March 14

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Protein Powders – A temporary Fix or the Best Option?

Protein powders are all the rage today. Every store is stocked with a million different brands and types promising the same outcome - more muscle and lower weight. But are they all they're cracked up to be? Read on to learn if protein powders are the right option for Hashimoto's.

By Sunny Brigham, MS, CNS, LDN

March 14, 2022

minutes read time

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Have you thought about the amount of protein you take in each day? Or maybe you have a protein shake with a protein powder each day to help boost your protein.

From my experience, there are two camps…those that are intensely aware of the amount of protein they consume. And those that really have no clue nor do they care to know how much protein they consume. 

But should you be? If you have Hashimoto’s (and most of my readers do), then you might want to take a pause and think about protein for a minute. 

You can walk into any store today and see a million different types of protein powder options on the shelves. This can be confusing to many. What type of protein powder is the best? When should protein powder be consumed? Do you actually need protein powder?

But are we giving too much credence to protein? Or maybe not enough? Can you have too much protein? And how much protein do you need for health or weight management? 

These are many of the questions I get from clients when the topic of protein comes up. And I’ll be answering them all in this article. After reading this article, you’ll understand why many feel that protein is important to health and how much protein you should be getting.

How much protein do you need? 

The actual recommended daily amount of protein is 0.8 grams per kilogram of body weight. This translates to roughly 46 grams per day for women and 56 grams per day for men. Obviously, that number changes per person, but that’s a rough estimate. 

But this is just the minimum that most adults need. Most adults need more protein than that. Much of this is determined by:

  • Age
  • Weight
  • Disease progression
  • Physical activity

Basically, every single person has different protein requirements. The initial calculation of 0.8 grams per kilogram of body weight is a good starting point when determining how much protein you truly need. And you build on it from there. 

As you age, your protein requirements increase slightly to help with age-related muscle wasting. But with hypothyroid and/or Hashimoto’s, muscle wasting can occur as well. All that muscle pain you have, that’s muscle wasting. The more muscle wasting that is happening, the more protein (and strength training) you need to counteract it. 

Those with various stages of kidney disease need differing amounts of protein as well. Someone on dialysis needs much more than someone not on dialysis. A person with cancer needs more protein than someone that doesn’t. Someone that is a bodybuilder or a fitness model needs more protein to keep up with the demands of their workouts. 

There is no one set amount of protein intake that works for everyone. 

What Influencers Say

You can read any blog or hop on Instagram and listen to any fitness influencer talk about protein requirements. The majority of them will tell you that you need 1 gram of protein per pound of body weight. If you weigh 150 pounds, that would mean that you would need to consume 150 grams of protein per day. If you weigh 200 pounds, that’s 200 grams of protein daily. 

There are approximately 26 grams of protein in 3 ounces of chicken breast. If you’re aiming for 200 grams of protein daily, that’s a whole bunch of chicken breast you need to eat each day. 

Are there people out there that need 200 grams of protein daily? Possibly. Again, the amount you need depends on your age, disease progression, weight, and physical activity. Does the average person need that much protein? Not likely. 

And let’s not gloss over the fact that your body can only absorb about 20 to 25 grams of protein per meal (or every 3-4 hours). This is a highly controversial topic and varying studies conflict with each other. But time and time again, systematic reviews show that protein absorption stops after 20 to 25 grams and excess protein is oxidized. Oxidation of anything in the body is bad news and can increase inflammation. 

And protein intake, while an important macronutrient, isn’t without risk. 

The Downsides of Protein

You can have too much protein. As I just pointed out, excess protein can be oxidized in the body. Oxidation occurs when we have an excess of anything. Excess protein can turn into reactive oxygen species (ROS). ROS is an oxidant. And we try to get antioxidants in the body to combat oxidants. 

Animal protein can be tough on the kidneys if there are pre-existing kidney issues at play. All protein when metabolized leaves ammonia as a by-product. That ammonia is turned into urea and excreted through the kidneys. The more urea, the more of a toll there is on the kidney. Many people have great functioning kidneys and this isn’t a concern for them. But a family history of kidney issues OR current kidney issues…protein intake should be front and center for you. 

