If you go to a gym, you’ve probably heard the men lifting weights talking about the protein shakes they drink after a workout and what kind of shake they prefer. Protein powders, made into a shake or consumed however you like are definitely getting more and more popular as a nutritional supplement.
You can buy protein powders in most nutrition shops and all over the Internet. You can even find pre-mixed, ready-to-drink protein shakes in many stores. But are protein powders just for bodybuilders, or can the average everyday person benefit from them as well?
What Are Protein Powders?
Protein powders come in various forms. The three common ones are whey, soy, and casein protein. “Whey is the most commonly used, because it’s a water-soluble milk protein,” says Peter Horvath, PhD, associate professor in the department of exercise and nutrition sciences at the State University of New York at Buffalo. “It’s also a complete protein, so it’s got all those advantages.” (Complete proteins contain all nine of the amino acids necessary for human dietary needs.) People who are vegan may prefer soy protein, although Horvath notes that its taste is sometimes considered to be more unpleasant, and it doesn’t dissolve as well in water.
Protein powders also come with widely varying price tags. “For the casual athlete who doesn’t have a specific need at a certain time of their training, the cost is not that important,” says Horvath. “So if you’re going to use them, you can get pretty much the same benefit out of the less expensive, more commercially available proteins.
In very specific circumstances, protein powders can be useful. They’re an easy and convenient source of complete, high-quality protein. But please remember: Most people, even athletes, can also get everything they offer by eating sources of lean protein like meat, fish, chicken, and dairy products.
So when might you want to use them? There are a few reasons why an ordinary athlete might want more protein in his or her diet
All of those are valid reasons for trying to get more protein into your diet, and protein powders are one way to do that.
BUT there’s a big caveat, it doesn’t take that much protein to achieve those goals. Most Brits already get about 15% of their daily calories in protein. To build a pound of muscle, the body only needs between 10 and 14 additional grams of protein per day.
That’s not really that much. Some of these powders have 80 grams of protein per serving. You don’t need that. All your body is going to do is break it down for energy. And too much protein can be hard on your kidneys and your liver.
If you are looking to lose fat, gain muscle mass, build yourself back up after illness or injury or just need something convenient that can be taken with you on your hectic schedule, then this could be the perfect addition to your daily regime. How many of us don’t allow enough time to cook a proper breakfast, then end up grabbing a slice of toast or sugary bowl of cereal or…better yet a low fat muffin and a skinny latte? BIG MISTAKE.... As soon as we do this we are setting ourselves up for a blood sugar rollercoaster ride throughout the day. That means a peak in energy shortly followed by one huge CRASH! Which will leave you grabbing the nearest thing, possibly a biscuit and so the cycle starts again! All of those excess sugars and carbs will have an impact on your overall health and weight.
WHY YOU NEED TO EAT PROTEIN
Putting it very, very simply....
Protein builds, maintains, and replaces the tissues in your body. Your muscles, your organs, and your immune system are made up mostly of protein.
Your body uses the protein you eat to make lots of specialised protein molecules that have specific jobs. For instance, your body uses protein to make haemoglobin, the part of red blood cells that carries oxygen to every part of your body.
Other proteins are used to build cardiac muscle. In fact, whether you're running or just hanging out, protein is doing important work like moving your legs, carrying oxygen to your body, and protecting you from disease.
To find out more about protein read my article All About Protein Part 1
Which Type of Protein Powder Should You Choose?
1. Whey to go....
Perhaps the most common and cheapest variety of protein powder on the market, whey protein can be found at any supplement retailer and even in some grocery stores. Boasting an impressive array of vitamins and minerals, this dairy-based product has become a post-workout staple in the diets of pro athletes and recreational gym-goers alike. And there’s good reason whey is the way to go for many: It has been shown to help repair muscles post-strength session, and increase muscle strength and size when consumed within two hours of your workout.
