I’ve been wanting to write this article for the longest time. Protein powder use has been ingrained in my brain for my entire fitness life. Protein, protein, protein – you can’t reach your goals without it…or so I thought.
Up until about a year ago, I used protein powder on a daily basis to supplement my intake. It worked in the sense that I hit my protein requirement goals, but using it went against everything I believed in nutrition wise. The following are 6 reasons why I decided to give up using protein powder, and why you should consider it too.
Protein Powder is Processed
This was the main reason I decided to give it up. I’m a firm believer that eating processed foods, especially ones with artificial ingredients, are the primary cause of bad health in this world, and as much as I’d hate to admit it, protein powder is a processed food. More importantly though, it’s a refined food.
That means you are taking a whole food and purifying it down to just the parts you want. That also means you are leaving out many of the essential parts of the food that are beneficial to your health. In addition, most of the powder on the market is packed with artificial sweeteners, flavors, and fillers.
It Spikes Insulin Levels
I was a user of whey protein, which comes from dairy. Whey is a quick digesting protein, and I used it for this property. It was used in my post-workout shake to jump start recovery and protein synthesis. I also used it in other foods to fortify their protein content.
I always knew this to be true, but I remained in denial – whey protein can quickly raise blood sugar and insulin levels, leaving you feeling like you just ingested sugar   . I was always hungry shortly after a meal containing whey protein, and I believe it’s because the powder caused wild swings in blood sugar levels.
While the blood sugar crash was mitigated post-workout due to the suppressed insulin response, using powder throughout the day made the issue progressively worse, and I found myself feeling lethargic and hungry shortly after having a shake – a sure sign of low blood sugar.
It Lacks Nutrients
This goes along with the fact that it’s processed. When you refine a product you leave behind much of the nutrition. Not only that, but we are still learning about nutrition, and I have a feeling that we are going to discover more about our food and about how all the parts of the food work together in harmony to assimilate its vitamins and minerals.
In the meantime, whole foods will always beat protein powder when it comes to providing a broad range of nutrients. We have to remember that being fit and healthy isn’t just about the macronutrients (protein, fat, carbs), it’s about the micronutrients (vitmains, minerals, antioxidants, etc) too. And no, fortifying protein powder with a bunch of vitamins and special ingredients is not the same, as much as the marketers would like you to believe.
Plus, when I’m in a calorie deficit, I prefer to get my calories from solid food. Not only does this give me more nutrients, but it keeps me more satiated. Solid food adds fiber and bulk to your meal so that you can feel satisfied longer on fewer calories.
I Don’t Need It to Reach My Goals
Coming from a bodybuilding background, I had it ingrained into my head that if I didn’t get 1 gram per pound of body weight in protein, I would be sacrificing muscle gains. Well, after removing protein powder from my diet, I experimented with this myself doing my own body fat and lean body mass measurements.
I ate between .6-.8 grams per pound of body mass. This didn’t affect me negatively in any way, and in fact, I felt healthier as a result and enjoyed the extra carbs in my diet. Studies have shown that there are no benefits to consuming protein up and beyond .6 grams per pound of body weight, and that .8 grams per pound will be more than enough to cover your bases .
It’s an Unneeded Expense
I actually spent a lot less than many people do on protein powder. I would buy it in bulk (10lbs), and the price for whey isolate was under $10/lb. Compare that to some other people that are spending $100-$200/month on protein supplementation, and it was a bargain.
However, it still wasn’t cheap, and the extra expense was unneeded. That extra money is now going towards having fun or improving the quality of my nutrition by adding more veggies to my diet. Needless to say, the extra money in my pocket makes me happy.
People Were Building Quality Muscle Long Before Protein Powder
Protein powder wasn’t always as popular as it is today. In fact, many bodybuilders of old never used the stuff because it wasn’t even available. They were still able to build great physiques. Steak and eggs, and meat and potatoes were staples in their diets. Those meals provided them with all the protein, healthy fats, unrefined carbs, and nutrients needed to build the muscle they wanted.
For people that are looking to push their physiques well beyond genetic limitations, or for those on anabolic hormones, protein powder may have its place, but for the average person looking to be healthy, fit, and build a great physique, protein powder is completely unnecessary, and could be doing more harm than good if you’re using one with artificial ingredients.
Is Protein Powder Evil?
This article wouldn’t be complete if I didn’t play a little devil’s advocate. As I said, I used it daily for a good 10 years, so I’ve lived on both sides of the fence. There are some benefits to protein powder – both tangible and intangible.
For example, there is always the convenience factor. When left with little time to eat and the choice is between a candy bar or a protein shake, of course a protein shake is better. However, a little planning could have you eating a solid meal.
And then there’s the taste. A lot of powders on the market taste delicious – there’s no doubt about it, and many people look forward to this. But I have noticed that most of these delicious shakes come with added artificial flavors and sweeteners. So buyer beware.
When I was using powder I bought plain unflavored whey isolate. Protein was the only ingredient. Then, I blended it up with frozen fruit and spinach for a sort of whole food/protein powder hybrid. If you want to keep using powder, perhaps give this route a go.
Let me be clear that I have yet to find solid evidence that protein powder is unhealthy. Now, the powders that add in a bunch of artificial ingredients are no doubt unhealthy, but protein powder in and of itself seems to be health neutral. However, whole foods should always be your primary choice if given the option.
What do you think?