Protein powder is seemingly ubiquitous — it’s in every convenience store and supermarket, sold at most gyms, and flashed across our social media. But do you really need it?

A Statista poll found that 46% of Americans regularly consume protein powder and shakes. This equates to a predicted 40.3 billion dollar protein industry in 2032 — for whey protein alone!

So in a few words: protein is big business.

On the other hand, protein is indisputably important. Without it, we couldn’t grow muscle, repair cells, or improve our immunity.

But the real questions are, is protein worth the hype? Or have we been oversold and over served? Do you need protein powder to supplement your diet, whether for weight loss or building muscle?

In this article, we dig into the science of how much protein you likely need — from vegetarians like us to professional athletes, and everyone in between.

We’ll also share what protein is doing for our bodies and how to find the sweet spot for yourself to optimize your protein intake. The answer might not be as obvious as you think.

Finally, the article is capped off with a few reputable brand recommendations that we buy ourselves, to make sure we’re making the most of what we eat. 


do i need protein powder ryan and alex duo life

do i need protein powder?

First off, let’s take a look at what protein is and does for our bodies.

Protein is one of three macronutrients, along with carbohydrates and fat. Each three are essential to comprise a healthy diet. Proteins specifically are made up of amino acids, commonly referred to as “the building blocks of the body.”

You need protein to build and repair muscles, in addition to providing energy, building the foundation for your organs, and supporting growth. People also need to consume nine essential amino acids that the body cannot produce itself. It must come from outside protein.

Protein is incredibly important to a diet, which is why it’s blasted at us in all forms of advertising. However, despite this mass-marketing, only 3% of the US population have a protein deficiency. Interestingly enough, 97% of the US population is fiber deficient.

Side note: Fiber intake is one of the five numbers that we monitor closely in this 30-day weight loss challenge. Increasing fiber intake is more effective for weight loss than increasing protein intake. Take a look at our high fiber foods chart for some food inspiration.

In other words, it’s unlikely that you are protein deficient unless you’re vegan or vegetarian.

But before you throw in the towel and cancel your protein shake subscriptions, we actually had a change of heart once we began monitoring our metabolic health. We found that our metabolism responded better when we consciously upped our protein intake.

But of course, quality is more important than just quantity. We’ll share more on our experience soon, and how you can track your body’s nutritional needs too.

How Much Protein Do You Need?

The RDI (recommended dietary intake) is to consume 0.36 grams of protein for every 1 pound of body weight daily, or 0.8 grams of protein per every 1 kg of body weight. That means a 200-pound person would need to eat 72 grams of protein a day.

This ratio has been hotly debated. Most say it’s too low, and should be closer to 1 gram of protein per 1 pound of body weight (almost 3X the RDI!).

The biggest difference here is that everyone’s protein needs are different. Professional athletes, pregnant women, cancer patients, males over females, vegans and vegetarians, and even older adults may require more protein.

(Speaking of vegans, here’s our list, in order, of the best plant-based protein sources.)

Still, the truth remains that most people are not protein deficient. And for the 46% of Americans who supplement with protein powder, it’s unlikely that all of them are on an appropriate training and exercise plan that successfully converts their excess protein into muscle.

Plus, be warned: you can have too much of a good thing. While protein is an excellent tool while building muscle, if it is not paired with the correct training schedule, adding in protein needlessly not only wastes money, but can cause you to gain weight, become constipated, and increase the risk of cancer.’

Side note: Looking for a muscle-building workout plan that can correctly use your protein powder? Here’s our free 12-Week Dumbbell Workout Plan.

Quality Protein and Metabolic Health

Our tune changed quite a bit after tracking our metabolism in real time with a game-changing little device called Lumen. Like a little breathalyzer, Lumen analyzes the carbon dioxide in your breath to tell you if you’re burning, say, 65% fat and 35% carbs in that exact moment.

We completely geeked out with it (full Lumen review here along with discount codes for our readers. They’re pretty awesome.) We began measuring how our bodies responded during fasting, with different macro ratios, and even with different workouts.

While we always strive to get our protein in whole foods (like a handful of almonds)… life isn’t perfect with a toddler and a meal replacement shake helps us get our missing nutrients in 30 seconds flat.

Anyway, during our Lumen experiments, we found that when we had a shake, we woke up the next morning consistently in fat-burn instead of carb-burn mode. I’m talking about getting morning numbers that told us every day we were burning 95% or 90% fat and 5% or 10% carbs.

Those are great mornings.

Waking up in fat-burn isn’t just great for weight loss and body composition, but it also improves metabolic flexibility. Metabolic flexibility is a strong indicator of your overall health and your body’s ability to process food, boost immunity, improve sleep quality, and increase energy levels, among others.

So, that’s our main reason for consuming more protein: because our metabolisms and bodies demanded it! Thank you, data!

And we actually don’t drink a “protein shake.” We opt for “meal replacement shakes,” and here’s why.

Why We Drink A Meal-Replacement Shake With Protein

After hundreds of hours of research comparing at least 50 shakes on the market, here’s our full review with dozens of unbiased data and graphs — we are engineers after all! Of all the shakes we tested, only two truly “passed” our tests: LyfeFuel and Shakeology.

These two shakes, better than any other we’ve found, include a mix of top-quality, plant-based proteins to cover all nine essential amino acids (more on that below), as well as other superfoods to cover our adaptogens, prebiotics, probiotics, and antioxidants.

Specifically, LyfeFuel has a higher protein macronutrient profile, so it wins our best of for a meal replacement shake loaded with high quality protein.

Here is our Lyfefuel review (10% off with discount code RYANANDALEX) and Shakeology review for even more information.

Even amongst these shakes, you have a selection of vegan and non-vegan protein options. Let’s dive into more details below.

