Healthy Eating for Your Active Lifestyle

Have you ever wondered if you should use protein powder or if you really need the additional protein? There already may be a tub of protein powder in your house that a family member uses. When you know the importance of maintaining your body’s muscle mass, getting enough protein throughout the day becomes a top priority.

Do I Need to Use Protein Powder?

To maintain or build muscle mass, research shows that you should aim for 20-30 grams of protein at each meal. The table in Maximize Your Muscle will familiarize you with the protein content of various protein-rich foods. As a quick reference, the palm of your hand, both size and thickness, represents a portion of meat, fish or poultry (2 ½ oz. or 75 g). This amount contains about 20-25 grams of protein. Getting enough protein at meals is possible without the use of protein supplements. Always choose whole food first as your protein source as it provides not only protein but also other essential nutrients.

Getting enough protein at breakfast is difficult for most Canadians. It tends to be our lowest protein meal of the day, containing roughly 12 grams. If you are finding it tough to get 20-30 grams at breakfast with food because of your appetite or your schedule, this may be the time to boost your meal with a protein powder. It can be a quick, easy and convenient solution.

Protein powders are made to fit the needs of all types of eaters – omnivores, vegetarians and vegans.

How much protein powder do I need?

Use protein powder to boost your protein intake but not to replace your protein food sources.

To increase your protein at breakfast, first, consider high quality protein food options, such as cottage cheese, Greek yogurt, eggs or peanut butter. If adding whole foods is not an option, try adding protein powder to a smoothie, oatmeal, muffins, pancakes or breakfast cookies or have it as a drink. Tailor the amount to your own needs.

To add protein powder to your meal, you can do the following:

  1. Look at the amount of protein in each scoop of protein powder. Most protein powders provide 20-30 grams per scoop provided in the container.
  2. Use an app, such as EATracker or myfitnesspal, to find out how much protein you are eating at each meal.
  3. Calculate how much protein powder you need to bring your intake to 20-30 grams.

Are protein powders safe?

There has been controversy around protein powders being spiked or contaminated with fillers, steroids and heavy metals. “Protein spiking” or “amino spiking” is the term used when amino acids (the building blocks of proteins) and other cheaper substances are added to protein powder. This is an issue because complete proteins have benefits that single amino acids do not. Adding these substances misleads the consumer about the actual amount of protein in the supplement. There have been reports of protein powders containing small amounts of anabolic steroids. The presence of heavy metals, such as cadmium, lead and mercury, has also been of concern. Some of the ingredients that go into protein powders are not well controlled.

Choose supplements that have been tested by third parties such as Informed Choice or NSF-certified for Sport. Look for either the Inform-Choice logo or the NSF logo on supplement containers. These particular supplements have been tested to ensure they are free of any banned substances, which is especially important for competing athletes. The USA Anti-Doping Agency has an educational website, Supplement 411, to help consumers recognize there are safety issues with dietary supplements and reduce the risk of experiencing health problems., an independent testing lab, determines if supplements contain what is stated on the label and assesses purity. There is a membership fee to access this information.

Labdoor Inc., a dietary supplement testing company, tested 25 Canadian supplements, including five protein products for their protein content. In the items tested, there were no heavy metals, no protein spiking and the protein content was very similar to what was stated on the label. Labdoor Inc. provides analyses of the top 74 protein supplements in the USA.

Do you need to use protein powder? If you find your meal is low in protein, look for food options first to fill the void. Aim for 20-30 grams of protein at breakfast, lunch and supper. If you choose to use a protein powder supplement, select reputable brands that use good manufacturing practices and have been tested to ensure quality and purity.

Aritcle revised May, 2017

Cindy Thorvaldson

Registered Dietitian

Cindy (MSc, RD) is a registered dietitian and nutrition specialist at Alberta Milk. With the Nourish Move Thrive® program, Cindy believes people can Eat to Change.® She enjoys sharing the latest nutrition research and applying it with healthy food ideas.

Article posted on May 1, 2016

Active Tip

Strength training reduces the “bad” cholesterol and cardiovascular training increases the “good” cholesterol in your blood, both of which are useful for improving your blood cholesterol profile.

The Expert Says

There has been controversy around protein powders being spiked or contaminated with fillers, steroids and heavy metals.