Protein Guide - What is Protein Powder and How Much do I Need a Day?

Protein powder is a staple of most athlete's diet. This highly versatile nutrient is essential for muscle growth, body fuel and many more functions. To get the most out of the protein you consume, learn more about eating the right amount for your goals and understand how protein fits into your daily diet, we've put together a guide to protein to answer all your questions.

Why is protein important?

Protein is an essential element in every cell in the body. Proteins are central to the growth and repair of muscles, which is why protein powder is one of the most commonly used bodybuilding supplements in the world.

When exercising, your muscles are constantly experiencing microscopic tears which are repaired, expanding the size and strength of your muscles. Protein is used to power the cells which regenerate muscle tissue, meaning the more you train and push your body, the more protein it will need to recover.

Because proteins are found in every kind of cell in your body, they also have a variety of benefits throughout the body, including hormone regulation, digesting and muscle generation.

What is a complete protein?

There are 20 amino acids that make up proteins found in the human body. A complete protein is one that contains all nine essential amino acids that the body doesn’t produce itself.

Because your body doesn’t produce these amino acids itself, it’s important that your food sources contain enough of these elements to support your body in functioning optimally.

While meat products contain all nine essential amino acids, not all sources of vegan or vegetarian proteins are the same. This means that, if you’re looking to supplement your diet with meat-free protein, you’ll need to pay careful attention to your protein sources to get all the nutrients you need.

How long does protein take to digest?

Protein is typically digested in about 1-2 hours and it’s generally recommended that you supplement protein after a workout to help your body replenish proteins gradually and stimulate muscle repair throughout your recovery.

How much protein can you absorb at once?

The general opinion is that protein synthesis in young adults is maximised at around 20g per meal, which is why protein supplements generally contain this much per service. However, this isn’t necessarily always the case and is based mainly on fast-digesting proteins. If you’re serious about muscle building, you may be able to diversify the rate at which your proteins are digested and extend muscle repair and building for even longer after exercise.

2. How much protein do I need per day?

How much protein to build muscle?

A general recommendation for daily protein intake is 1.6-2.2g per kg of lean muscle mass each day. The higher rate of 2.2g of protein per day is advised for the first 12 weeks of a new exercise programme, after which you may choose to drop down to a lower rate.

For the average weight of 80kg, you’re looking at about 160g of protein a day, or the equivalent of around 5 chicken breasts. Obviously, you’ll want to diversify your protein sources so consider meat, eggs, fish and protein powders to help bump up your consumption throughout the day.

For an accurate daily protein calculator, find out your body fat percentage, remove this from your overall weight and then multiply this by 2.2g.

How much protein do I need to lose weight?

In addition to improving muscle growth, protein helps you maintain muscle mass as you lose weight and can be used to help facilitate weight loss. Meals with a high level of protein leave you feeling fuller for longer, meaning that by choosing high-protein snacks, you can curb cravings during periods of dieting.

Protein also has the highest thermic cost of any macronutrient, which means it takes more energy to break down protein than any other food. Your body will use more energy on meals high in protein, meaning less energy from each meal is stored in the body as fat.

How much protein when cutting/bulking?

During cutting and bulking, your protein requirements don’t have to change dramatically if you want to continue building/maintaining muscle mass. However, you’ll need to put more consideration into how the rest of your diet looks to achieve your goals.

When cutting, protein can still be effective at reducing body fat. As mentioned the thermogenic quality of protein means you can continue to lose weight even though protein is high in calories. However, you’ll need to consider where you are going to sacrifice calories in order the continue cutting while consuming protein.

When bulking, you’ll need to be consuming more calories than you’re using to beef up your muscle gains. You’ll need to focus on your carbohydrate consumption, which can pad out your calorie requirements while also keeping your body energised before and after workouts.

How do you increase protein intake?

An average diet will likely contain multiple protein sources but the likelihood of this meeting your protein requirements for building muscle is slim. For this reason, you’ll need to supplement your protein intake, particularly during the first few weeks of exercising.

You can choose to do this through vegan or whey protein powders, or through upping your protein consumption through food. Popular protein sources include meat, fish like cod and salmon, eggs, dairy products, beans, rice and peas.

