When someone says protein powder, do you automatically think of ardent
gym goers bulking up their muscles? Protein powder has long been given
an unfair reputation, and while it used to be the preserve of
bodybuilders, more and more people are now using it as part of their
every day diet.
Even if you don't hit the gym on a daily basis, additional protein in the form of a good protein powder may be beneficial. And while high-protein foods
are unprocessed and have a high nutritional value, shakes are super
convenient. Steve Hertzler, chief scientific officer, Abbott's EAS
Sports Nutrition says:
"Getting additional protein in the diet can benefit most people. Especially when we are physically active, our
bodies require between 15 and 45 grams of high-quality protein every
three to four hours, depending on body weight and activity level.
With our busy schedules and active lifestyles, we might not always get
enough from our diet and protein powders provide a convenient way to
give our body the nutrition it needs."
Many people assume consuming protein powder is all about building muscle, but it can support many health and fitness goals, including losing weight, getting lean, building strength and overall endurance. Protein powders are not just for bodybuilders – they are often used to support weight loss because they ensure muscles have the nutrition they need on reduced calorie diets.
And for people who are working out, using protein powder within 30
minutes of their workout can prevent muscle breakdown and speed
1. Find the right source of protein
Steve explains that there are many types of protein available and that different protein sources have different digestion rates and amino acid profiles.
He says that most people who are working out regularly can narrow their
choices to, based on their goals and dietary preferences:
Whole milk protein: Whole
milk protein contains whey and casein, both excellent sources of high
quality protein in their own right. Together they complement each other,
with whey providing a fast-digesting protein source that muscles can
use quickly and casein a slower-digesting protein that can stave off
hunger for longer periods. Pure milk protein powder is a good choice for
people looking to support weight-loss goals or a low-carbohydrate diet.
Whey, which is a byproduct of cheese production, is ideal for workout
recovery. Whey is a fast-digesting protein that gets to the muscles
quickly when taken after a workout to prevent breakdown and speed
Lactose intolerant or vegan?
Soy protein powder
contains all nine essential amino acids in sufficient amounts. While
several studies have said soy may interfere with hormone levels, the
jury's still out and a daily soy shake shouldn't affect these. Hemp protein
is another good option if you can't have whey protein, as it has a high
nutritional profile and is almost a complete protein (although it has
low levels of lysine and leucine), but it may have a high fat content. Pea protein powder,
while affordable and with adequate levels of protein, has been shown to
be deficient in cysteine and methionine amino acids – this is why it is
sometimes mixed with brown rice protein.
2. Treat protein powders like you would any foods
With so many products on the market, it's important to seek out quality protein. Steve says:
"Once you choose the right protein source, look for products from reputable manufacturers that are committed to quality and transparency. Treat protein supplements the way you would the other foods you put in your body: read the label carefully and make sure you know what's in the powder and why it's there."
He mentions three things to look out for. The first is making sure that the protein is high-quality, such as whey or pure milk concentrate and pure. Secondly, keep an eye our for purity – do all the ingredients have a purpose or are there unnecessary sugars or filler? Lastly, focus on mixability and taste. You want a product that dissolves easily and tastes nice.
3. Work out how much you need and how often you should take it
The amount of protein powder you need depends on diet, weight and activity level and Steve explains that most protein powders provide between 15 and 30 grams of protein per serving.
Unless you are training for a bodybuilding competition – or get very
little protein through your diet – using a protein powder once a day should be sufficient. If your activity level increases, increase your protein intake as well.
The government recommends 55g of protein per UK adult. Many people do get adequate levels of protein through their diet
and whole foods like milk, chicken and tuna are great sources of
protein. Protein powders aside, foods like eggs, cheese, peanut butter
and pulses are great for an extra protein boost.
4. What to avoid when buying protein powder
Keep an eye out for secondary protein sources. Steve says:
protein powders will tout the number of grams of protein per serving on
the label, with typical numbers ranging from 15 to 30 grams. But it's worth double-checking to ensure all of those grams are coming from the source you expect.
For example, some whey proteins also contain creatine, which is a
nitrogen-containing compound and may be mistakenly counted as protein
during label claim testing, even though it is not protein."
He also advises avoiding unnecessary fillers or sugars. Make sure you're not getting more than you bargained for in the form of added sugars.
5. How to use your protein powder
Contrary to their stereotype, protein powders don't just need to be mixed with water - although, according to STRIPPD protein, mixing it with water helps the protein reach muscles faster.
Protein can easily be added to a breakfast smoothie, porridge or used
as a shake between meals as a healthy (and filling) snack. For those
working out, using protein powder within 30 minutes of finishing a workout can help prevent muscle breakdown and speed recovery, says Steve.