though there are limitations with both of these scoring systems, seeing the overall picture from the different ways to rate protein quality shows us that whey, egg, soy, and casein protein supplements score the highest across the board. They are the most complete sources of protein. Use caution with other types such as collagen, hemp, and cranberry protein supplements that rate low for quality. Plant based proteins, with the exception of soy, are lacking a complete profile of those building blocks. However, some brands do mix different sources of plant based proteins to provide all of the essential amino acids. You may have also seen protein concentrates and isolates and wonder what that means. Typically, an isolate has been microfiltered to yield the highest amount of protein.


Always check the nutrition facts label.

In addition to the quality of protein shakes, I also like to look at the actual amount of calories, protein, sugar and fat in the shake. My personal rule of thumb is that I look for supplements that are about 200 calories or less, high in protein (around 20-30 g of protein), lower in sugar (around 5 grams or less per serving), and around 3 g of fat or less per serving. I have found that this generally puts the protein supplement in a “lean” protein category.


Meal replacements versus protein supplements.

Typically a meal replacement product will have added nutrients such as carbohydrates, fat, fiber, vitamins and minerals. A protein supplement is primarily composed of protein and you could add other food groups, such as milk, fruit and vegetables, to help make it a balanced meal. You can talk to your dietitian about the best way to fit either of these into your meal plan and still provide your body with the nourishment that it needs.


Taste and cost matter too.

Your protein shake should taste good! I personally don’t enjoy eating food that tastes bad and I think of protein shakes the same way. Everyone’s tastes are different so try a variety of brands and flavors. The ones that I like to use are usually around $1-2 per serving, which is a great deal for a source of protein! Protein tends to be one of the most expensive items on our grocery list, so you’re actually getting a pretty good deal if you can find protein supplements that you like in this price range. Simply take the cost of the container and divide by the total number of servings in the container.

Example: $25 per container / 15 servings = $1.66 per serving (score!)

So, if a protein supplement is for you, now you know what the high quality ones are. Be sure to click here to see our article on fueling your fitness. We break down everything you need to know about pre workout supplements and we also included a bonus recipe on how to make your own homemade peanut butter. It’s a favorite recipe of ours and you can blend it into your favorite chocolate protein supplement for that winning chocolate peanut butter flavor combination![/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row]