The global protein supplement market has a current value of $14 billion, and it is expected to reach $21.5 billion by 2025.
Clearly, many people feel they can’t get enough protein from whole foods. But how do protein powders compare with whole foods? What are their advantages and disadvantages? Those are the first questions we need to answer.
How do protein powders compare with whole foods?
Relevant research is scarce but suggests that the same protein will have essentially the same effect whether it comes from whole food or a protein powder. Pragmatically, you can swap half of your daily whole-food protein for whey protein with no effect on your physical fitness or body composition. One study pitted casein alone against casein dissolved in milk serum. Another study pitted casein alone against casein taken with milk fat. Neither study found a significant difference in muscle protein synthesis (MPS).
And yet, with regard to MPS, studies found whole milk superior to skim milk and whole eggs superior to egg whites. Nutrients other than protein may influence MPS, of course. For instance, depending on how it is processed, whole milk may contain a compound called milk fat globule membrane (MFGM). Several studies have reported that supplementation with an isolated MFGM supplement improves physical function in various ways.
MPS shouldn’t be your only concern, of course. Protein’s amino acids, separately or combined as biologically active peptides, play vital roles throughout your body; and of course, whole foods contain vitamins, minerals, and other beneficial compounds. There is certainly nothing wrong with incorporating protein powder in your diet, but it should not be your whole diet!
What are the advantages of protein powders?
Getting all your protein from whole foods may be ideal, but it isn’t always practical, for at least five reasons: cost, convenience, calories, bioavailability, and appetite.
Cost. Protein for protein, a good protein powder is usually cheaper than whole foods.
Convenience. Cooking takes time. Eating whole foods takes time. And you probably can’t do either in your office or at the gym. A protein powder is a quick, non-messy, portable solution.
Calories. In whole foods, protein comes with carbs and fat, so that you may reach your optimal caloric intake before you reach your optimal protein intake.
Caloric content of whole-milk powder and whey protein concentrate