An Athlete’s Guide to Protein Powder

Lori Russell, MS RD CSSD
by Lori Russell, MS RD CSSD
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An Athlete’s Guide to Protein Powder

Most of us have a tub of protein powder sitting in the pantry; for some it’s tucked away in a corner collecting dust, but for many athletes, that container is front and center and used frequently. While it is easy to consume enough protein each day through whole foods, these powders help add protein to any meal in a hurry and get the nutrient into our active bodies in a very efficient way to maximize workout gains.

The average person needs 0.3–0.6 grams of protein per pound of bodyweight per day. However, those looking to gain muscle — or athletes utilizing protein for high-volume endurance training — require up to 1 gram per pound. Whether you’re choosing protein powder or whole-food protein, aim to consume 25–35 grams at meals and 10–15 grams at snack time.


The variety of protein powders available on the market is staggering — from plant based to animal, from pure protein to full meal replacement nutrient combinations, from vanilla to birthday cake flavor — it’s almost as daunting as the cereal aisle. To choose the right one, you have to know your needs — and, likely, one powder won’t be enough (just like you wouldn’t eat only one type of whole-food protein all the time).

Here are a few examples of specific conditions matched with the best protein powder option:

If you can’t fill your cupboards with so many different varieties, get the most out of one or two. Pick a high-quality whey powder with few other added ingredients. This will be great for adding to any food or shake to boost protein content. Also choose a plant-based meal replacement powder that blends several plant proteins with other vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients to boost the quality of your general diet when whole foods aren’t an option. Try to steer clear of protein powders that contain added sugar, sugar alcohols, fillers, oils and other ingredients that resemble a chemistry lesson instead of food.


Protein powder can be used in several ways beyond shakes and smoothies to boost the macronutrient content of your meals.

Try adding a scoop to your:

  • Pancake mix
  • Coffee
  • Overnight oats
  • Pasta sauce
  • Mashed potatoes
  • Edible raw cookie dough
  • Hummus
  • Nut butter
  • Porridge
  • Homemade baked goods


Protein powders are a great way to enhance protein intake for athletic needs or just when you’re in a rush to get in a balanced meal, and there are many options with which to experiment. While these powders can make eating easier, whole foods are always best, so save the supplements for when you’re on the go or to replenish after tough workouts.

About the Author

Lori Russell, MS RD CSSD
Lori Russell, MS RD CSSD

Lori, MS RD CSSD is an accomplished sports dietitian; she holds a Master’s Degree in Human Nutrition and Certification as a Specialist in Sports Nutrition. As a current professional road cyclist and previous elite marathoner and ultra-runner, Lori knows firsthand that food can enhance or diminish performance gains. She understands the importance of balancing a quality whole food based diet with science-backed performance nutrition and strives to share this message with others. Learn more about her @HungryForResults.


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