There is probably no other nutrient that gets as much attention with sports people more as protein owing to its role in muscle growth and repair. Protein is found in foods such as red meat, poultry, fish, dairy, eggs, nuts, tofu and legumes but is also available in a variety of formulated supplements drinks, bars and powders. For some, protein supplements can be helpful as part of their overall nutrition plan, however they certainly aren’t essential for everyone.
In this article, we explore all there is to know about protein powders to help you understand if they’re necessary for you and if so, how to make sure you’re choosing the right one.
Types of Protein Powders
Let’s explore the different types of protein powders because it can get confusing. Protein supplements can be categorized in different ways but for the purpose of this article we’ll categorize them as animal protein powders and plant-based protein powders.
Animal-Based Protein Powder:
Popular animal based protein powders include whey and casein protein (both dairy-derivatives) and collagen protein (typically bovine or marine). Whey protein, which is derived from cow’s milk, is the most common protein used in protein powders. Whey protein contains all the essential amino acids which helps to build muscle and is rapidly digested, helping with protein and muscle synthesis. If you’ve ever looked into protein powders, you’ve likely come across the acronyms WPI and WPC. These are the two main forms of whey protein:
- Whey protein concentrate (WPC), which is 70-80% protein, and has some carbs (lactose) – particularly good for more active people – often bit cheaper.
- Whey protein isolate (WPI), is 90% protein, contains less fat and is virtually lactose free. WPI can help in both muscle growth and weight loss.
Plant-Based Protein Powder:
Plant based protein powders are derived from plant sources like rice, hemp, soy, or pea. Many plant-based protein powders on the market contain a mixture of several sources in order to diversify the amino acid content of the supplement (amino acids are the individual building blocks that make up a protein).
Do you need a Protein Powder?
Protein powders are not something everyone needs to use. You don’t need protein powder to meet your daily protein needs; however, for some people, they can be a great help. We often find them useful for various reasons:
- A convenient option, providing a quick and easy way to get protein in after a workout.
- Weight loss clients can benefit, as protein powder helps regulate hunger hormones, making them feel fuller and less likely to snack or overeat. It also aids in preserving muscle during weight loss, contributing to maintaining a healthy metabolism.
- Although a high-protein diet without supplements can have the same effects, protein powders are beneficial for people looking to build muscles.
- Individuals who engage in a lot of exercise and have high protein needs, such as those requiring over 150g of protein a day, can find supplements helpful.
- Protein powders may be useful for those traveling and expecting limited protein intake.
- Vegans, especially those who are quite active, may consider protein supplements.
It’s crucial to note that protein powders should not be used as a replacement for food, as they lack the other essential nutrients found in natural foods, such as iron, zinc, calcium, omega-3, and more.
How to make sure you’re choosing the best Protein Powder?
Here are our top tips to ensure you get the best bang for your buck when choosing a protein powder!
- Optimal Protein Content: Look for protein powders with around 20-30g of protein per serving for optimal muscle protein synthesis. More than this amount in one serving doesn’t enhance protein synthesis and is excreted, so aim for efficiency.
- Biological Value Matters: Choose proteins with high biological value, meaning they contain all essential amino acids necessary for muscle building. Proteins like whey, milk, eggs, and some soy have high biological value. While plant-based proteins can be matched with complementary sources, they may require a larger quantity for similar benefits.
- Leucine Content: Ensure your chosen protein powder contains 2-3g of leucine per serving, as it acts as a catalyst for muscle protein synthesis. This is particularly crucial when selecting plant-based proteins.
- Avoid Stimulants: Be cautious of protein powders marketed as ‘energizing’ as they may contain stimulants like caffeine. For those who train in the evening, stimulants can affect sleep quality and recovery.
- Watch for Buzz Words: Beware of attention-grabbing terms like ‘weight loss.’ Protein intake alone does not guarantee weight loss, and products labeled as such may contain added stimulants or questionable ‘fat-burning’ ingredients.
- Simplicity is Key: Choose protein powders with fewer ingredients listed, as this indicates a focus on protein intake. Avoid proprietary blends where ingredient specifics are not transparent. Look out for added sugars and opt for non-nutritive sweeteners like stevia or sucralose for taste without added energy density. Avoid unfamiliar herbs or additives.
Ideas on How to Incorporate Protein Powder into your Diet
- Smoothies: Especially effective if you prefer plant-based milks or exclude yoghurt from your smoothies. Simply add protein powder to boost the nutritional content.
- Bircher Muesli: Enhance the protein content of your Bircher muesli by incorporating protein powder into the mix.
- On Cereal: Sprinkle protein powder on your cereal for an easy and nutritious addition.
- Protein Shake: Enjoy a standalone protein shake as a quick and convenient way to meet your protein needs.
- Baking: Experiment with adding protein powder to muffins or loaf recipes to create protein-rich and flavourful baked goods.
- Listen to our podcast episode on Protein Powders here.