How much protein, fat and carbs should I eat a day?

Protein, fat and carbs are the three macronutrients that your body needs to function. A typical ratio of these three nutrients is 45-65% carbs, 25-35% fats, 10-30% protein. Although, if your plan is to lose weight, the ratio should be more like 10-30% carbs, 30-40% fat and 40-50% protein.

3. Different protein sources

What is whey protein?

Whey protein is a by-product of cheese which is highly protein-dense. Whey protein concentrate and whey protein isolate each contain about 80g of protein per 100g. A typical service of protein powder is around 30g, meaning you’ll be getting 20g of protein with every shake.

The difference between whey protein concentrate and isolate is in the filtration. Whey isolate protein goes through an additional processing stage, making it lower in calories and easier on the stomach than the traditional whey concentrate.

Vegan protein sources

As mentioned, not every vegan protein source contains complete proteins with all nine essential amino acids. Most vegan protein powders will contain either single complete protein sources or a combination of ingredients to make up a complete protein profile, so be sure to look into a products’ nutritional panel before purchasing.

Complete vegan protein sources include:

  • Buckwheat
  • Soy
  • Hemp
  • Peas

Some vegan protein sources do not contain complete proteins but can be combined to complete the profile. Common pairings include:

  • Watermelon seeds & pumpkin seeds
  • Rice & beans
  • Peanut butter & wholegrain bread

4. Adapting to your diet - protein for vegan and keto diets

How to get protein as a vegetarian

Whether you’re vegetarian or vegan, you’ll probably be in need of ways to diversify your protein intake without eating meat. However, vegetarians looking to up their protein can snack on cheese or combine their protein powder with cow’s milk. This will add an extra hit of protein but will also be higher in calories, so must be carefully considered along with your diet.

How do vegans get protein?

If you’re thinking about how to get your recommended protein intake as part of a vegan fitness diet, identifying your protein sources will be essential to your success. Because fruits and vegetables are so high in carbs, your calorie intake can go over the limit trying to reach your recommended protein intake.

Vegan protein powders are an ideal solution to this issue. The processing these products go through often reduces the calorie content while maintaining a high level of protein, meaning you don’t need to eat as much to reach your goals. Because of this, vegan protein powder is actually typically lower in calories than whey protein concentrate.

How much protein should I have on keto?

Since the keto diet is a focus on high fat, moderate protein and low carbohydrates, it’s possible to continue on this diet and supplement your protein to see gains in the gym. As long as you’re keeping your carbohydrate levels low, around 5% of your daily macros, you should still be able to stay in ketosis while eating a high level of protein and exercising regularly.

If you’re dedicated to maintaining the keto diet while supplementing protein with shakes or powders, measure your blood ketone levels at least once a week to ensure you’re staying in ketosis and adjust your protein intake accordingly if you see any significant changes.

5. Everything you need to know about protein shakes

What do protein shakes do?

Protein shakes simply ensure that you can easily increase your protein intake during the day without having to eat huge amounts of protein-rich foods. The ingredients in protein shakes are processed to make absorption of the nutrients easier so you get an even more concentrated level of protein than even the most available natural protein sources.

When should you drink protein shakes?

Most users take protein shakes after working out, when the body begins to repair itself and regenerate new cells to recover those damaged during your workout. Drinking protein shakes after working out helps your body go through the recovery process faster because it ensures the correct nutrients are available exactly when they’re needed.

However, protein shakes can be taken at any time during the day and can work effectively no matter when you take them. Because protein is the most filling macronutrient, protein shakes are often consumed as a snack between meals.

Overall, the goal to build lean muscle is focused on your daily protein intake so as long as you’re factoring protein shakes into this equation, you should see successful gains.

How can I make protein shake taste better?

Protein powder is a highly versatile ingredient that can be mixed into a great deal of recipes so if you’re not the biggest fan of the flavour of your protein powder, try mixing it into coffee, smoothies, porridge or pancakes to alter the flavour into something more attractive.

