A number of people have mentioned protein powders to me lately – as if it was the best thing in the world. I’m going to dive a little deeper into protein powders (and try not to offend supplement companies in the process!!)
FIRSTLY – I have a food first philosophy. It is extremely easy to get enough protein from food without the need to supplement.
As a supplement, that’s exactly what they should be used as: an addition to a balanced diet when you can’t get enough protein through real food for whatever reason.
Reasons we might advise using a protein powder:
I’m in no way saying start using one, but if you have one already or are in the camp of needing it for a particular reason, here are a few things I'd recommend you look for:
1. Informed Sport or HASTA tested
2. Make sure it includes enough protein per serve
For muscle protein synthesis look for ~20-30g of protein per serve. More doesn’t equal better when it comes to protein, and anything above this in one sitting is a waste. It doesn’t increase the rate of protein synthesis any further (1). And guess where it goes? Straight down the toilet! That’s right – we pee it out.
3. Choose a high biological value protein
Not all protein sources are created equal. This is measured by the biological value of the protein. High biological value means two things: it has all 9 essential amino acids needed to build and repair muscle, and the ratio of these amino acids are similar to what is needed by your body (1). These are typically whey or milk protein-based but can include egg as well.
Plant-based sources of protein are often missing amino acids and are in a different ratio than what’s required by the body, making them lower in biological value (1). They can be matched with a complimentary protein source to provide all essential amino acids between the two sources, but a larger quantity is still needed as we’re unlikely to absorb it as well.
Plant-based protein powders are a good choice if you’re vegan or sensitive to lactose or milk proteins.
Protein quality is also influenced by how fast it can be digested, meaning how quickly it can reach your muscles for synthesis and repair. Whey protein has both a high biological value and is rapidly digested, giving the quality box a great big tick.
4. What other random ingredients does it contain?
A big one to avoid is “propriety blend”. If the company isn’t open and honest about what a powder is made up of exactly – AVOID!
Most protein powders will also have added sugar or sweeteners to make it palatable. If you are choosing a sweetened product, opt for a non-nutritive sweetener like stevia or sucralose to improve the taste without increasing the energy density.
Less is more.
If you’re thinking about using protein powder the three questions you need to ask yourself are:
1. Why am I using this?
2. Is it safe?
3. Is it necessary?
It’s all too easy to get caught up in clever marketing and the popular opinion that supplements are needed for optimal performance!
Take home messages
We can get plenty of protein from food. Always try and meet your requirements with real food first! Milk, Greek yoghurt, cottage cheese, meat, chicken, fish, eggs, tofu, legumes, nuts and seeds are all great food options that provide protein.
Can be useful in some situations – it's convenient.
Supplement – is it safe? is it Informed Sport tested?
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