Most haven’t heard of mTOR before. I’ll only briefly mention this because I could write an entire blog on mTOR and its effects on the body. Essentially, excessive protein intake can activate mTOR pathways. When mTOR is activated, we have an increase in cell death causing a shorter lifespan. This also increases the risk of cardiovascular disease. The countries with the greatest longevity (Blue Zones), eat a moderate amount of protein (50 to 70 grams of protein per day). They are also without disease that requires more protein intake. 

And excess protein can increase body fat percentage. Which is the opposite reason why people consume more protein. All proteins are metabolized into individual amino acids. And those amino acids all have jobs. When you consume too many amino acids…more than your body needs…without a job, they can be converted to carbohydrates in the body. When you have an excess of carbs, more than the body needs, those are stored as fat around the belly. 

And then too much protein can have digestive implications. Many experience increased flatulence and diarrhea. And others, especially women with Hashimoto’s, struggle to break down protein due to low stomach acid. This leaves you feeling like you have a rock in your belly or protein-rich foods just sit there. This causes discomfort and bloating. And, leads to low protein absorption. This isn’t good because you do need protein. 

How Much Protein You Need

Again, this is going to vary by person, but let’s focus on those with Hashimoto’s disease. A good calculation would be 1.2 to 1.5 grams per kilogram of body weight. 

So, if you’re 175 pounds, you’d want to shoot for 95 to 120 grams of protein per day. This is probably much more than you’re getting now. Most women with Hashimoto’s, as I mentioned before, skip breakfast to save on calories or just aren’t hungry. The average amount of protein they consume per day is about 40 to 60 grams of protein. 

But remember, when you have disease progression, you need a hair more protein than the average person. What would this amount look like on a given day? I never thought you’d ask!

Breakfast:

Smoothie made with one scoop of protein (20 to 25 grams), 2 handfuls of spinach, ½ banana, 1 cup frozen berries, 2 tbsp ground flaxseed or ½ avocado, and 1 to 2 cups of plant milk or water.

Lunch:

Salad made with mixed greens and 3 oz of chicken or ½ cup of black beans with 2 tbsp almonds. (approximately 26 grams for the chicken and 12 grams for the beans and nuts)

Dinner:

3 oz lean meat with a side of vegetables sauteed in 1 tsp olive oil or a Buddha bowl made w/ ½ cup of quinoa, ½ cup of black beans, ¼ cup of hummus, and vegetables (approximately 26 grams for the lean meat or 16 grams in the Buddha bowl)

Snack:

2 tbsp nut butter with a piece of fruit (7 grams of protein)

For a meat-eater, this day would provide you with roughly 90 grams of protein, not including the protein that comes with the veggies or other starches you may have. 

For a plant-based eater, this day would provide you with roughly 60 grams of protein, not including the protein that comes with the veggies or other starches you may have. A plant-based eater may want to include tofu if you tolerate soy, or an additional protein shake in the afternoon for a protein boost. 

Protein Powder Options

Now, since you have Hashimoto’s you have a slightly higher protein requirement than most. I’m a big fan of eating your protein. Lean meats, plant protein, and seafood are all great sources of protein options. 

But sometimes, a protein powder can be a great adjunct when you’re traveling or just short on time. Most often, my clients use protein powder first thing in the morning. Because protein at breakfast is important to boosting the metabolism. But it’s also the most difficult meal to get in. Most women skip breakfast. 

When it comes to protein powders, I have a few brands that I prefer:

  • Vital Proteins Collagen Peptides (not a complete protein profile but it’s better than nothing!)
  • Garden of Life 
  • Vega

I tend to stay away from whey protein and egg white protein as most women with Hashimoto’s react to dairy and eggs. If you don’t react to either of those, then those are good protein options as well. 

What are you eating for breakfast and does it include enough protein?

In the comments let me know if you’re aware of how much protein you’re getting and whether or not you need more or less. I’m looking forward to reading your responses!

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