Once you decide to increase or monitor your daily intake of protein, you enter the protein powder vs. protein debate. This debate pits protein powder supplements against foods that provide protein, such as chicken, steak and eggs.
The more protein you need to consume each day, the more likely you are to benefit from the use of protein supplements. There is only so much food you can put in your stomach over the course of the day without feeling sick, bloated and sluggish.
Protein shakes and bars provide concentrated protein, so you can take in a lot of it without filling your stomach.
You may also decide to add protein powder to your diet if you are a vegetarian or vegan and sometimes struggle to take in adequate amounts of protein through diet alone. There are ways to take in enough protein to sustain your body without consuming meat or animal byproducts, but you have to watch your diet carefully.
If you want to take in a lot of protein to sustain gains in muscle, you may need to eat an enormous amount of select plant foods to meet your protein needs. It is much better in that case to add vegetarian or vegan protein supplements to your diet.
Supplements vs. Replacements
While considering the protein powder vs. protein foods debate, you have to recognize the difference between supplements and replacements. Protein powder and protein bars should never replace foods that naturally contain protein. These products are considered supplements, and that means they work with the foods in your diet to ensure your protein needs are met efficiently.
It is always ideal to consume lean sources of protein foods on a daily basis. Supplements come into play when you need to consume more protein than you can comfortably consume on a daily basis. You may also find that protein powder is cheaper than purchasing lean meats, eggs and other protein sources at the store. That is yet another reason to supplement.
Protein Powder vs. Protein – The Comparisons
How do the best protein powders on the market today compare to protein-rich foods? This comparison will give you some insight into the cost of some popular options so that you can make informed choices for your budget and your body.
We will use Optimum Nutrition 100% Whey Gold Standard for all of these comparisons. This is a popular whey protein powder from a reputable brand name. It contains a reasonable amount of protein without a lot of calories, fat or carbohydrates.
One serving of this protein powder will cost approximately $1.11, and you can get that cheaper if you purchase your protein powder while it is on sale. Here is the nutritional information per one-scoop serving of this protein powder:
- 120 calories
- 1 gram fat
- 3 grams carbohydrate
- 24 grams of protein
1. Protein Powder vs. Boneless, Skinless Chicken Breasts
Here is the nutritional information for 4 ounces of boneless, skinless chicken breast cooked without added fat or calories:
- 144 calories
- 5.7 grams of fat
- <1 gram carbohydrate
- 21.9 grams protein
Prices for fresh boneless, skinless chicken breasts vary by region, but you can expect to pay at least $3 per pound in most regions. You can also get chicken breasts on sale, but the price per serving is still considerably higher than the cost per one serving of this protein powder in most cases.
Notice that the protein powder also contains a few extra grams of protein while offering fewer calories and fat grams than the chicken. Even though the protein powder contains more carbohydrates, the carbohydrate count is low.
This particular protein powder would be an affordable and nutritional supplement for someone trying to restrict calories and fat while boosting protein intake.
2. Protein Powder vs. Tuna
Here is the nutritional information for 1 cup of light tuna fish canned in water:
- 179 calories
- 1 gram fat
- 0 carbohydrate
- 39 grams protein
The tuna fish is the clear winner against the protein powder if you are concerned about getting the maximum amount of protein. One cup of tuna fish will deliver 15 grams more protein than one scoop of the powder. Tuna is also carbohydrate free and low in fat. The calories for the tuna are reasonable, though higher than the protein powder.
Tuna is also one of the cheapest high-protein foods on the market today, so it can compete with the protein powder in terms of budgeting as well as nutrition.
3. Protein Powder vs. Eggs
Here is the nutritional information for one large hard-boiled egg:
- 78 calories
- 5.3 grams fat
- 0.6 grams carbohydrate
- 6.3 grams protein
It would take four of these eggs to slightly surpass the amount of protein offered through one serving of the protein powder, but then you would consume 312 calories and 21.2 grams of fat. This makes the protein powder far superior in terms of nutrition, even if you can get a great price on eggs or raise your own chickens to eliminate the cost.
The Bottom Line
Unless you want to live on tuna and the few other low-cost sources of food protein that are not excessive in calories and fat grams, protein powder is an efficient and affordable way to meet your protein needs. You can purchase a high-quality protein powder such as the one used for these comparisons and take in more protein than you would through a standard protein-rich meal.
The protein powder does not add the calories and fat that would come with many protein-rich meals. You don’t eat just a plain chicken breast, but you can consume just a protein shake without adding additional calories or fat.