Protein powder can come in many forms, including whey and casein – which are made from milk protein – egg protein or soy, hemp, rice and pea protein.
Weight-gain shakes all contain some type of protein powder. But they also have added ingredients to increase the calorie content.
These come from carbohydrates, usually in a powdered form like maltodextrin, or a fat, such as ground flaxseed or medium-chain triglyceride powder.
Protein powder essentiality
Neither protein powders nor weight-gainer supplements are essential when building muscle.
Think of protein powder in the same way you would a chicken breast, advises coach Marc Perry of the Built Lean website.
It is simply the same as any other form of protein you could otherwise get from food and won’t help you bulk up any faster.
If you’re eating a balanced, varied diet, you shouldn’t have too much trouble meeting your calorie and protein needs through whole foods alone, notes the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.
Right Diet Basics
You will only build muscle if you’re eating a surplus of calories, regardless of whether you take any supplements or not.
Consuming more calories than you burn is imperative in building mass.
Supplements can help you to conveniently increase your calorie intake, but they’re no substitute.
To work out your required daily calorie intake, nutritional scientist and bodybuilder Dr. Layne Norton recommends multiplying your body weight in pounds by 16 to 17, then adding 500.
If you can manage to eat this much through your diet, you don’t need extra supplements.
If you’re struggling, however, a protein shake has around 100 calories per scoop, while weight gainers can have up to 700 or 800 calories, depending on the brand and serving size.
“Protein is great, but that doesn’t mean you need to consume it by the boatload. Always keep in mind, more isn’t necessarily better, better is better. Thus when constructing your nutrition strategy, I recommend setting it up in the following way.
Protein powder principle
Protein shakes are intended to be a supplement, rather than a major portion of your diet, so they make no attempt at providing dietary balance.
To maintain good health as you pursue weight gain, it’s important not to lean too heavily on shakes or other high-calorie additions to your diet.
Instead, eat sensible quantitiesof vegetables, fruits, whole grains and lean proteins, preferably in the form of unprocessed, cooked from scratch foods.
Maintaining a solid workout regimen is also important, otherwise your increased caloric intake will go to your waist rather than to lean muscle.
If you decide supplements will assist you in meeting your calorie and protein requirements, opt for either a weight-gainer or a protein shake.
Using both is needless and could be costly.
If you only need a few extra calories, a protein shake is your best bet, but if you have a very small appetite, opt for a weight gainer.
Alternatively, you could buy a basic protein powder and add other high-calorie ingredients to it to make your own weight gainer.
Try blending a protein powder with milk, a banana, a handful of unsalted nuts and a serving of rolled oats to make a protein-rich shake with extra calories, carbs and fats.
Protein powder pros and cons
While the benefits of protein supplements don’t measure up to those you’ll get from real foods, they are a close second place.
In combination with balanced eating and a fitness plan, protein supplements can help you lose weight, put on lean muscle and satisfy your daily nutritional requirements.
Using protein supplements presents risks as well as benefits.
If you regularly exceed your daily protein requirements on a long-term basis, for example, you may experience an elevated risk of diverticulitis, nutrient deficiencies and heart or kidney problems.
Taking supplements in addition to following your regular diet also adds calories, which may lead to weight gain that will not necessarily be in the form of muscle.
Before you begin using supplements, get approval from your doctor or a registered dietitian.
Is the protein powder really necessary depends on you and on many other factors as your lifestile, your mindset, your environment, your health and your goal.
I prefer the natural protein rich foods and warmly recommend them to my clients as well.