Check out any fitness junkie’s kitchen, and you’ll probably find a jar of protein powder lying around. Although it has a rep fit for bodybuilding competitions, protein powder isn’t just for people who are looking to boost their muscles—nutritionists say it can also help you lose weight if you use it correctly.
First things first, when it comes to health and weight loss, there is no magic bullet. Whether you want to get healthy or lose weight (and they're not always the same thing), it's a gradual process, and what works for some people doesn't work for others. If you do want to lose weight, it's important to think about why—and whether doing so is a healthy decision for your life right now. For example, if you have a history of disordered eating, you should talk to your doctor before starting a new eating plan. And even if you don't, you'll want to set healthy, rational expectations for yourself. When it comes down to it, weight loss is about a lot more than whether you throw some protein powder into your smoothie. It’s important to factor in whether you’re getting good rest and trying to keep your stress levels down, plus elements outside of your control, like health conditions and hormones. Most of all, treat yourself kindly, and don't rush the process. Success takes time.
Now, whether or not you're trying to lose weight or perhaps quell the constant hunger pangs you suspect are due to eating too little protein, protein powder may help. It's hard to overstate how important protein is, since the macronutrient is essential for building muscle and helping keep you full. And protein powder, which comes in multiple forms, is an easy way to make sure you're getting as much protein as you need (around 10 to 35 percent of your daily calories, depending on various factors) and maximizing its weight loss potential. “Protein is digested slowly and gives you more of a feeling of fullness than other macronutrients, which in turn can help you consume fewer calories,” Kacie Vavrek, M.S., R.D., C.S.S.D., L.D., at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center, tells SELF. It also doesn't cause blood sugar spikes, which make you feel hungry again quickly, as much as more sugary or carb-laden foods.
“Having a protein shake as a snack when you have a long time (more than four hours) between meals can help keep you satiated, so you won't be as tempted to have unhealthy snacks or overeat when you do finally have your next meal,” Albert Matheny , M.S., R.D., C.S.C.S., of SoHo Strength Lab and Promix Nutrition , tells SELF. Plus, protein powder can help you increase your protein intake without adding a lot of extra calories or fat, thus potentially leading to weight loss, he explains.
Consuming enough protein also helps prevent muscle loss, which is important because muscle is more metabolically active than fat—any time muscle is lost, your metabolism can decrease. That's why Matheny recommends making sure to get protein in within 30 minutes after strength training to refuel glycogen (i.e. energy) stores in your muscles. Your body is primed to take in nutrients to help repair your muscles after you work out, which is why timing is important, he explains.
But not all protein powders are created equal. Plant-based forms often digest more slowly than other varieties, Sam Accardi, R.D., L.D.N., lead dietitian for the Charge Group , tells SELF. And if you reach for a whey-based protein powder , check to make sure it's not loaded with artificial sweeteners. Also, protein powder can torpedo your weight loss efforts if you don’t use it properly, Beth Warren, R.D.N., founder of Beth Warren Nutrition and author of Living a Real Life With Real Food, tells SELF. Protein shakes can get a bit of a health halo, but they do contain calories, and taking in too much of anything can lead to weight gain, Warren says.
If you're ready to hop on the protein-powder bandwagon, Warren suggests looking for one with 12 to 15 grams of protein for serving. “The ones that are higher are most often combinations with added sugars, added amino acids, vitamins, and other ingredients that are not needed in excess,” she says. Once you're set on that front, just make sure you're not consuming so much protein you're suddenly feeling bloated —a common sign you're going overboard.
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