But it’s not as easy as grabbing any old jug and hitting the road. Consumers have the option of “hydrolyzed,” “isolate,” and more. At its core, “hydrolyzed” means the product has broken down from whole proteins down into smaller groups of amino acids (the building blocks of proteins), also referred to as peptides. This method is meant to improve the speed of digestion. Another term, “isolate,” refers to a purification process where supplement companies attempt to get the purest form of whey protein possible.
All of these processes sound great, but are they worth the additional £15 or more per container? Not necessarily, research suggests. According to Brian St. Pierre, sports dietitian and nutrition coach at Precision Nutrition, while specialized protein powders may be slightly more beneficial, the advantage is small in the grand scheme of sports nutrition. A basic whey concentrate protein powder from a reputable company can deliver great results, too, so long as adequate attention is paid to overall protein intake, optimal supplement timing, and diet quality, St. Pierre says.
2. Casein Protein Powder
Although it might not fly off shelves quite as quickly as whey, casein protein is actually very similar in more ways than one. Like whey, casein protein comes from dairy and is actually the primary protein found in cow’s milk. Unlike whey protein, however, it digests slower due to a complex interaction with stomach acids. This results in a slower release of essential proteins and amino acids, which makes casein the preferred supplement in situations when a slow release of nutrients is beneficial (like before bed when you’re going 7-10 hours without food).
This same benefit is also thought to make casein protein a less optimal supplement post-workout (when you want nutrients quickly). However, research indicates this might not be as big of a deal as we thought. In many cases, whey and casein can be interchangeable. Honestly, it’s pretty much an equal substitute. The research that compares whey to caseins post-workout is equivocal. Your total protein intake far outweighs anything else. While that total amount will vary from person to person, the experts recommend taking in 0.6-0.9 grams per pound of bodyweight depending on activity levels (more active individuals need more protein).
3. Pea Protein Powder
In the land of muscle, sweat and ripped physiques, it’s hard to imagine that fuel can come from the almighty…pea. This 100 percent plant-based protein is typically made from yellow peas and towers above common protein powders in a few regards. First, it is naturally fat- and cholesterol-free (it comes from a plant after all). Second, pea protein isn’t derived from dairy, making it appropriate for those who are lactose-intolerant. Lastly, it’s completely gluten-free, which can help individuals avoid gastric distress when supplementing frequently.
So is time to ditch your regular source of protein in search of the elusive pea? Not exactly. Pea protein has its benefits, particularly for those with specific dietary considerations. But that doesn’t mean it’s perfect for everyone. While pea protein is affordable and contains similar levels of protein per same-sized serving as whey and casein, it has been shown to be deficient in one amino acid (cystine). If you’re having stomach trouble with your current protein powder, it might make sense to give pea protein a try. Otherwise, you could try rotating it into your supplement schedule to avoid boredom and mix up your nutritional routine.
4. Soy Protein Powder
A mainstay in the households of many vegetarians, soybeans are another form of plant-based protein that still contain all of your essential amino acids (referred to as a complete protein). In studies, soy protein also performs comparably to whey protein in terms of stimulating muscle growth after a tough strength training session. However, the benefits of soy extend beyond the gym. According to some research, isoflavones, organic compounds present in soy, have been shown to potentially reduce the risk of cancer and cardiovascular disease.
Soy protein doesn’t come without a possible downside, though. The isoflavones can interact with hormones like oestrogen and potentially skew hormone levels when taken in excess. For men, specifically, the fear is that increased soy intake could reduce testosterone levels. However, research suggests that this shouldn’t necessarily be a huge concern for soy consumers. If you are having a lot of soy-based foods in addition to your soy proteins then, yes [you may want to cut back]. If you are having the occasional shake with soy protein in it, it’s probably not anything to be concerned about. For those still wary of any ill effects, soy protein concentrate is always an option. Due to the way this protein variation is processed, it has a lower amount of the potentially-negative isoflavones.
