• Plate full of several cooked steaks with a sprig of fresh parsley on top.

Along with the raising popularity of gym culture and building muscle, athletes and people in general have been all over the protein hype. Protein is arguably one of the most important nutrients what we need to sustain ourselves.  It is a nutrient we need in large quantities that provides us with energy, specifically 4 calories per gram. Chemically, protein is made of smaller components called amino acids linked together. There are 20 amino acids, 9 essential ones (histidine, isoleucine, leucine, lysine, methionine, phenylalanine, threonine, tryptophan and valine) which must be obtained from the diet, and 11 non-essential amino acids (alanine, arginine, asparagine, aspartic acid, cysteine, glutamic acid, glutamine, glycine, proline, serine and tyrosine) which our body can produce on its own. Protein make up important components of our bones, muscles, cartilage, skin and blood.1 They also form many enzymes and hormones in our body that help us function regularly.1

Types of protein

Protein can be categorized as either animal-based or plant-based. Animal-based protein tends to be complete protein, meaning it provides all 9 essential amino acids. Examples of popular animal-based protein include meat, eggs, poultry and seafood. Plant protein on the other hand tends to be incomplete, meaning lacking in some essential amino acids. Therefore, it is recommended to consume multiple types of plant proteins, known as complementary proteins, so that all essential amino acids can be obtained from the diet. Examples of complementary plant-based proteins include rice and beans or peanut butter and bread. Other plant-based protein sources include soy, seeds and nuts.

Supplements and what scientific evidence says

Protein supplements have gained increasing popularity, two of the more popular ones being protein powder and protein shakes. Protein powder can come as either plant-based or animal-based. Whey protein, an animal-based protein, is the  most popular type of powder, and can be beneficial when supplemented with resistance training. This type of training activates your muscles to move against a weight or a form of resistance. In a recent study, whey protein supplementation showed improvements in recovery after resistance exercise.2 Popular types of plant-based protein powder include soy, pea and almond. Both plant and animal-based protein powders can show similar benefits in body composition after high intensity functional training according to a recent study.3 High intensity functional training refers to exercise that involves dynamic repetitive movements, can incorporate resistance and often involves multiple muscles and joints.4 As for supplement timing, intaking protein supplements both before and after workouts has shown to be effective for muscle strength and growth, especially in untrained individuals.4 Another popular protein supplement is protein shakes. If you prefer to add more liquid to your diet, these shakes can easily be taken on the go, and can be a tasty beverage with high protein content. It is important to choose the protein shake that tastes good, has enough protein to meet your needs, and has the type of protein that fits your dietary preferences.

How much protein should we consume? What happens if we consume too much or too little?

Clearly, we should all strive to consume adequate amounts of protein in our everyday diet. The Recommended Daily Allowance (RDA) for protein is at least 0.8 g/kg body weight for the average person. For example, someone who weighs 175 pounds should consume at least 63.6 g of protein a day. Those who are more active may have higher protein allowances such as athletes. but what happens when we consume too much or too little? Excess protein may result in weight gain since protein contains calories, as well as feeling fuller faster. on the other hand, a deficiency in protein may lead to muscle loss and eventually malnutrition.

What protein is best for me?

Protein is best consumed in the form that is most appropriate for your lifestyle. Incorporating protein rich foods through diet should be your first approach, whether that is animal or plant based. However, if you struggle to get enough protein through diet and instead are looking for something more convenient, a protein shake might be easiest to grab on the go or have a scoop of protein powder mixed into your beverages. If you are looking for individual nutritional recommendations for your specific needs, please contact a Registered Dietitian (RD).


  1. Protein. MyPlate. (n.d.). Retrieved March 6, 2023, from https://www.myplate.gov/eat- healthy/protein-foods
  2. West, D., Abou Sawan, S., Mazzulla, M., Williamson, E., & Moore, D. (2017). Whey protein supplementation enhances whole body protein metabolism and performance recovery after resistance exercise: A double-blind crossover study. Nutrients, 9(7), 735. https://doi.org/10.3390/nu9070735
  3. Banaszek, A., Townsend, J. R., Bender, D., Vantrease, W. C., Marshall, A. C., & Johnson, K. D. (2019). The effects of whey vs. Pea Protein on physical adaptations following 8-weeks of high-intensity functional training (HIFT): A pilot study. Sports, 7(1), 12. https://doi.org/10.3390/sports7010012
  4. Park, Y., Park, H.-Y., Kim, J., Hwang, H., Jung, Y., Kreider, R., & Lim, K. (2019). Effects of whey protein supplementation prior to, and following, resistance exercise on body composition and training responses: A randomized double-blind placebo-controlled study. Journal of Exercise Nutrition & Biochemistry, 23(2), 34–44. https://doi.org/10.20463/jenb.2019.0015
  5. Titi-Lartey, O. A., & Gupta, V. (2022, July 25). Marasmus - StatPearls - NCBI Bookshelf. StatPearls. Retrieved March 7, 2023, from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK559224/
  6. Benjamin O, Lappin S.L. (2022, July 19). Kwashiorkor – StatPearls NCBI Bookshelf. StatPearls. Retrieved April 24, 2023, from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK559224/

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