If you have been to the gym recently you have likely seen all sorts of protein shakes or beverages being consumed both during and post workouts. Choosing a protein powder can be overwhelming, you can find them at almost any nutrition store, fitness store, and even some grocery stores. So how do you know which one to choose? Which one is the best for you? If you have never had a protein shake but want to start incorporating them into your routine, read on. In this blog post I will be discussing what the latest evidence says about protein powders, when and why you would want to use them, and provide you with some general tips to help you choose a protein powder that's right for you!
What are the benefits of using protein powder?
Our bodies need protein to help build and maintain muscle. In addition, protein is needed to support muscle recovery post exercise. Research suggests that taking protein powder shortly after intense exercise can help build muscle and repair muscle damage.
How much? 15-25 grams of protein from either a supplement or food.
For some people in particular a protein supplement might be useful. For example, when individuals are trying to build muscle or gain weight, elderly or those recovering from illness (who might have limited intake), and various other reasons.
Is a protein supplement necessary if I workout?
When eating a well balanced and nutritious diet, protein from food sources alone should be enough to meet your daily needs. However, sometimes protein supplements are a convenient way to meet your needs in a way that is easily accessible and quick. For example, before rushing out your door in the morning.
Protein rich foods that will help build and repair muscle post intense activity include; meat, fish, poultry, milk, soy, yogurt, legumes, eggs, and nuts/seeds.
Bottom line: you don't need to use protein supplements when you eat a healthy diet, however they can be beneficial if you do not meet your needs through diet alone. Always aim first for a protein rich diet and then decide whether or not you want to incorporate a protein powder as well.
Which protein powders are best?
It can be difficult choosing a protein powder when so many different types exist. There are protein powders made from whey, soy, hemp, peas, etc. People will choose different protein powders for various reasons, some people choose based on bioavailability (how well it is digested and absorbed in the body), others choose based on taste/texture, or dietary restrictions (animal versus plant based sources). Ultimately, it is all about what you prefer.
Whey protein (a milk based protein) has commonly been known as the 'best' source of protein because it contains all the essential amino acids your body needs to build and repair muscles. In addition, it is rapidly digested and a great source of the amino acid leucine (which plays an important role in helping your body build muscle). Casein (also a milk based protein) is similar to whey, but digests over a longer period of time in your body.
If you want a plant based protein (which is what I personally tend to use), you will find most of the supplements to be soy, rice, pea, or hemp based.
Soy protein is not a complete protein, but still contains many of the essential amino acids our bodies need. It can be a good choice for vegetarians, vegans, or anyone choosing to eat a more plant based diet.
Rice protein is an incomplete protein and is lacking some of the essential amino acids. However, it does come with additional nutrients including fibre, carbohydrates, and the B vitamins.
Pea protein is a plant based protein that is extremely close to becoming a complete protein (like whey or casein), making it a great choice.
Hemp protein is also a great plant based choice, it contains B vitamins, vitamin D, and minerals.
Bottom line: there are a lot of pros and cons to each of the protein supplements on the market. You ultimately have to decide what you like best and what type of protein source you want to use. There has been a lot of recent research that suggests that plant protein can help build muscle just as well as animal based proteins.
Things to consider when selecting a protein powder:
1. What is its purpose?
Are you planning on using this powder post intense exercise? Are you using it as a meal replacement? Will you be adding it to smoothies for the occasional snack?
If you are using it for a meal replacement or a snack you might choose a protein blend that has proteins that are digested rapidly and over longer periods of time. This can help you feel satisfied post shake and reduce overeating throughout the day.
2. Do you have any dietary limitations or intolerances?
If you are avoiding milk because of an intolerance, whey and casein are likely not your best choice. If you are trying to follow a plant based diet then you would likely choose soy, hemp, pea, rice protein, or a blend of these sources.
3. Quality of the product
Read the label, see what's inside. Look at the ingredient list, does it make sense? Are you unsure about some of the ingredients? Avoid supplements that contain artificial sweeteners or additives (e.g. fillers or any ingredients you aren't fully familiar with). A cheaper protein isn't always the better option.
Tip: You can always ask a registered dietitian or nutrition expert to help you when selecting a protein powder. They usually know a great deal about the ingredients and quality of the products.
What do I choose? Personally I like to use vegan proteins, as I am trying to incorporate more plant based proteins in my diet. I don't use protein powders daily, but like to use them in smoothie snacks or occasionally post exercise. I choose protein powders will small ingredient lists that are "clean," meaning they have limited fillers, sweeteners, and additives.
What do other experts think? I asked Luke Bernardi owner of Amped Nutrition what his favourite protein was and why. This is what he said:
"My favourite protein supplement choice is New Zealand Whey Protein such as ATP Labs NzW. The reason for whey protein being my favourite protein choice is because it has the highest biological value out of any protein source. Meaning that per gram it provides the highest amount of protein with the most abundant concentration of complete amino acids. When compared to any other protein source, whey has the highest concentrations of the branch chained amino acids, specifically leucine which is the most important amino acid for stimulating muscle protein synthesis (building and repair of muscle tissue)."
"I specifically choose the New Zealand Whey protein by ATP labs for the reason that is one of the "cleanest" or simplest in terms of ingredients. New Zealand has strict laws against the use of antibiotics and growth hormones on livestock as well as feed. As such, their whey protein is arguably the organic equivalent in the protein supplement world."
What can I do with my protein powder? Check out the recipe below (but keep in mind the powder is optional)
Yummy Peanut Butter Chocolate Smoothie:
This smoothie is high in protein and the perfect post-workout snack.
1/4 cup plain Skyr yogurt
1 ripe banana
2 tbsp. pure cocoa powder
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
1/2 tsp. honey
1 tsp. peanut butter
1/2-1 scoop protein powder (chocolate - optional)
1 cup milk of choice (e.g. almond, coconut etc.)
Blend together and enjoy. Add some ice cubes to make it a delicious chilled treat - perfect on a warm sunny day!
GIVE AWAY ALERT: check out Amped Nutrition in Bolton and use the code Eat Right at the register to receive 20% off your next purchase. Valid until June 30th, 2017. You can learn more about Amped Nutrition by clicking here.
If you ever have any nutrition or fitness questions, please feel free to connect with me. I always love connecting and chatting with all of you! :)
Until next time,
Eat Right Feel Right - Angela XO
Shoutout to my student assistant: Benish Syed for helping with this blog!
Dietitians of Canada (2016). Sports Supplements - get the facts. Retrieved from: https://www.dietitians.ca/Your-Health/Nutrition-A-Z/Sports-Nutrition-(Adult)/Sports-Supplements.aspx
Eat Right Ontario (2016). Sports nutrition: facts on sports and supplements. Retrieved from: http://www.eatrightontario.ca/en/Articles/Physical-Activity/Sports-nutrition-Facts-on-sports-supplements.aspx
The Huffington Post (2016). Your ultimate guide to choosing the best protein powder. Retrieved from: http://www.huffingtonpost.com.au/2016/09/12/your-ultimate-guide-to-choosing-the-best-protein-powder/