Protein powder is an incredibly useful supplement both for gaining strength and shedding body fat while maintaining lean mass.
A good protein powder provides your body with the raw material it needs to repair muscle damage caused by tough workouts.
Protein powder’s benefits go beyond just enhancing strength in serious athletes, though: it’s also a great option for older adults looking to stay fit as they age, and for people looking for a core ingredient in meal replacement shake to help them lose weight.
Read on to find out how protein powder is able to have such a broad range of applications.
Protein powder benefits
1. Protein powder helps you gain strength
A huge number of studies have confirmed the benefits of protein powder in athletes, but one study published 2012 summarizes the results of many different studies (1).
The review, published by researchers at Maastricht University in the Netherlands in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, pooled data from 22 different clinical trials of protein supplementation and found statistically significant evidence for increases in strength, when comparing strength gains to placebo (non-protein) supplements.
The practical meaning of these findings, according to the authors, is that a protein supplement can increase your one-rep max in the leg press by 30 pounds compared to what you’d have achieved on the same training program without a protein supplement.
Beyond the statistical significance, this means a lot in the weight room—30 pounds is pretty substantial.
2. Protein powder boosts muscle recovery after tough workouts
The amino acids in protein powder assist with muscle repair, so it’s only natural to expect that muscle recovery would be superior when you are taking a protein powder supplement.
This was demonstrated in a 2010 study in the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition (2). In the study, researchers had two groups of subjects, one of which received a protein supplement, while the other received a placebo supplement.
Both groups underwent a fatiguing routine of eccentric weight lifting exercises designed to induce muscle soreness. The researchers found that the protein supplement resulted in better retention of strength in the days following the intense workout compared to the placebo.
3. The strength gains from protein powder aren’t limited to athletes
Protein powder can be very useful in older adults who are trying to combat muscle loss, which can result in frailty and decreased independence.
A study by Alan Hayes and Paul Cribb at Victoria University in Australia summarizes the findings of several different experiments on strength training in older adults and the benefits of protein supplementation (3).
The authors concluded that protein supplementation, especially soon after resistance training, can boost increases in skeletal muscle mass, leading to a decreased risk of disability and better quality of life in older adults.
4. Protein powder increases your metabolic rate and helps burn calories
Using a protein powder increases your body’s baseline metabolic rate through a process called thermogenesis.
According to a study published in the Journal of the American College of Nutrition, a high protein meal (like a protein shake) ramps up your body’s caloric expenditure, even at rest.
The result? A doubling of calories burned compared to the increase in energy expenditure after a low-protein meal (4).
5. Maintaining weight loss is easier with a protein powder supplement
In addition to the thermogenic properties of protein powder, another useful benefit is its ability to induce satiety, or the feeling of fullness after a large meal.
A study by researchers at Purdue University examined the effects of increased protein intake in obese women, and found that protein increases feelings of fullness and helps preserve muscle mass during dieting (5).
The effect of this increased feeling of fullness is less calorie ingestion at meals later in the day, according to work by researchers at the Harvard School of Public Health (6).
Thanks to its thermogenic and satiety-inducing benefits, protein powder mixed into a shake can make a great meal replacement, especially if you are avoiding refined carbohydrates and sugars in favor of the high-concentration protein and low carb content of a quality protein powder supplement.
Protein powder side effects
Since all protein powders are derived from natural foods, they are more or less devoid of any side effects.
Protein powder could cause problems if you have food allergies. The only exception to this is protein powders derived from a food that you are intolerant of or allergic to.
People with mild to moderate lactose intolerance can typically handle whey and casein protein (which are derived from milk), because the lactose concentration in these protein powders is usually less than 1% by weight (7).
People with more severe lactose intolerance, or people with a milk allergy, should probably steer clear of dairy-derived proteins, but there are plenty of vegan protein powders and lactose-free protein powders to choose from instead.
Protein powder dosage
Protein dosages for athletes are typically given relative to body size, since larger athletes need more protein.
Athletes need 1.2 to 1.8 grams of protein per kg of body weight. Scientific research has found that athletes who are training for endurance events need 1.2 to 1.4 grams of protein per kilogram of body mass per day, while athletes preparing for strength, speed, and power events need 1.4 to 1.8 grams of protein per kilogram of body mass per day (8).
Bodybuilders might benefit from upwards of 2 grams kg of body weight. Observational studies have noted that bodybuilders and athletes looking to gain large amounts of muscle mass often consume 2 to 2.5 grams of protein per kilogram of body mass per day, so these high protein intakes may be necessary for extreme muscle mass gain.
For weight loss, target 30-50 grams per day. For weight loss and weight loss maintenance, the ideal dose of supplemental protein appears to be on the order of 30 to 50 grams of protein per day.
Keep in mind you’ll have to adjust this based on the actual protein content of your protein powder Whey protein, for example, is 80% protein by weight.
Protein powder benefits FAQ
Q: Why should I add protein powder to my diet?
A: Protein powder can help you get your recommended daily amount (RDA) of protein, help supplement meals on the go and, in some cases, help with weight management.
