Should I take a Protein Supplement?

Various Protein sport shake and powder. Fitness food and drink.

In the era of fitness trends and health fads, protein supplements have made a large presence on shelves and in gym bags. But amidst the marketing hype, the question persists: Do you truly need a protein supplement? As it turns out, the answer is not a simple yes or no. Rather, it depends on an array of factors, including activity level, age, overall dietary habits, and the availability of high-quality protein sources.

Before considering protein supplements, it’s essential to prioritize a food-first approach. Whole food sources offer not only protein but also a plethora of essential nutrients crucial for overall health. Lean meats such as chicken, turkey, and fish are excellent animal-based protein sources, providing high-quality protein along with important vitamins and minerals. Similarly, dairy products like Greek yogurt and cottage cheese are rich in protein, and other micronutrients such as calcium, potassium, and vitamin D. For those following plant-based diets, legumes such as beans, lentils, and chickpeas, tofu, tempeh, and edamame are excellent sources of protein. Nuts, seeds, and whole grains (like quinoa, bran, and oats) also contribute to protein intake while offering additional nutritional benefits. After considering your dietary patterns, consider the following factors to determine whether a protein supplement is right for you.

Activity Level

The role of protein in the body is crucial for muscle repair, growth, and overall function. For individuals engaging in intense physical activity, such as athletes, regular gym goers, or those who participate in heavy weightlifting, the demand for protein may be higher to support muscle recovery. In such cases, a protein supplement could serve as a convenient way to meet increased protein needs. However, for those with a more sedentary lifestyle, obtaining sufficient protein from whole foods alone may be feasible without the need for supplementation.

Age and Dietary Considerations:

Age plays a pivotal role in determining protein requirements. Older adults, for instance, often experience a decline in muscle mass and function, known as sarcopenia. As we get older, our appetite naturally declines, so we might not get enough protein in our diet alone. To counteract this age-related muscle loss, older individuals may benefit from a slightly higher protein intake, which could be facilitated by protein supplements. Conversely, younger adults with robust muscle-building potential may find that their protein needs are adequately met through whole food sources alone, rendering supplements unnecessary.

Prioritizing a food-first approach ensures that individuals obtain not only protein but also a diverse array of nutrients essential for optimal health. So how much protein is enough? As a general guideline, aiming for a protein intake between 1 to 1.3 grams per kilogram of body weight is a good starting point for healthy, active adults. If you are consuming about 4oz (the size of a deck of cards) portion of meat with each meal, this tends to be adequate for general, healthy adults.  

If you are still unsure whether you are meeting your protein needs, consider a nutrition consultation with a registered dietitian who can provide tailored advice based on individual circumstances and goals. Supplements should complement, never replace, a well-balanced diet for optimal health and performance. The need for a protein supplement is not a one-size-fits-all proposition. While some individuals may find them beneficial to support their specific lifestyle and nutritional needs, others may thrive on whole food sources alone.


Patricia Esparza, RDN is a Registered Dietitian with the YMCA of Metropolitan Dallas. She earned her Master’s degree in Human Nutrition from Viterbo University and is a Licensed Dietitian. Patricia has a wide variety of experience in clinical dietetics and public health nutrition. Her own journey with health and wellness, has fueled her passion for nutrition education to build healthier communities.