If that doesn’t work, protein powders come in a huge range of flavours that are sure to include one that you’ll like. A-List Nutrition stocks protein powders from some of the best US-based brands that come in countless exotic flavours. Whether it’s Alani-Nu’s fruity cereal, 1st Phorm’s root beer float or BPN’s apple pie, there are so many varieties to choose from to find your perfect product.

Some of the other most common complaints about protein shakes are a chalky consistency and stomach discomfort after consumption. If you’re concerned about these issues, you may want to try whey protein isolate. This version of whey protein goes through an extra phase of processing, making it easier to mix and digest.

How many protein shakes do I need a day?

There’s no strict rule that says how many protein shakes you should drink a day.There’s also no significant risk from consuming too much protein than your body can use. The only guideline you need to consider is how the shakes fit in with your recommended protein intake for the day. If you’ve calculated your guideline protein requirements and the best way to reach that is two protein shakes a day, this isn’t going to have a detrimental effect on your body.

As long as you’re monitoring your diet and combining protein supplementation with regular intensive exercise, how many protein shakes to drink in a day will depend on your personal goals and requirements.

What happens if you drink protein shake without working out?

Protein shakes alone won’t make you lose weight or build up your muscles. This is why it’s vital that you supplement protein in conjunction with intensive exercise to see the best results. Because protein contains calories, consuming protein shakes without regular exercise or an unbalanced diet can actually make it more difficult to lose weight.

However, if you’re on a rest day and wondering whether to have a protein shake, it’s important to remember your daily grams of protein requirement as this will be your best guide. Even on rest days, your body will be recovering from the exercise you do so consuming a high level of protein will still help you reach your goals.

6. Where to buy protein powder

What protein powder should I use?

The protein powder you choose will mostly be down to personal preference. It may be based on the flavour, you may prefer isolate over concentrate or you may need a vegan protein powder in line with your diet. A-List Nutrition provides a range of different kinds of protein powder to suit all needs so you can pick the perfect product that’s going to help you reach your goals.

Where to get a protein shaker

Protein shakers help you measure and mix protein shakes, making them a useful part of your regular routine. You can find top-quality protein shakers from a number of our brand partners at A-List Nutrition.

7. More FAQs

Does protein make you gain weight?

On its own, protein powder doesn’t strictly lead to weight loss or muscle growth, this can only be achieved with consistent exercise and a carefully considered diet. If you’re drinking protein shakes without exercising regularly, you could actually be gaining weight. This is because you need to be in a calorie deficit to lose weight and this may not be happening if you’re not exercising.

To ensure that you’re not gaining weight due to your protein shakes, take time to calculate how to reach a calorie deficit in line with how much exercise you’re doing.

Will protein give me energy?

Protein is not a stimulant, so it won’t give you a boost of energy like caffeine will. However, your body needs proteins to fuel itself and to generate more cells so protein is seen as a longer-lasting energy source.

If you’re looking for a boost of energy before you work out, consider mixing protein powder into coffee or start with a pre-workout powder and take a protein shake once you’re done.

Can protein powder go bad?

Protein powder is a low-moisture food, meaning it has a long storage life and isn’t prone to bacterial growth. However, it’s always a good idea to follow the expiration date recommendation on any product you purchase. You should also store your protein powder in a cool, dry place and keep an eye out for signs of spoiling, including a bitter taste, bad smell or changes in colour.

Can protein powder cause acne?

There have been studies that have identified an association between whey protein powder and acne, which is likely to do with the product being derived from milk. However, these studies are inconclusive and there is no absolute link between the two.

There could be many causes for acne breakouts so you don’t need to immediately cut out protein shakes. If you find yourself breaking out when drinking more shakes, try cutting down or switching to a plant-based protein powder first to see how your skin reacts and then you can determine if the whey protein was the direct cause of your breakout.

Can protein powder affect digestion?

As a derivative of milk, whey protein powder contains lactose. Given that this is often a difficult nutrient to digest, even sometimes for people who aren’t intolerant, this can lead to digestive issues. The most common issues are bloating, gas, stomach cramps and diarrhea.

These issues are most common with whey protein concentrate, as this is the least processed type of protein powder. If you experience any of these issues, consider switching to whey protein isolate, which undergoes an additional level of filtration, or vegan protein powder which contains no lactose.