Harder, better, faster, stronger… Or at least that’s what they promised on the packaging of your $75 container of protein powder. You may have started using protein powder because you started going to the gym, you wanted to build muscle or just because all your friends were using it. But is your protein powder really packing the punch you bargained for? Is it the secret to gaining those arms of steel or rock-hard abs?

Protein is responsible for many important processes in the body like repairing muscle damage, building muscle and providing a source of fuel. Too little protein has been shown to negatively affect performance and slow down recovery time, which may be the reason many believe that adding more protein to your diet is needed1.

But how much is enough? Protein should make up about 10 to 35% of your daily caloric intake and according to Health Canada, a healthy adult only requires 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram of bodyweight1,2. This means that the average 172-pound3 . North American male only requires about 62 grams of protein per day. That’s a little over two scoops of protein powder, for most brands, without taking the protein you get from your diet into consideration. Some of the different kind of protein powders on the market are whey, casein, rice, hemp, pea, egg and soy protein. Your health goals will determine which type you chose5.

More isn’t always better… Even though you’re looking to put on some muscle at the gym, more protein won’t necessarily be helpful. Too much protein can cause you to actually store fat instead of gain muscle and higher protein diets are often higher in fat and lower in other important nutrients like carbohydrates and fibre1. Only athletes who train intensely everyday or for several hours a day have higher protein needs. Athletes who are more focused on endurance sports, such as marathon runners, require upwards of about 1.4 grams of protein per kilogram of bodyweight1 . Athletes who are more focused on strength-related activities, such as body building, require an upwards of about 1.7 grams of protein per kilogram of bodyweight1 . Protein powders may be useful if you’re not big on meat, but the average North American can easily meet their protein requirements from the food they eat from non-meat sources4 , especially with the variety of meatless protein options available in today’s market. Additionally, food sources of protein taste better, are less expensive and more nutritious1 .

Instead of using protein powder in your shakes, here are a few suggestions for powder-free smoothies that will also provide a great source of whole protein from a food source:

  • Add 1/2 cup low-fat cottage cheese: A half cup portion will give you approximately 14g of protein and 81 calories. While other members of the dairy family such as kefir and Greek yogurt have been getting all of the limelight, cottage cheese packs even more protein and adds a creamy-thick texture that blends smooth. 
  • It’s all about the seeds! These nutrient-filled powerhouses will give quite the boost to your smoothie and keep you fuller longer. Here are some suggestions:
    • Chia Seeds– 2 tbsp will provide, 40% of your daily fibre needs and 4.7g of protein
    • Pumpkin Seeds– 2 tbsp will provide 5g of protein and 126 calories
    • Hemp seeds– these slightly nutty seeds pair well with mostly everything and will provide 9g of protein and 164 calories
    • Flax seeds which provide 2g of protein per tbsp are also a great source of fiber and Omega-3 fatty acids.  
  • Don’t forget about the veggies: Don’t overlook your leafy veggies as a source of protein. Shake up your bag of kale and use it not only on your salads- kale can be a welcome addition to a refreshing summer smoothie- blend it with some citrus to get an extra kick: try pineapple juice or fresh grapefruit. A portion will provide you about 3g of protein and 33 calories.
  • Silken Tofu: Here is another way to use this plant-based kitchen staple. Make sure to use silken, not firm tofu, which will lend itself well in your smoothie and add a creamy thick texture without a strong overwhelming flavour. Tofu works well with fruits- try it paired with berries or bananas and sprinkle some coconut flakes for a beautiful combination. About 90g of tofu will provide you 5g of protein depending on the brand you buy.

So what’s the secret to gaining muscle? Sorry to disappoint you if you were looking for a simple and easy solution, but it’s a healthy body image, a well-balanced diet and a progressive strength-training regime1 . It might take a lot of meal planning and hours at the gym, but as long as you make sure your expectations are realistic and you don’t overdo it, all that hard work will pay off!

Jane Skapinker

Registered Dietitian


  1. Protein for Active Canadians. (2011). Retrieved July 27, 2015, from http://www.csep.ca/CMFiles/publications/dfc/Protein_booklet_e.pdf
  2. Dietary Reference Intakes: Macronutrients. (n.d.). Retrieved July 27, 2015, from http://www.nal.usda.gov/fnic/DRI/DRI_Tables/macronutrients.pdf
  3. Comparative Mammalian Brain Collections: Human (Homo sapiens). (n.d.). Retrieved July 27, 2015, from http://www.brainmuseum.org/specimens/primates/human/index.html
  4. Sports Nutrition: Facts on Sports Supplements. (n.d.). Retrieved July 27, 2015, from http://www.eatrightontario.ca/en/Articles/Physical-Activity/Sports-nutrition—Facts-on-sports-supplements.aspx#.VbaCwberjtt
  5. The Ultimate Guide to Protein Supplements. (2015). Retrieved October 2, 2017 from https://greatist.com/fitness/protein-supplement-nutrition-guide

Monday, January 29, 2018 in
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