With the vast number of protein powders available, choosing the right supplement can be a challenge. Whether you’re a professional athlete, occasional gym goer or plant-based foodie, everyone is getting in on the protein trend. Thanks to the high protein content of protein powders, adding a scoop to your smoothies, porridge or shakes can help maintain muscle mass, boost your metabolism and burn calories.
Whilst feeding your protein filled muscles has never been easier but not all powders are created equal. Choosing which one is best for you can be a confusing and overwhelming. Protein powder should only ever be seen as a supplement to your diet. This is really important to understand because no protein powder offers the variety of nutrients whole foods do. They should never be seen as meal replacements.
WHAT ACTUALLY IS PROTEIN & WHY IS IT SO IMPORTANT?
Like carbs and fat, protein is a macronutrient or substance required in large amounts for us humans to survive. All sources of protein are made up of organic compounds called amino acids, often known as the building blocks of protein. Though there are about 20 different types of amino acids, eight of them, are collectively referred to as essential amino acids. These can only be supplied by the foods we eat as our bodies cannot produce them naturally. While animal sources of protein contain all eight, when it comes to other sources of protein like beans and whole grains, that’s not always the case. For this reason, Vegans and Vegetarians are often advised to eat a wide variety of protein rich foods and supplements to ensure they consume all the essential amino acids throughout the day.
WATCH OUT FOR HIDDEN INGREDIENTS IN PROTEIN POWDERS
Even after choosing whether an animal or plant-based source of protein is best for you, you must watch out for additives. These are largely artificial substances and unhealthy sugars added to protein powders to enhance their taste and appearance. Amongst several others, they include Maltodextrin, Sucralose, Sucrose and Agave Syrup. If you see any of these within ingredients, you’re best of trying a different brand. Many protein powders are so laden with sugars, artificial sweeteners and awful chemicals, they should sit next to Frosties in the supermarket.
WHAT ARE YOUR GOALS?
The protein powder you opt for should ultimately depend on your lifestyle and goals. Whether you’re looking to lose weight, gain muscle, or avoid snacking on naughty things, there are different varieties with unique qualities that make them the best choices.
The exhausting list of protein powders has been narrowed to only the best animal-based and plant-based sources available. Having experimented with all of these wonderful brands and scrutinised their labels, they all pass the test of offering only 100% natural ingredients, completely free from any nasties
WHAT EXACTLY ARE THE DIFFERENT TYPES OF PROTEIN POWDERS?
ANIMAL BASED PROTEIN POWDERS
The protein in cow’s milk is 20% whey protein and 80% casein protein. Whey, a by-product of the cheese making process is widely acknowledged for its superior amino acid profile, high cysteine content and mixture of peptides over other proteins. These qualities ensure Whey Protein is quickly digested which is why it is advised just before, during or immediately after physical activity, times where your body requires the most energy.
Whey protein is also an abundant source of branched chain amino acids (BCAAs). BCAAs are three amino acids that especially influence our muscles. It is no surprise that those wanting to promote lean muscle like active gym goers and athletes enjoy Whey protein powders.
Most whey protein powders are made up of whey concentrate and mixed in with a small portion of whey isolate. Comparing the two, whey protein isolate has a higher protein content and is lower in carbohydrates, lactose and fat. However, it’s often more expensive due to the additional processing it has to go through.
Casein protein, also found in cow’s milk, is digested at a slower rate than Whey. It is for this reason why many consume it only in the evening and before bed, deliberately reducing rate of muscle protein breakdown. This helps to nicely distribute your protein intake throughout your sleep. Casein protein forms a gel like substance when it reaches the stomach, so doesn’t become absorbed into the blood stream right away.
Despite Casein being proven to be not as effective as whey protein when building muscle immediately after physical activity, it still has its purpose. Consuming it just before bed will ensure you will maintain more muscle mass during your sleep compared to consuming whey protein.
PLANT-BASED PROTEIN POWDERS
These are obviously essential for vegetarians and vegans. For those meat eaters, studies have proven the plant-based powders are easier on the digestive tract than some animal sources. Vegan or not, you probably won’t be able to taste the difference between flavoured protein powders.
Many plant proteins do contain essential amino acids but not in the same amounts as those found in animal sources like eggs and dairy. While it is possible to obtain all nine essential amino acids necessary for muscle growth with a balanced vegan diet, protein powders are the perfect dietary supplement.
Hemp protein powder is a by-product of cold pressing for Hemp Seed Oil. The defatted Hemp remains are called hemp cake. This Hemp cake is then milled into a fine powder.
Hemp protein contains all 20 amino acids including the 9 essential and 2 semi-essential amino acids for the human body, despite some in very low levels including Lysine and Leucine. It has an approx. 50% protein concentration.
Largely compromised of Edestin and Albumin, Hemp protein is easily digested (rated 90% digestibility protein, meat and fish are 94%, eggs are 97%) and therefore kind to the digestive system.
Hemp protein powder is rich in Omega-3 fatty acids, very high in insoluble fibre and poly-unsaturated fats. Hemp also includes the psychoactive component Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) found in Marijuana (Cannabis) but it isn’t remotely harmful.
Pea protein is derived from yellow peas or split peas. This protein is easy to digest and highly soluble. It includes high levels of branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs) and benefits from a complete amino acid profile with particularly high levels of Arginine, Lysine, and Phenylalanine.
Despite low levels of Cysteine and Methionine, studies have shown there to be no significant difference between the effects of using Pea Protein against Whey protein. However, the taste of pea protein is relatively unpleasant and hard to mask it with any natural flavouring.
Brown Rice Protein
Brown rice protein powder is unrefined, vegan, gluten-free and soya-free.
Rich in Magnesium, Selenium and very high in insoluble fibre, brown rice protein can improve your digestion, combat cardiovascular disease and reduce the developing serious illnesses like cancer, heart disease and arthritis. Brown rice powder is also non-allergenic so useful for those sensitive to dairy, gluten and soy.
Brown rice powder contains all of the essential amino acids. Although low in Lysine, studies suggest there to be no significant difference between the effects of using Brown rice protein and why protein.
HOW MUCH PROTEIN SHOULD YOU CONSUME?
Speaking to different experts like Personal Trainers and Nutritionists may offer differing answers. However, they will all agree that it depends on your level of physical activity, gender and age. As a very rough measure, you can use this simple calculation.
Men who work out for 45 minutes three to five days a week need about 0.45 gram per pound. So an 82Kg guy who works out regularly needs about 80 grams of protein a day as a minimum.
Women who work out for 45 minutes three to five days a week need 0.35 gram per pound. For a 64Kg woman, that translates to nearly 50 grams of protein daily as a minimum.
If you were to consume significantly more than that, you may do more damage than good. There is only so much your body needs and any excess protein will be burnt off as extra energy. Importantly, consuming the excess calories from your protein bursting drink or meal can lead to unwanted weight gain. The best possible tip for optimal results regardless of your goal is to distribute your protein intake evenly throughout the day. Studies have proven that grazing on protein as opposed to packing it all into one meal boosts protein synthesis by 25%. Muscles grow through protein synthesis, which is one of our most fundamental biological processes.
If you really want to reach your goals, you not only have to train like a pro, you’ve got to eat like one too. While the wonders of fitness are endless from reducing anxiety to strengthening your heart, unless you’re eating right you are actively minimising every positive effect of being fit. Personalised nutrition will help identify which foods can help or hinder your fitness goals. Eating right and supplying your body with the nutrients it needs only heightens your physical ability and performance.
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