Health Myths Debunked: Do you need to supplement with protein powder?

by | Feb 22, 2019 | Last updated Feb 15, 2022

The Myth

You need to supplement with protein powder.

The Background

Bodybuilding might come to mind when you think of how protein powder got its fame and you wouldn’t be wrong for thinking that.  However, World War II raised the demand for non-perishable foods and, as a result, powdered milk and egg protein use increased in the late 1940s (1) just prior to bodybuilding becoming a popular sport in the 1950s.  Since then, aside from athletes, supplementing with protein powder has pretty much become a regular part of many people’s diets.

So, why did it become so popular among bodybuilders, and why is its use so common now among non-athletes too?

The Facts

Dietary protein is known for its function of building and repairing muscle cells (2). As a result, whey protein supplements have been commonly used by athletes for muscle recovery right after exercise due to easy digestion and absorption of its essential amino acids (3) (the building blocks of proteins).

One scoop of whey protein provides roughly 25 grams of protein and two scoops of plant-based protein powder provides roughly 20 grams (4), which makes for an easy way to get enough protein since it’s quick and convenient.

But what is enough protein?

The recommended amount of protein for the average adult is 0.8 grams/kg body weight per day (0.36 grams of protein/lb of body weight per day) (5).  That means a 150-pound adult needs about 54 grams of protein per day.  With that being said, you could essentially consume a whole day’s worth of protein from just a few scoops of protein powder mixed with water. Where’s the fun in that when you could get all the protein you need, and more, from consuming whole foods?

Whole foods can provide all the necessary macro- and micronutrients your body needs through a well-balanced diet (6).  Meats, fish, and dairy are common sources of protein.  However, vegetarians and vegans concerned about not getting enough protein in their diet, should consider a few foods that pack a protein punch, such as:

  • Lentils
  • Tofu
  • Hemp hearts
  • Peanut butter
  • Pumpkin seeds
  • Steel cut oats
  • Corn
  • Black bean spaghetti
  • Seitan

Just to name a few…

And if you still prefer the idea of a protein shake over a typical meal, they can definitely be fun, flavorful, and nutritious. However, what constitutes a “protein” shake is that it contains protein, not that it’s required to contain protein powder.

Tip: Including yogurt, seeds, oats, and nut butters into your shakes can add that extra protein you’re looking for.

The Bottom Line

You don’t NEED to supplement with protein powder, but there can be a variety of reasons one might use protein powder.

Things to consider:

  • Your current protein intake compared to what your body needs
  • Convenience
  • Price
  • Quality

And if you choose to use protein powder, as with anything, always read the label to make sure you know what other ingredients you’re getting with that added protein!

Author: Caitlin Suter

  1. Wilson, Carter A. (2019) Public Policy: Continuity and Change, Third edition. Long Grove, IL: Waveland Press Inc.
  2. ACE
  3. Study: Kim J, Lee C, Lee J. Effect of timing of whey protein supplement on muscle damage markers after eccentric exercise. J Exerc Rehabil. 2017;13(4):436-440. Published 2017 Aug 29. doi:10.12965/jer.1735034.517
  4. USDA: Whey protein and plant protein nutrition facts
  5. RDA for protein
  6. Whole foods