Protein Powder 101: A Beginner's Guide

If protein powder is completely foreign territory to you, you may be wondering about the very basics like when to use it and for what. Can it only be taken after workouts? Are smoothies the only way to go? To answer all your questions, we spoke with Jim White, RD, ACSM health fitness specialist, who's an expert on all things nutrition and fitness. See his answers below to see how you can get started. Warning: they don't all taste great.

What are the benefits of using protein powder?

"Protein helps to repair and build muscle tissues in the body," Jim told POPSUGAR. And taking protein powder can be an easy and convenient way to add extra protein to your diet. However, it's important to note that it should be used as a supplement, not a replacement. The best way to get your protein is through foods, but powders can be useful for post-workout recovery.

What are some other ways you can use protein powder?

Smoothies are not your only option! Jim suggested adding it to your breakfast items, such as oatmeal, yogurt, and pancakes.

When's the best time to take it?

"Getting it in after a workout is ideal to increase muscle synthesis," Jim said. He added that a protein shake is a great way to get in some extra protein if you're too rushed in the mornings to eat breakfast. "I never recommend more than two protein shakes a day and always promote real food first."

Can protein shakes be used as meal replacements?

The answer is yes, but consuming real foods should be your first choice. If you do replace meals with protein shakes, Jim suggested adding more substance: almond milk, almond butter, and fruit.

Do you have to work out in order to use protein powder?

No, but those who aren't using it as an exercise supplement would need less than those who strength train. For example, someone who weighs 120 pounds and isn't very active would only need about 44 grams of protein total per day, while someone who's extremely active would need 98 grams of protein total per day.

Which protein is best?

In Jim's professional opinion, he believes whey protein is best. Not only is it better for your body than other protein powders, but it's especially great for muscle building and recovery.

Is there such thing as taking too much?

Too much of anything is rarely good for you. The best of rule of thumb is to stay within 2.2 grams of protein per kilograms of body weight, according to Jim. Any amount that exceeds that is not recommended.