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Should I take protein supplements?

As a general rule, supplements should be used for supplemental purposes only and should not be a substitute for your meals. However, if you are low on your protein for the day then a protein shake, or protein supplement can be a good way to hit your daily protein target. There are a number of great protein supplements available such as whey which is made as a by-product of dairy processing or various plant-based proteins. These proteins can be purchased in powdered form and added to liquids to make protein shakes that provide a quick hit of protein.

The main thing to watch out for with protein powder and supplements is that the ingredients are of high quality. Some protein manufacturers use low-quality whey and so their products are around 35% protein instead of 90% protein and they are often loaded with flavourings, colorings and additional compounds. In general, you should look for supplements that are cGMP certified (certified good manufacturing processes) as that means the labels are accurate.

If you are low on your protein, then do not be afraid to have multiple protein supplements or shakes per day as protein is protein so it doesn’t really matter whether it comes from a chicken breast or a protein shake. It can also be great option if you aren’t hungry but need a hit of protein to reach your macro target or if you want to stave off hunger without having any carbs and fat.

If you are getting serious about exercise, then you may also want to look at BCAA’s (Branched Chain Amino Acids) which are the broken-down amino acid molecules from protein. BCAA’s can be absorbed into your bloodstream even faster than a protein supplement and typically do not contain calories. They are great to have before an early morning workout or to help offset muscle catabolism if you can’t eat for a while.

You should aim to eat 0.45 grams of per pound of bodyweight as a woman and 0.50 grams as a man each day[1]. Your focus with protein should be on the times that you are eating protein. Don’t worry too much about your mix of essential, semi and non-essential proteins as long as you are eating a wide variety of protein sources over a 24-hour period and hitting your protein target. Try to limit the amount of red and processed meat to less than 50g to 70g per day (about 350g to 500g per week) and aim to get most of your intake from healthier protein sources such as lean meats and fish.

[1] For metric units: 1.0 grams of per kilogram of bodyweight as a woman and 1.1 grams as a man

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