Protein supplements are everywhere, from add-ins at your favorite smoothie place to protein-packed bars.
If you’re an average gym-goer — you’re not looking to perform in bodybuilding competitions, but you go enough that it’s a part of your lifestyle — you might be wondering if you should be upping your protein intake to help build muscle.
To start, the recommended daily protein intake is .8 grams per kilogram of body weight (or .36 grams per pound), according to the Institute of Medicine. For an inactive person who weighs 150 pounds, that translates to about 54 grams of protein each day to prevent protein deficiency (most people easily hit this if their diet consists of animal products like meat, fish, eggs or dairy).
For those who are frequently engaging in strength training and high-intensity activity, DUMBO Women’s Fitness nutrition coach Lauren Johan recommends increasing that to 1.4-2 grams per kilogram of body weight daily (or 95-135 grams of protein for a 150-pound person).
If you’re having trouble reaching either of those numbers on diet alone, that’s where a protein supplement comes in, recommends Amanda Foti, senior registered dietitian at Selvera Wellness.
Your protein intake is especially important if you are strength training, Johan says.
“During and immediately after strength training, exercise protein breakdown in the body increases,” she says, which means that without the right amount of protein, the breakdown of muscle tissue exceeds the building of muscle tissue.
So when should you take a supplement?
“Most experts recommend taking protein in two servings: one serving an hour or two before your workout to tank up your body’s energy reserves, and another dose immediately after you work out to help repair muscle damage and fuel the growth of new muscles,” says Kirk Myers, CEO of the West Village gym DogPound.
If you’re not sure if you need more protein in your diet, it’s best to check with a doctor or nutritionist, as protein supplements “are not a must-have in an active person’s lifestyle,” says Samantha Skolkin, master trainer at KORE New York Boutique Fitness Studio.
“If you consume too much protein that could be harmful to your body — consuming extra calories will lead to weight gain, fat storage, stress on your kidneys,” warns Skolkin. “You can get your protein from whole foods, and that is always your best bet.”