Types of Protein Shakes

Whey Protein

This is the most popular protein powder as it’s readily available and the most cost-effective. Whey protein is made from the byproducts of milk, so we recommend looking for grass-fed options whenever you can. Whey protein is easily absorbed by the body and is suitable for either right after or before a workout.

Some people aren’t a good fit for whey protein powder, as the side effects can range from bloating to stomach cramps. People with sensitive stomachs may do better with a plant-based protein like pea, rice, or soy.

Always buy protein powder containing whey protein isolate (WPI) instead of whey protein concentrate (WPC). The latter is far less pure, containing less protein.

Casein Protein

Casein protein powder is another byproduct of dairy. Casein is sometimes called the “bedtime” shake because of its slow absorption rate. So, people like to drink it before bed.

Pea Protein

Pea protein powder is a solid option when opting for plant-based protein. Split peas are high in protein, and studies show comparable to whey protein for muscle-building effectiveness.

Note that peas are not a complete source of protein, meaning they do not contain all nine essential amino acids. However, pairing pea protein with rice protein does cover all nine.

Rice Protein

Rice protein powder is another common plant-based protein. Slightly lower protein content than pea, but as we mention, a mix of the two has all 9 essential amino acids.

Soy Protein

Soy protein powder is often vilified for its estrogen content, but it is another plant-based solution. There is a lot of research going either way, but some show that it doesn’t affect body composition adversely. We typically steer clients clear of using soy protein due to allergies, despite it being a complete protein.

Note: There are a few plants that are complete proteins, containing all 9 essential amino acids, including quinoa, buckwheat, and soy.

For us, we opt for plant-based protein drinks, usually with a mix of plants but mainly sourced from pea protein. For example, one of the staples in our pantry, Vegan Chocolate Shakeology, sources its protein from chia, pea, Sacha inchi, flax, quinoa, rice, and oats, covering all nine essential amino acids.

How to Pick a Protein Supplement?

Our recommendation is to choose a shake that has not only protein but also has other nutritional benefits. If you go through the hassle of making a shake, why only get protein out of it?

A more well-rounded health shake or meal replacement shake like Shakeology or LyfeFuel ensures that you can also get enough fiber and probiotics. Kill two birds with one stone and improve your poop health and gut health as well.

Remember that while 97% of Americans get enough protein, 97% of Americans are fiber deficient.

We look at our shakes as an opportunity to fill in the gaps in our day’s nutrition. While we strive to eat the rainbow, it’s not always easy, and our shake is our best friend while traveling or out of our regular routine. So, we have a few favorite shake additives that we like to throw in based on how we’re feeling.

Engineer Your Protein Shake<

We also take the opportunity (when we’re not on the go) to engineer more nutrients into our shakes. Here are some of our favorites. Both frozen or fresh ingredients should be added to the blender.

Focus and Memory Boosters

Avocados, beets, blueberries, broccoli, celery, coconut, dark chocolate, cacao powder, rosemary, turmeric, and walnuts.

Immunity Boosters

Grapefruits, tangerines, ginger, greek yogurt, almonds, sunflower seeds, papayas, and kiwis.

Energy Boosters

Cacao powder, maca powder, bananas, apples, goji berries, quinoa, oranges, and strawberries.

Protein Powder Before or After a Workout?

Conventional wisdom says that your body needs protein powder within 30 minutes of a hard, weightlifting workout. However, it’s more important to consume enough protein at any time throughout the day.

Ryan likes having his shake as a reward for finishing a morning workout, while Alex spent many years drinking it for lunch. No matter what, find the time that’s right for you and spread your protein intake throughout the day.

How To Make Protein Shakes?

Here are a few of our favorite recipes. They key is to add in enough liquid and a banana (which makes it creamy). We also like to hide in a serving of frozen spinach or kale, because it’s masked by the taste anyways!

Also, a good Blender Bottle (the ProStack system is great for on the go) helps! The best blenders we have used (we’ve used at least two dozen) are this KitchenAid and this Vitamix.

Here are some ideas for smoothie recipes based on the flavor of protein powder you have: Chocolate recipes, vanilla recipes, and strawberry recipes.

Our Takeaway Message

If you asking yourself, “Do I need a protein powder,” the answer is likely no.

The odds are that you’re not protein deficient if living on the Western diet, but there are certain scenarios when you might benefit drinking a protein powder.

We found, using our real-time metabolism data from Lumen, that our bodies would more easily kick into fat-burn when we had a shake. Still, knowing that we likely consumed enough protein as is, we chose a full meal replacement shake that offered more than just protein.

Shakes like LyfeFuel and Shakeology, specifically, also provide superfood vitamins and minerals, adaptogens, pre and probiotics, and digestive enzymes.

Have any questions on whether your protein shake is right for you? Reply in the comments and we’ll share some insight into our research.

30-Day Weight Loss Challenge Tracker Form V2 Ryan and Alex Duo Life

30-Day Weight Loss Challenge

As engineers with a combined twelve years of health coaching experience, we needed to create a data-driven way for our clients to sustain weight loss.

Too many weight loss challenges involve a long list of what you can, cannot, and need to do every day. We’ve reduced the overwhelm and only require you to track five numbers a day — calories, steps, fiber, sleep, and waistline.

You’ll track five numbers daily to give you the highest return for sustainable weight loss. As a bonus, we’ll share our Weight Loss Bundle, which includes strategies, progress tracking tools, and additional weight loss plans.

Learn more about the program.

As Seen In Feature Bar Ryan and Alex Duo Life

Hey we're Ryan and Alex

A husband-wife duo, two engineers, and the creators of Ryan and Alex Duo Life. 

After eight years working in the corporate world as engineers, we left our to tackle our true passion:

Helping highly motivated couples optimize their relationship and health by cutting through the muck and sharing what the research says works.

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