Soy protein tends to be made from unfermented soy. Unfermented soy is one of the most genetically modified crops and has the ability to alter our fine balance of hormones dramatically - its a phytoestrogen which means that it has oestrogenic effects which means for women, they can become oestrogen dominant (this can cause havoc with fertitlity) and for men – think: MOOBS (man boobs)– which is never a good look and problems with the prostate. Soy also has a huge impact on thyroid health and our thyroid is a gland that rules how every single cell in our bodies works. If your thyroid doesn’t work properly, your body doesn’t work properly. I would never recommend that any of my clients buy products that contain processed soy products for these very reasons.
5. Hemp Protein Powder
Made from hemp seeds, hemp protein is actually a derivative of another “supplement” altogether: cannabis. Of course, hemp protein contains very little THC, the ingredient in marijuana that makes you feel high, so it’s safe to consume without any side effects. Nutritionally speaking, hemp seeds have more to offer than just protein content. For one, they are often thought of as a superfood due to their high content of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids. Hemp protein is also 100 percent plant-based and highly-digestible, meaning less GI distress for some users.
Hemp protein does come with a few cons, though. For one, the high fat content results in a higher calorie count, making this protein powder a less-optimal choice if the goal is purely weight loss. It’s also worth noting that because growing hemp is illegal in the UK, meaning that most hemp products are imported from other countries. This drives up the price making hemp protein one of the more expensive options on the market.
6. Brown Rice Protein Powder
While a big bowl of rice just won’t cut it after a long weight session, a rice protein shake might. Surprisingly enough, this 100 percent plant-based protein stacks up well against the competition. In an eight-week study comparing the benefits of both whey and rice protein supplementation, researchers concluded that both offered nearly the same benefit. Rice protein is also gluten-free, making it a safe (and economical) choice for those with gluten allergies.
One downside to rice protein is that it tends to be low in certain amino acids — namely, lysine. This means that relying on rice protein powder as your sole source of protein likely isn’t a good idea. Pairing rice protein with other sources of animal or plant-based proteins is the best way to incorporate this supplement in your diet without experiencing the downsides of missing out on essential amino acids.
7. Vegan Protein Powder Blends
The quest to find a quality plant-based protein doesn’t mean you have to stick with just one source. Vegan protein powder blends have become an increasingly popular choice, harnessing the power of hemp, peas, rice, quinoa and more — all in the same bottle. The result is a gluten-free, dairy-free and soy-free supplement that can nutritionally stand up against animal-based products, without users having to worry about amino acid deficiencies (or an upset stomach).
While some plant-based blends can be a bit more expensive than your average whey product, they can be a great choice for vegetarians, vegans (or anyone who wants a reprieve from animal-based products), while still getting enough protein in their diet. And because these varieties can suit most dietary needs or restrictions, vegan protein powders are a smart choice for households, gyms and dorms where there’s more than one person fueling up.
When it comes to protein powders, buyers really do have a diverse choice. Powders come from nearly any source imaginable with a wide range of price tags to match. In the end, the type of protein powder you choose will be reflective of your dietary needs and food preferences. And, of course, if you’re downing a protein shake or smoothie each day, it’ll have to pass the taste test! Consider sampling single-serving packets first, so you’re not stuck with five-pound tub of powder you can’t quite stomach. If you’re still stumped on which variety to choose, consult with your trainer or a certified nutritionist to review your current diet, training goals and intended use in order to make the best possible decision for you!
SO, WHICH PROTEIN POWDER DO I CHOOSE ?
I choose to use Arbonne essentials Vegan protein powder which is a combination of pea, rice and cranberry protein, and comes in vanilla and chocolate or a completely sugar free, flavourless option.
By combining these 3 plant based powerhouses you end up with a protein powder that is truly impressive:
Cranberry protein is the only 100% plant protein that contains 25% complete protein, including all essential amino acids. It’s also a powerful detoxifier, diuretic (so will help with any water retention), immune booster, reducer of cellulite, and can help improve skin conditions, circulatory health and cholesterol levels.
Your guide to living whole and well. Emma Olliff is a Registered Nutritional Therapist, wellness expert, food lover, and advocate for healthy living!