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Is protein powder good for you?


Ever wondered if protein shakes are actually a healthy choice? Our nutritionist answers all your questions

Protein is an essential nutrient needed by the body for growth, repairing damaged cells, making hormones, and building muscle. Protein is made up of building blocks called amino acids. There are nine essential amino acids which aren’t made by the body, so they need to come from the diet.

Typically associated with body building, protein powders have grown in popularity in recent years. People now use protein powder to help meet daily protein needs, gain or lose weight, with certain medical conditions or when recovering from injury or surgery.

There are a wide range of protein powders to choose from including whey, pea, casein and soy protein. 

Are protein shakes good for you?

Protein shakes are a convenient way to meet or increase daily protein intake. Adding protein powder to a snack or meal is an easy way to feel fuller for longer. They are not an essential part of the diet – you can meet your daily protein needs by eating protein-rich whole foods such as meat, fish, dairy, eggs, nuts, seeds, beans and legumes. By consuming these whole foods, you are also getting the added benefit of fibre, vitamins and minerals not present in the protein powder. Shop-bought protein shakes may contain added sugars so you are better off making them at home where you can control what’s going in them and save your pennies.

What are the main types of protein powder?

There are two types of protein powder, animal and plant. Popular animal proteins are whey and casein (both derived from milk), while pea and soy are favourite plant-based powders. There are a number of other types such as hemp, pumpkin seed, collagen and rice which can also be used in the same way, or in smoothies, shakes or baking such as pancakes and porridge.

What is pea protein and is it good for you?

  • Pea protein is a vegan source of protein made from green and yellow split peas
  • It contains all nine essential amino acids and is high in iron
  • It is low in an amino acid called methionine
  • It is not as readily absorbed as the animal proteins but is effective at building muscle

What is whey protein and is it good for you?

  • Whey protein is an animal protein derived from cow’s milk
  • It contains all nine essential amino acids and is rich in the amino acid leucine
  • It’s an easily digestible source of animal protein that’s absorbed quickly
  • It has been shown to support athletic performance and build muscle
  • Evidence suggests whey protein is better at reducing body fat and increasing lean body mass than other proteins, and may lower blood pressure
  • It’s not suitable for vegans, or those with dairy intolerance/allergy

What is casein protein and is it good for you?

  • Casein protein is an animal protein also derived from cow’s milk
  • It contains all nine essential amino acids
  • It is absorbed more slowly than whey protein, providing a steady release of amino acids
  • It keeps you fuller for longer and is more suited to periods of fasting or sleep
  • It’s not suitable for vegans or those with dairy intolerance/allergy

What is soy protein and is it good for you?

  • Soy protein is a plant protein derived from soy beans
  • It contains all nine essential amino acids and has a high protein content
  • It has been linked to some impressive health benefits including maintaining body composition
  • Soy contains phytoestrogens which in some individuals mimic the effect of the hormone oestrogen – there are pros and cons of including phytoestrogens in your diet – so soy protein might not be suited to everyone

Does protein make you gain weight?

Protein offers several benefits that can help with weight loss. It takes longer to digest than carbohydrates alone, filing you up for longer which can reduce the need for snacks or the likelihood of overeating. Protein can also help preserve and build lean muscle mass.

Protein shakes can help increase feelings of fullness and satiety. Consuming a protein shake as a meal replacement or a snack can help reduce hunger and calorie intake. This can be especially helpful for those who struggle with portion control or frequent snacking; however, powders and shakes should not replace whole food sources of protein in the diet.


Jo is a registered nutritionist (RNutr) with the Association for Nutrition with a specialism in public health. Since graduating from the University of Westminster in 2010, Jo has worked in a variety of public and private contexts, delivering weight management programmes, community cookery projects, and corporate wellness packages. Alongside trying to grow more of her own fruit and veg at her allotment, Jo works as a Nutritionist and Health Coach for Second Nature. She has contributed articles to a number of nutrition websites, including Good Food.

All health content on goodfood.com is provided for general information only, and should not be treated as a substitute for the medical advice of your own doctor or any other health care professional. If you have any concerns about your general health, you should contact your local health care provider. See our website terms and conditions for more information.

Via Good Food.

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