- Convenience is the top benefit protein powders offer, especially for athletes
- Too much protein -- starting at about 35% of daily calories -- can lead to health issues
And there's an equally wide variety of products on the market. Here's what you should know about protein powders.
Protein is an important building block for muscle as well as hair, skin and nails. Powders are dehydrated forms from sources such as milk, soy or plants. They're typically mixed with water or other beverages, or they can be added to foods to boost protein content.
Athletes' protein needs can be up to twice those of the average person because of the energy they expend and the process of breaking down, repairing and building muscle. Many vegans also use protein powders in lieu of animal-based sources such as meat, dairy or eggs.
The recommended dietary allowance
for protein is about 0.8 grams per kilogram of body weight each day, which translates to 54 grams for a 150-pound person.
However, "I think those estimates are a little conservative," nutritionist and health journalist Lisa Drayer
said, "because as you get older, you lose muscle mass, and it's important to consume an adequate amount of protein to preserve muscle mass, even if you're not an athlete." She recommends that the average adult get 20% to 25% of their calories from protein: 100 to 125 grams for a person on a 2,000-calorie diet.
Protein needs vary by the individual; older adults or those recovering from surgery or illness might need more.
Protein powder pros
Convenience is the top benefit protein powders offer, especially for athletes or those looking to supplement their diets. "Even athletes who have some of the highest needs can meet their needs through foods," said Drayer, who also writes about nutrition for CNN. "It's really like, do you want to bring the yogurt and nuts after running a half-marathon, or would you rather have the protein supplement there?"
Similarly, "if you're just low on protein and you just don't have the appetite for a chicken breast for dinner, it's just a nice way to mix into smoothies or oatmeal or baked goods."