A lot of people are looking for the next best thing to help them lose weight, bulk up or to optimize their nutrition for their own health and well being.
Protein powders come up a lot in this regard and the question is do they work and are they good for us and which one is going to best for me?
Protein powders originated back in the 1950’s and 60’s and has grown in popularity over the years, especially as part of a post workout meal, bulking up or as a healthy breakfast option. Protein powders have a number of different benefits.
The reasons why we like using protein powders are for the following:
- Quick and easy to prepare for those with busy lives, athletes and teenagers that don’t have time to prepare meals or will just skip them altogether. They are great if you are on the go. You can take it with you in the car, subway, to work or to school.
- Provides a vehicle in which to incorporate more fruits and vegetables into the diet especially if someone is not consuming enough or doesn’t like to eat them. They can be hidden in a smoothie!
- Many protein powders include other nutrients in the formula such as vitamins, minerals, healthy fats and fiber so you can get more bang for your buck.
- Easily digestible since the food and protein has been broken up so less taxing on your digestive system.
- Can incorporate other healthy foods and super foods into the shake such as flax seeds, chia seeds, nut and seed butters, ginger, turmeric, coconut oil, spirulina, matcha green tea powder etc.
- If people have a hard time taking or swallowing medication and supplements – if it is in capsule or powder form these can be opened and put in shakes so easier to take.
- Great way to increase protein intake if a person is not getting enough in their diet (animal and vegetarian sources), or protein demands are higher such as people who are ill, older adults and some vegetarians or vegans.
- Help with muscle growth and facilitate muscle repair for body composition, weight loss and adding lean muscle.
- Help with blood sugar balance since protein can help with satiety especially if you add other foods such as nuts and seeds/butters, good fats such as coconut oil, etc.
What do you need to look for when purchasing a protein powder?
You want to make sure your protein powder is sweetened with stevia, monk fruit or an alcohol sugar such as xylitol and stay away from artificial sweeteners such as dextrin and maltodextrin, aspartame and aceulfame potassium. Research, has linked these artificial sweeteners to increased appetite and cravings for sugar and sweet foods, resulting in overeating and excess calorie consumption.
While the amount of sweetener in protein powder can vary one scoop of protein powder typically contains 1-2 grams of sugar. This may not seem like a lot, but if you are having multiple shakes a day this can add up. Try to stick with unflavoured, unsweetened or naturally sweetened protein powders.
Types of Protein
- Whey Protein
Whey protein is quickly digested, providing a rapid rise in amino acids that can help increase muscle mass and strength. It may also reduce appetite and promote fat loss. For muscle gain this is the most effective protein powder. It is best to choose whey isolate as opposed to whey concentrate as this has more protein (although is more expensive) (1)
- Casein Protein
Casein is digested and absorbed much more slowly than whey. However, one study demonstrated that men who were overweight and restricting their calories, casein may be a better option than whey in improving body composition by reducing muscle protein breakdown and promote muscle mass growth and fat loss during resistance training. (2)
- Soy Protein
Research has shown that soy protein can help reduce high cholesterol and can manage symptoms of menopause for some women. It can also help with osteoporosis by helping build bone mass. Copper and iron found in soybean are essential for the formation of red blood cells or hemoglobin. This may help to maximize metabolic activity and increase energy levels. This protein powder is best for women. (3)
- Egg protein
Egg-white protein has not been studied as much as whey or casein. Egg-white protein is high in quality and easily digested — though it may not keep you feeling as full as other protein powders and should be avoided if have allergies to eggs.
- Pea Protein
Pea protein powder is especially popular among vegetarians, vegans and people with allergies or sensitivities to dairy or eggs. Research has shown that pea protein may promote fullness and increase muscle growth as effectively as animal-based proteins. (4)
When is the Best Time to Take a Protein Powder?
- To recover after exercise, you should consume protein within 60 minutes of a workout. That’s when your muscles are most responsive to the use of protein for the repair and growth process.
- Breakfast, taking a high protein breakfast such as a protein shake is a great way to rev up the metabolism, balance blood sugars and help reduce energy slumps and cravings later in the day.
- To support weight loss, it is best to consume protein at each meal and snack to help keep you satiated. So having a protein shake as a mid afternoon snack or as a lunch meal is a great option.
- You do not want to be consuming protein shakes for all your meals as this will limit your access to other whole nutrient dense foods that your body also needs
What Can I Put in My Protein Shake?
As mentioned earlier protein shakes are a great way to consume foods that you might not be that keen on consuming it on it’s own. So here are a bunch of options to help boost your nutrient intake and get more bang for your buck.
- Good fats: frozen avocado, coconut oil, MCT oil, milled flax seeds, chia seeds
- Fruits: berries, banana, melons, apples, peaches, dragon-fruit
- Vegetables: dark leafy greens, cauliflower, asparagus, cucumber, celery
- Herbs and spices: mint, ginger, turmeric, himalayan Sea salt
- Sweeteners: honey, stevia drops, natural maple syrup, Fruit
- Fluids: unsweetened almond milk, coconut milk, water, green tea
Protein shakes are a great on and go option for people with various health goals and for those that need more protein in their diet. There are various protein powders out there so best to do the research to find out the best quality brands and which is going to best serve your health needs.