I’m a firm believer in food first, however if you’re struggling to meet your daily protein targets through diet alone then protein supplements are a great, convenient way to fill in the gaps. To build, and maintain muscle, you should be aiming for about 1.2-1.7 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight per day. So for a 70kg person, that would be about 100g of protein a day.
For many people, particularly women, there is this misconception that protein shakes will make you “bulk up” or gain weight. As females we have less testosterone than males, which makes it much more difficult to build muscle. However, even for men, it still takes weeks – months even – of consistent training and good nutrition to build visible muscle.
Unfortunately, Protein shakes will not make your muscles grow any bigger or any faster. The biggest advantage of protein shakes is the convenience, and also how cost effective they are.I like to add a scoop to my oatmeal or to my morning smoothies to increase the protein content. They also make a great addition to healthy desserts and baking.
Many people seem to worry that they’re “unnatural” or processed foods. As they are a powder, they are a byproduct of food so yes they are processed to some extent – but it doesn’t make them any less real. Whey protein is a byproduct of cheese and hemp protein is a byproduct of hemp seed oil. You can also buy organic protein powders if quality and sourcing is something which are concerned about – just keep an eye out for the stamp of approval!
Like I said, first and foremost base your meals around good-quality sources of protein such as lean meat, egg whites, fish and dairy and if you can meet your protein needs through real food, then it is not necessary to include supplementation in your diet.
Types of protein powders
As the health and fitness industry has expanded, there have been more and more types of protein supplementation on the market. It is now possible to buy a range of diary and non-dairy protein powders, in hundreds of different blends and flavours.
Most protein powders on the market are made of whey, a protein derived from dairy. It has a complete amino acid profile which means that it contains all the essential amino acids (i.e. the one’s we can’t make in the body ourselves). You can buy this type of protein in essentially every flavour you can dream of from the classic vanilla and chocolate, to the more weird and whacky flavours like birthday cake and custard cream!
You can often choose from two types of whey protein; isolate and concentrate. Isolate yields a high level of protein and almost no lactose, making it a good option for the lactose intolerant. Concentrate, meanwhile, is the cheapest option, but it has a higher lactose, fat, and carbohydrate content. On the grand scale of things, there’s not a whole lot of difference.
Like whey protein, casein is also a derivative of milk. The main difference is the speed at which the body digests them. Whey is broken down quickly, providing essential amino acids to muscle, which is great post-workout. Casein on the other hand is a slow digesting milk protein, which provides a continuous release of amino acids over a longer period of time. Casein is best consumed at night time to provide a steady supply of amino acids while you sleep. This protein powder is really creamy and makes the best puddings, even when it’s mixed with just water! However, if you’re choosing between whey and casein for nutritional support, I would recommend whey due to it’s faster absorption rates for post-workout nutrition.
Pea protein is a 100% plant based protein. It is perfect for vegans, or those with allergies to dairy, but it has an incomplete amino acid profile which means it does not contain all essential amino acids. However you can enhance the nutritional profile of pea protein by mixing it with other proteins such as eggs, egg white protein, brown rice protein or hemp protein. One downside is that it doesn’t come in as many fantastic flavours as whey or casein, and on it’s own it doesn’t taste great. However you can easily improve the flavour with stevia flavoured drops or other sweeteners!
Brown rice protein
Brown rice protein is derived from the whole rice grain. As it is plant-based, it’s not a complete protein, but as we know that does not make it redundant as a protein supplement – simply combine it with other protein powders or protein sources, such as egg, to complete the essential amino acid profile. Brown Rice Protein is the ideal protein choice for anyone looking to increase daily protein intake but avoid dairy and soy protein sources or for vegans and anyone looking to avoid specific allergens such as wheat, gluten, eggs, dairy and soy.This protein powder has a bit of a chalk-like texture so when I use it I tend to blend it up with some frozen banana or creamy coconut yogurt to improve the taste and feel!
Nutritionally, compared to the other plant-based proteins, hemp protein is probably the best in terms of amino-acid profile. It also contains omega-3 and omega-6 healthy fats and a ton of fibre. The downside of hemp protein is the taste – and it’s not that easy to hide! I find the taste of hemp is best disguised mixed with chocolate or cacao powder and it actually makes really delicious protein brownies.
Egg white protein
Egg white protein is a great non-dairy protein powder as it contains all nine essential amino acids, making it a complete protein. As it is lactose free, it is a great alternative for those intolerant to dairy. Again, the taste isn’t amazing!
Soy is often used by vegans as it is a complete plant-based protein. However, it is often highly processed and derived from genetically engineered soy. Soy contains high amounts of isoflavones,which belong to a group of substances called phytoestrogens (estrogen-like compounds found in plants). As oestrogen can play a key role in breast cancer development and survival, there have been many questions about the risks and benefits of diets high in soy.However, this hypothesis was based on observational studies and there is no clear evidence for risk. If there’s one solid conclusion from all the data on soy and breast cancer, it’s that eating moderate amounts of soy foods very likely does not increase the risk of breast cancer.