8 oz. Milk: 8 grams protein
String cheese: 6 grams protein
4 oz. Chicken breast: 26 grams protein
½ cup black beans: 7 grams protein
Now, where does whey protein fit into the picture? Whey protein is a very high-quality protein source that is a by-product of the cheese making process. It is most commonly seen as a supplement used by athletes and body builders because of its high quality, fast-acting properties that support muscle maintenance and growth. Resistance athletes and body builders may have a daily protein intake up to 1.8 g/kg. Generally, a typical healthful diet will provide an adequate amount of protein; however, whey protein shakes may be used to supplement intake if your diet is low in protein or if you weight train regularly. Consuming protein after resistance exercise (within an hour after completion) is best for optimal muscle repair. Whey protein shakes and drinks immediately following weight training are excellent because whey protein empties quickly from the stomach and is absorbed for fast muscle repair.
Whey supplement companies promote the effects of whey for weight loss, and not surprisingly, whey protein is also found in diet or meal replacement drinks. For an easy grab-and-go meal on the run, whey protein drinks with a piece of fruit or vegetables will provide a sufficient make-shift meal. Meals that emphasize fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean protein and low-fat dairy are advised for healthy weight maintenance or weight loss instead of replacement drinks to ensure that your body gets all of the nutrients it needs.
Bottom line: whey protein powder can be a beneficial supplement to your diet, but it should not replace whole foods. Do not use whey protein if you already have an adequate daily intake of protein. Extra protein will not be beneficial; instead it will only provide additional, unnecessary calories that may lead to unwanted weight gain.
Source: McArdle, William D, Frank I. Katch, and Victor L. Katch. (2009 Sport and Exercise Nutrition Lippincott Williams & Wilkins.
Written by: Anna Hummel, Nutrition Summer Assistant, York County Cooperative Extension