Protein Powder: The Hot Silicon Valley Trend That Could Be Dangerous

Is it possible to overdose on protein powder? The answer may surprise you. (Photo: Getty Images)

Protein powder has been a go-to for fitness buffs for years, but now it’s found a new niche audience: Tech workers.

Silicon Valley workers are increasingly buying and using protein powders in smoothies as a way to save time on meal preparation so that they can work even harder, the New York Times reports. The demand is so high that some engineers have reported a wait time of up to six months for the powder of their choice. 

“It just removes food completely from my morning equation up until about 7 p.m.,” software developer Aaron Melocik told the Times. The most popular brands they’re reaching for: Schmoylent, Soylent, Schmilk, and People Chow.

This story comes on the heels of new research out of the University of Missouri that found teens who ate a soy protein-enhanced pudding as an afternoon snack made them feel less hungry and less likely to snack in the evening.

Should we all be reaching for protein powder, then?

It depends, says Samuel Accardi, lead dietitian for nutrition intelligence company Mind Plus Matter. Protein powder, i.e. protein in a powdered form, most commonly from whey, soy, or casein, has its benefits, he tells Yahoo Health: “Protein is essential for maintaining and rebuilding muscle. Protein powder is mostly used as a supplement to get more protein into the body that cannot be accessed via a normal whole food diet.”

Related: 7 Cheap Sources of Healthy Protein

He typically advises that people have a source of protein like almonds, jerky, and tuna every three hours, which can be hard for people who aren’t cooking their own meals. “Protein powder is a good alternative as long as it is a good protein powder,” Accardi says. 

But, here’s the thing: Protein powder is typically used to fill holes in a person’s diet, he says — not to make up the bulk of their diet.

Registered dietitian/nutritionist Keri Gans, author of “The Small Change Diet,” points out that protein can also help us feel fuller, longer, but she’s wary of protein in powdered form.

“We can get all the protein we need from whole food, plus all the other nutrients that might be in that particular food. Protein powder is an isolated nutrient,” she tells Yahoo Health. Gans also notes that some protein powders often have added sugar and other additives that have no nutritional value.

Not only that, some protein powders can be high in calories, says Accardi, and people can easily take in more calories than they need when it’s in liquid form.

Tech workers — and anyone, really — who are replacing several meals with protein powder should also be cautious since it’s possible to OD on protein.

Related: Popular High Protein Diets Could Make You Gain Weight 

“Over time, too much protein can be taxing on your kidneys,” Gans says. While these tech workers who are replacing meals with protein powder may feel fine now, they could be doing long-term damage.

The average adult who isn’t an athlete needs about 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight, says Gans, so a 180 pound male would only need 65 grams of protein per day, and a 130 pound women would only need 47 grams. Some protein powders can give you 40 or more grams of protein per serving which, if you’re drinking several shakes a day, can easily put you in the danger zone.

So, what constitutes “good” protein powder? It’s all on the label.

Accardi recommends looking for the purest form that you can find, making sure your powder has minimal to no sugar, and avoiding artificial sweeteners such as acesulfame K, aspartame, and sucralose.

While protein powder can be a helpful supplement, Gans recommends trying to get your protein from whole ingredients as much as possible. “Techies might know a lot about computers, but nutrition…not so much,” she says. “It really doesn’t take a lot of time to eat a healthy sandwich.” 

Related: The Trick to Ensuring You Walk Out of the Grocery Store with a Healthy Haul

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