Many people that start working out have a common misconception over the wonders of protein powder. They hear everywhere that protein shakes are necessary to survive the rigors of the gym and see results, and because of this, use up that protein powder tub quickly. That’s a great benefit bestowed onto the fitness industry, because you’re right back in the store looking for another tub, convinced that without protein shakes results are impossible. Can’t blame people for thinking this way, of course. Advertisements and amazing labels on all these protein powders have everybody convinced they do anything and everything. Have a protein shake in the morning, have another one before your workout, have another after your workout, and add another before bed. Right? Well, it probably wouldn’t hurt you (not counting cost), but it is certainly not required. What is, however, required? Forget what you’ve read or heard, and let’s explore how necessary, if at all, protein powder is when training and hoping to achieve a great body.
Protein is an essential macro-nutrient that is absolutely vital to muscle recovery and growth. This is uncontested. It comes as no surprise, therefore, that it is almost inevitable that people will wind up buying protein powder if they are avid gym goers. It just feels like the right thing to do. Hit the gym, train hard, come home and down a protein shake. That’s perfectly fine, but many people misunderstand the role protein powder plays in helping them achieve their results. They believe the labels on the tubs, and think by drinking protein shakes they will “get big”, “lean”, or “muscular.” However, although a very common misconception, it is indeed a misconception. Let’s clear it up.
Whether you are trying to put on size, or you’re trying to lose some fat, caloric intake is your #1 priority. There are a certain amount of calories that, at your particular weight, make you hold that weight. Meaning, if you eat that amount of calories, you will stay at your weight because that is the amount of calories your body burns each day. Therefore, to make up for those burned calories, you must eat that same amount. Sounds simple, no? If you eat less, over time you’ll lose weight. If you eat more, over time you’ll put on weight. This is the concept of maintenance calories. Remember it!
With that said, there’s a certain amount of protein that you need per day. As a gym goer, that amount is higher than your average individual. Nonetheless, it is usually anywhere from 30-40% of your daily calories. How do you reach that amount? You usually eat foods that are high in protein (grilled chicken, steak, eggs, salmon, etc.). Many people, however, supplement with protein shakes. This is literally, the extent of a protein shake’s worth. Unlike the advertisements on the protein powder labels, or in fitness magazines, the only benefit they confer on an individual is provide them with added protein for the day. They are a supplement.
In other words, they don’t magically make you grow muscle. Well, they can certainly help. However, the mere act of drinking a protein shake will not magically make you grow muscle. There’s nothing in the protein powder you’ve chosen that makes it do anything other than give you a dose of protein (usually anywhere from 20-30 grams – or about 15-20% of what an average gym goer needs for the day). Protein shakes will not make you put on size, they will not make you tone, they will not make you lose fat. Protein powder is simply protein, the same protein that is in grilled chicken (let’s ignore the food vs. powder debate). Whatever grilled chicken does to you, that’s what protein powder does for you. It’s really that simple.
Now, can you drink 4 shakes a day if you want? Sure, is it required? Not at all. Many people don’t even use protein powder, because they get enough protein from eating their daily foods. If you focus on foods that have high protein counts, and are consistent, protein powder isn’t even necessary. However, for most people it is advantageous to have a shake or two throughout the day to meet their protein quota. To supplement their protein intake. Whether they grow or not is not based on those protein shakes, but on the amount of calories they eat per day. This is the key distinction, don’t forget it.
To get results, focus on figuring out how many calories you need to eat to achieve your goals. Once you’ve figured that out, if you need to, supplement your diet with protein shakes in order to get the required amount of protein each day. If you’re eating a ton of protein-rich foods, you won’t even have to. Protein shakes are in no way essential, but they are often helpful. Next time you’re at the store, don’t count on those pesky labels that tell you the protein will do magic, and give you great results. You might as well slap those labels on that steak in the supermarket, how far will that get you? Well, to the same place. Protein is protein! For a very related topic that covers this and other similar concepts, visit our Supplements Surely Produce Results, Right? article. Good Luck!