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27th February, 20213 min read

Should you be using protein powder?

Medical reviewer: Dr Ann Nainan
Author: Jennifer Co
Last reviewed: 27/02/2021
Medically reviewed

All of Healthily's articles undergo medical safety checks to verify that the information is medically safe. View more details in our safety page, or read our editorial policy.

Protein powder is a type of dietary supplement that’s used to boost protein intake. If you follow a balanced diet, you should get enough protein from the food you eat, however there may be times when your body needs extra protein, for example:

  • you’re recovering from surgery or injury
  • you’re starting a muscle-building exercise routine
  • you’re increasing how much you exercise
  • you’re pregnant or breastfeeding
  • you’ve lost your appetite due to illness, a medical condition or treatment

Research suggests that protein powder may help with muscle gain, recovery after exercising, and weight loss.

Protein powder for muscle gain

Protein is essential for muscle growth and there is some evidence that protein supplements improve muscle size and strength in adults who do resistance training, like weight lifting – but only to a point. One study found that when it came to muscle building and strengthening, there was no benefit beyond taking more than 1.6g of protein per kilogram of body weight.

In older people, who have higher protein requirements, combining protein supplements and resistance training doesn’t seem to increase muscle mass or strength.

Protein powder for recovery after exercise

Protein helps repair muscles and tissue and many athletes take it to help with muscle soreness after training. Studies show that protein powder taken after exercise can help recovery by reducing muscle damage and boosting muscle performance.

Protein powder for weight loss

Protein-rich food can help you feel fuller for longer and as a result, reduce how much you snack and eat generally.

According to one study, whey protein in particular may promote weight loss. But beware: too much protein in the diet could lead to weight gain. Some protein powders also contain added sugar. Speak to your doctor or a nutritionist if you’re thinking about taking protein for weight loss.

Which protein powder is right for me?

Protein powders come from a variety of sources and the type of protein powder you might take depends on your reason for taking it. For example:

  • whey – better for muscle growth compared to other protein powders but not recommended if you are sensitive to dairy products as it’s made from dairy
  • casein – digested more slowly compared to whey protein and can keep you fuller for longer
  • pea – a plant-based option with similar muscle-strengthening benefits to whey protein
  • soy – a plant-based option that’s better for muscle growth than casein and is similar to whey protein for gaining muscle strength

Learn more about how to use protein powder here.

Key points

  • protein powders increase our protein intake, which is sometimes necessary if we aren’t getting enough protein from the food we eat
  • protein powders may help with muscle growth and repair and weight loss
  • protein powders are made a from variety of sources, including dairy and plants
  • protein powders can contain added sugar
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We include references at the end of every article, so you know where we get our facts. We only ever take evidence from medically-recognised sources, approved by the UK National Health Service's The Information Standard, or certified by Health On the Net (HON). When we talk about popular health trends or claims, we'll always tell you if there's very little or no evidence to back them up. Our medical team also checks our sources, making sure they're appropriate and that we've interpreted the science correctly.

Important: Our website provides useful information but is not a substitute for medical advice. You should always seek the advice of your doctor when making decisions about your health.

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