Protein powders are everywhere - in grocery stores, at the gym, splattered all over the internet and in your favorite health food store. They even come in convenient ready-to-consume protein drinks.
Just because these powders are readily available, does that mean you necessarily need to be drinking them?
Who should be using protein powders?
Well, there are a few circumstances that definitely warrant continual protein usage:
- When you’re growing. A teenager needs more protein to fuel his workouts because his body is still growing and uses more protein in general.
- When you’re starting a program. If working out is new to you and you’re trying to build muscle, you’ll require more protein than you normally would.
- When you’re amping up your workouts. If you normally work out for half an hour a few times a week, but now you’ve decided to train for a half-marathon, your body will need more protein.
- When you’re recovering from an injury. Athletes with sports injuries frequently need more protein to help them heal.
- If you’re going vegan. People who pursue a vegan or vegetarian lifestyle eliminate a number of common protein sources from their diet, including meat, chicken, and fish, and sometimes dairy and eggs as well.
There are a variety of different protein powders on the market, so how do you know which one to choose?
Protein powders come in various forms. The three common ones are whey, soy, and casein protein.
Whey is the most commonly used, because it’s a water-soluble milk protein. It is a complete protein, which means it contains all nine of the amino acids necessary for human dietary needs.
Whey protein also comes in many different flavors, but be on the lookout because it can also contain artificial ingredients. By law, whey protein is only required to contain 35%-80% protein. Because of this, whey protein is usually inexpensive, but be careful because you get what you pay for.
Soy protein isolate is very popular amongst vegans and vegetarians, but it is our least favorite type of protein.
Soy protein is heated during processing which destroys the enzymes in the soy protein. Its taste is sometimes considered to be more unpleasant, and it doesn’t dissolve as well in water, but this is not the reason we do not like this type of protein. Read on to find out why this is our least favorite type of protein.
Bodybuilders beware: many weight gainer powders, bars, and shakes contain this dangerous ingredient and it can cause troubling side effects such as diminished libido and erectile dysfunction -- and this is just the start. Soy protein also contains isoflavones which has been shown to have a hormonal impact in men, increasing estrogen.
Soy protein isolate can be found in many other places such as, protein bars, meal replacement shakes, bottled fruit drinks, soups and sauces, meat analogs, baked goods, breakfast cereals, and some dietary supplements.
Even if you are not a vegetarian and do not use soymilk or tofu, it is important to become a label reader. There are so many different names for soy additives, and you could be bringing home a genetically modified soy-based product without even realizing it. Look out for names such as:
- Soya, Soja or Yuba
- TSF (textured soy flour) or TSP (textured soy protein)
- TVP (textured vegetable protein)
- MSG (monosodium glutamate)
Casein protein is the most abundant form in cow’s milk, accounting for about 80% of its protein content. All forms of casein contain a high-quality blend of essential, nonessential, and branched-chain amino acids.
Casein is a slow-digesting protein. The body digests casein’s amino acids in a steady manner that keeps their levels well maintained after ingestion. Thus, casein produces a stable elevation of amino acids that lasts for up to seven hours.
Casein does not have an amino acid spike like whey protein does. Therefore, less protein is oxidized or wasted.
Casein is ideal for nighttime use or as a meal replacement, when you know you will not eat for at least three hours.
Since casein is so slow acting, it is not ideal for your post-workout protein. This is because your muscles will not get the immediate benefit of muscle repair shortly after exercise, like they can with whey ingestion.
Casein is better used at bedtime. While you sleep, you have the greatest opportunity for muscle repair, and casein can aid in that type of repair throughout the night since it produces seven hours of steady elevation of amino acids.
So how do you know how much protein you actually need?
Most Americans already get about 15% of their daily calories in protein. To build a pound of muscle, the body needs between 10 and 14 additional grams of protein per day.
That’s not really that much. Some of these powders have 80 grams of protein per serving. You don’t need that. All your body is going to do is break it down for energy and too much protein can be hard on your kidneys and your liver.
- Recreational athletes need 0.5-0.75 grams of protein daily for every pound of body weight
- Competitive athletes need 0.6-0.9 grams per pound
- Teenage athletes need 0.8-0.9 grams per pound
- Athletes building muscle mass need 0.7-0.9 grams per pound
The maximum amount of protein that most adults can use per day is 0.9 grams per pound of body weight.
So if you’re an adult athlete who wants to build muscle mass, and you weigh about 175 pounds, the most protein you would need per day is 157.5 grams. That sounds like a lot, but one 4-ounce hamburger contains 30 grams of protein, 6 ounces of tuna has 40 grams, and a single ounce of cheddar cheese has 7 grams.
If you calculate your protein intake and determine that you’re not getting enough for your athletic needs (some signs of too-low protein intake: you’re unusually fatigued, feel weak when lifting weights or doing other strenuous activity, or are recovering from injuries slowly) how can you best use protein powders to help you improve your performance?
The best way to use protein powders are throughout the day as a snack or meal replacement, but not in the immediate time period surrounding your workouts.
And don’t forget, protein powders are not really necessary if you have access to a normal, healthy diet.
Do you regularly use protein powders? Which kind is your favorite?
Let me know in the comments below!
Yours in Health & Happiness,
P.S. Adding protein powders to smoothies is a popular way to sneak in extra protein for a convenient, delicious snack or meal replacement. Why not try out our delicious smoothie recipes that will do double, even triple, duty for your body by giving you the antioxidants, fiber and protein (if you decide to add protein powder) not to mention all of the vitamins and minerals you need each day. What a great combo! Make sure you have enough tea on hand to mix up these delicious concoctions every day!