Why I, a noodle-armed wimp, incorporate protein powder into my diet

Spray-tanned bodybuilders posing at competition
I don’t have buns of steel, but I do enjoy a little protein boost in the afternoons.
Photo: INTI OCON (Getty Images)

I’m creeping up on 30, and I still can’t do a push-up. I’ve never been able to do a push-up and at this point I’m at peace with the fact that I may never do a push-up. I’m a pretty active little critter, big into running and hiking and squatting, but I can’t lift my own body weight to save my damn life. But despite my status as a noodle-armed loser, I still suck down at least one scoop of protein powder most days.


First, two disclaimers: 1) I’m not a nutritional expert, and 2) there’s a good chance that you already consume an okay amount of protein—especially if you cook with meat. The FDA currently recommends that the average American adult consume around 50 grams of protein a day, with plenty of wiggle room depending on your dietary and exercise goals. If you want a more tangible way to think about it, one egg provides roughly 6 grams of protein, while a piece of fish the size of a deck of cards (little tiny fish!) offers about 30 grams. My problem is I don’t cook with meat or fish all that often, and I have a major morning sweet tooth that legally prohibits me from eating eggs for breakfast when I could be eating something like a cardamom bun or Special K Chocolatey Delight. Hence, my tentative journey into the chalky world of protein powder.

I started using protein powder when I was working 50 to 60 very physical hours a week at a nonprofit. I felt tired and depressed all the time, and a therapist recommended I take a look at my protein intake. (I didn’t heed all of her advice; she also told me to go outdoors without sunglasses to “look in the general direction of the sun” for 15 minutes a day. Also, quitting the job helped.)

After taking a closer look at my diet, I realized I was only getting around 30 grams of protein a day. I stole a bunch of smoothie recipes from a boyfriend who worked at a health food store, dumped a scoop or two of whey protein into my favorite blends, and drank a protein smoothie every afternoon for a few weeks. I swear I started feeling better. I had more energy, and my depression symptoms felt a lot more manageable. Plus, the afternoon smoothies kept me from crashing around 3 p.m. each day.

Turns out, there’s a connection between adequate protein intake and a healthy brain. Amino acids, the building blocks of protein, help produce neurotransmitters. Neurotransmitters are the handy chemicals that allow brain cells to communicate with each other, keeping everything working the way it’s supposed to.

And as we know from our good friends Hans and Franz, protein powder can also help make you buff as hell. If gaining muscle is your goal, protein helps the cells in your body kickstart protein synthesis, which helps your body heal and grow bigger muscles after, say, an intense weight-lifting session. Once again, I am not buff, but it’s nice to feel like I’m taking steps toward someday becoming buff. You know?

One caveat: you need to be careful when choosing your protein powder, especially if you’re ordering it online. This article from Harvard Medical School explains that protein powder is classified as a dietary supplement, which means it isn’t regulated like food or medicine. According to the article, while the FDA’s Good Manufacturing Practices (GMPs) are meant to keep unregulated products safe, roughly 25% of supplement manufacturers received purity citations in 2017. What’s in these tainted powders? I don’t know. Bugs, maybe.

These days, I keep it simple. I opt for Trader Joe’s vanilla whey protein, which gives my afternoon smoothies a sweet and creamy kick. Two scoops serve up 16 grams of protein, which is usually enough to help me hit 50 grams per day. Trader Joe’s whey powder also doesn’t have the cloying, artificial aftertaste that I’ve experienced with other protein powders, some of which are absolutely disgusting. (The worst I’ve ever tried was TITAN Devil’s Food Cake, which tasted like a ground-up 3 Musketeers Bar covered in wet stevia. I put it in a peanut butter smoothie and the powder’s fake sweetness was insanely overpowering.) Again, there’s a chance that you already consume plenty of protein—but if you struggle like me, you might find that protein powder equals higher energy and a happier brain. Even if it doesn’t immediately PUMP [clap] YOU UP!


Staff writer @ The Takeout, joke writer elsewhere. Wrangling dogs and pork shoulder in Chicago.



This is for my own benefit - thought I would share.
Do You Need Protein Powders?
“Whey is the most commonly used, because it’s a water-soluble milk protein,” says Peter Horvath, PhD, associate professor in the department of exercise and nutrition sciences at the State University of New York at Buffalo. “It’s also a complete protein, so it’s got all those advantages.” (Complete proteins contain all nine of the amino acids necessary for human dietary needs.)“

The hidden dangers of protein powders
A protein powder is a dietary supplement. The FDA leaves it up to manufacturers to evaluate the safety and labeling of products. So, there’s no way to know if a protein powder contains what manufacturers claim.

  • We don’t know the long-term effects. “There are limited data on the possible side effects of high protein intake from supplements,” McManus says.
  • It may cause digestive distress. “People with dairy allergies or trouble digesting lactose [milk sugar] can experience gastrointestinal discomfort if they use a milk-based protein powder,” McManus points out.
  • It may be high in added sugars and calories. Some protein powders have little added sugar, and others have a lot (as much as 23 grams per scoop). Some protein powders wind up turning a glass of milk into a drink with more than 1,200 calories. The risk: weight gain and an unhealthy spike in blood sugar. The American Heart Association recommends a limit of 24 grams of added sugar per day for women and 36 grams for men.
  • Researchers screened 134 products for 130 types of toxins and found that many protein powders contained heavy metals (lead, arsenic, cadmium, and mercury), bisphenol-A (BPA, which is used to make plastic), pesticides, or other contaminants with links to cancer and other health conditions. Some toxins were present in significant quantities. For example, one protein powder contained 25 times the allowed limit of BPA.

The Clean Label Project
The Clean Label Project award program is based on food and consumer product safety issues that consumers are increasingly caring about- heavy metals, pesticide residues, and plasticizers, other chemicals of concern, and truth in labeling. All programs require unannounced retail product sampling and testing. Clean Label Project is an unbiased, science-based nonprofit educating consumers about quality in consumers products on the market today.

There are many benefits from protein powders, but you can’t just go into your local GNC and grab what looks like a tasty 300oz of a familiar brand. Price does not dictate quality, as the basics of a whey protein are the same whether you’re spending $10 or $100 for a product with the same ingredients. Taste is based upon trial and error, so research by reading comments from other users from multiple sites-this goes for the quality as well, as each are not as water-soluble as the next. Use the Clean Label Project to find hidden dangers or to determine whether the product is given a two thumbs up. I’m sold on the usage of whey protein powders, after this amount of research, as long as I do my due diligence to find the right product(s).