Protein helps give your body a sense of fullness, while also providing longer-lasting, slow-digesting energy over periods of several hours. This can help promote healthy, natural appetite levels and eating behaviors.
Protein powder can also help active individuals and dedicated athletes supercharge their training and recovery.
According to one study, individuals younger than 49 years who undertake resistance training find protein supplementation useful for boosting the musculoskeletal system’s adaptive responses (9). This is especially true for individuals who lead busy lives and find it difficult to plan or cook meals.
Q: Does protein powder boost your metabolism?
A: Protein powder boosts metabolism directly, via the thermogenic effect of its amino acids, plus by increasing your muscle mass.
Increased muscle mass leads to a faster metabolism, which can help you stay healthier and leaner, feel more confident, and tackle harder workouts.
By boosting muscle adaptation and growth while also serving to promote healthy appetite levels, protein powder can help you regulate both your metabolism and your overall weight.
Q: Can I mix protein powder with other recipes?
A: There are many ways you can incorporate protein powder into your everyday life. While many choose easy protein shakes, you can also make protein cookies, protein Rice Krispies, or even protein pizza crusts.
You should read the packaging of your particular protein powder to see which recipes are most recommended. Some protein powders are suitable for baking, while others taste best as a simple shake.
Q: What are the benefits of incorporating protein powder for a high-protein diet?
A: A diet that includes protein powder and plenty of vegetables can help you build muscle, improve digestion, and feel fuller longer.
However, eating vast amounts of animal-based protein can lead to weaker bones if you do not also ingest lots of vegetables, secure a good calcium intake source, and ensure you consume enough vitamin K (12).
Q: Is it possible to ingest too much protein and protein powder?
A: Excessive protein intake (greater than 0.8 grams of animal-based protein per kg of body weight per day for the average individual) is associated with adverse health outcomes, especially when paired with a low fluid intake (13).
Research suggests that this upper limit is higher for athletes, closer to 2 grams of protein per kg of body weight per day.
While certain conditions like sarcopenia (loss of muscle tissue due to aging) or malnutrition may necessitate a short burst of high protein consumption, long-term protein consumption in otherwise healthy individuals can result in kidney stones, bone density issues, and even liver problems.
When planning your protein powder intake for the day, remain within the healthy RDA limits.
Q: How much protein powder can your body use in a single meal?
A: For active individuals who want to build muscle, protein synthesis is maximized when 20-25 grams of protein is consumed in a meal.
Some athletes incorporate 40 grams of protein per meal to reach a daily threshold of 150 grams, or 30%, for a 2,000-calorie per day diet (14).
Q: Can protein powder slow down your digestion?
A: When individuals discuss a “slowed digestion” due to protein or other food sources, there are many factors at play. It can be difficult to determine what exactly is slowing your digestion.
Moreover, how your body digests protein depends on your makeup (allergies, food sensitivities, etc.), as well as what else you’ve eaten that day and what else you’re eating with your protein.
Protein ingested on its own tends to move through the digestive tract quickly, while protein consumed in conjunction with a balanced meal takes longer to digest, but synthesizes more thoroughly.
If you experience slowed digestion, consider adding more fiber to your diet and decreasing stress levels. If the problem persists, consult your healthcare provider for further advice.
Q: What are some health benefits of creatine in protein powder?
A: The compound benefits of creatine in protein powder may help the body perform better, build more muscle and strength, jumpstart the metabolism, promote a healthy weight, protect against disease, and boost bone density.
Q: When is protein powder especially important?
A: Protein powder is especially important at times of life when protein requirements are elevated. Teenage growth spurts, recovering from injury or surgery, starting a new workout program, and amping up an old workout program can all mean that you might need a little more protein than usual. Protein powder is an excellent way to help yourself meet your increased protein needs during these times.
If you’re going vegetarian or vegan, protein powder can also be instrumental in helping you keep your protein intake at a healthy level. Before beginning a new protein regimen, discuss your goals with your doctor so you can decide how to incorporate protein powder into your daily diet.
Q: Should I add greens powder to my protein powder?
A: If you do not feel you get enough vegetables in your regular diet, adding a green superfood drink powder to your protein powder shake may help protect against high blood pressure (16).
In particular, adding barley grass powder to your protein powder mixes can help promote heart health, protect against symptoms of diabetes, and boost healthy sleep patterns. It’s also packed with brain-healthy vitamins that can help promote cognition and focus.
Barley grass powder also has anti-inflammatory benefits and can improve gastrointestinal health. The added fiber in barley grass may also help your body absorb and digest the protein in protein powder more effectively (17).
Q: Is it possible to have an allergic reaction to protein powder?
A: Protein powder is generally considered safe; however, if you suspect you have allergies or food sensitivities, consult your healthcare provider before taking any. If you are allergic to dairy, protein powder will likely make you sick, or at the very least, bloated.
Related: Our best protein powder picks
Protein powder is perhaps the single most popular supplement, and for good reason. It’s a versatile and easy addition to your diet, and can help both with building muscle and shedding fat.
The best protein powders provide a full range of amino acids, which helps provide your body the building blocks it needs to synthesize new muscle tissue.