In an ideal world, you would get all of the important nutrients your body needs from whole foods. But we know that’s not how the real world works – there are times when you simply don’t have enough time to buy or prepare a complete meal, which is where protein powders and protein/carb formulas come in.
As we all know, protein is the most satiating of all three macronutrients and it plays a vital dietary role for people who train regularly, be it for the purpose of building as much lean mass as possible or getting optimally shredded.
Although good quality protein can be obtained from a variety of healthy food sources, such as lean meats, wild fish, diary and beans, for people with tight schedules or bulking aspirations, protein powders offer a convenient and easy way to meet the daily requirements of this life-sustaining nutrient.
In fact, increasing protein intake above recommended levels has been shown to enhance protein synthesis, postprandial thermogenesis, lean body mass, satiety and cardio-metabolic health, all of which are awesome fitness-enhancing benefits.
Yet, you can often hear claims that protein supplements are inferior to whole-food protein sources, or even that they’re unhealthy and dangerous. And let’s be honest, choosing a protein powder isn’t as easy as it used to be.
With so many different brands on the market looking to target all individual needs and tastes, this can be a rather complicated tasks – especially because there are some manufacturers who tend to use low-quality ingredients and load their products with fructose, artificial sweeteners and artificial flavors, which is really bad news for anyone committed to a healthy lifestyle.
But assuming that you’ve found the best brand, you might be still bothered by the dilemma about which protein source is superior – protein powders or high-protein whole foods?
Check out what exercise science expert Dr. Arciero has to say about it.
As a professor of health and exercise sciences and director of the Human Nutrition and Metabolism laboratory at Skidmore College, Dr. Paul J. Arciero has been a leading figure in research on protein pacing for losing weight and athletic performance.
“Protein pacing,” Dr. Arciero explains, “is the scientifically proven combination of eating healthy, lean, protein foods at the right time of day to maximize health and performance.”
By consuming protein multiple times throughout the day, you can maximize muscle maintenance and muscle building, as well as boost your metabolic rate and enhance energy expenditure. And according to Dr. Arciero, these are the 3 key rules of protein pacing that will help you accelerate fat loss and make bigger mass and strength gains at the gym:
- Consume at least 1.4 grams of protein per kilogram of bodyweight daily.
- Spread your protein intake over 4-6 meals per day.
- Consume about 20-30 grams of protein, or 25-35% of your total protein intake, per each meal.
Multiple studies have so far provided support for the protein-pacing strategy and emphasized its potential for maintaining muscle mass while stimulating greater fat loss; however, the final results heavily depend on the type of training the individual performs. After all, no amount of muscle-building food can compensate for a terrible training program… and vice versa.
But let’s take a look at Arciero’s most recent study.
Powder or Solid?
In a study published in Nutrients in 2016, a group of researchers led by Dr. Paul J. Arciero compared the benefits of protein powders and protein-rich whole food meals for building muscle and shedding fat in healthy individuals. Thanks to a previous study, the scientists already knew that replacing the traditional three big meals per day with 6 smaller meals worked better for shedding fat and building muscle, so now they wanted to find out whether 6 solid meals per day provided better results in terms of body composition and physical performance than 3 solid meals and 3 protein shakes per day.
For this goal, 30 chubby but otherwise healthy subjects were divided in two groups and put on a relatively high-protein diet (1.4 grams per kilogram of body weight). Both groups then did “protein pacing”, i.e. ate 5-6 meals per day for 16 weeks. However, one group consumed half their meals in the form of whey protein, while the other relied solely upon whole food sources. Both groups followed the same multi-mode fitness program consisting of resistance, interval sprint, stretching and endurance training.
After 16 weeks, both groups had obvious improvements in body composition and physcial perfromance, and they actually got almost the same results! In other words, the group that had 3 meals from protein powder improved just as much as the group that had 6 solid meals, which means that a good whey protein supplement really works just as great as whole food protein sources.
So yes, protein powders can be as good as protein-rich whole foods when it comes to boosting performance and sculpting a ripped physique. And since bodybuilders often have trouble eating the huge amounts of food they’re supposed to eat during one day, protein shakes can be of incredible help.
That being said, the type of protein used in the study was good-quality whey protein, which is definitely superior to soy protein and pea protein, but can’t really compare to a high-quality micellar casein. Studies have shown that micellar casein is the best muscle builder and fat burner among all protein types, as it’s more slowly digested and has powerful anticatabolic properties.
Regardless of what certain paranoid nutritionists say, protein supplements can definitely help you achieve your physique goals faster – as long as you choose them wisely and keep your training and diet in check – so make sure to get the most out of them.