This topic has been attracting a lot of media attention over the last few months with two sort of defined camps emerging.
The first is the “We in NO WAY need to be using protein powders, they will cause your kidneys to pack up and run away and really there is no space in our lives for them at all”. They are then countered by the emergence of a far more natural offering in the protein powder market, with brands that have totally cleaned up the industry now offering a huge variety to choose from when it comes to these products.
I guess the first thing to say is there is a MASSIVE difference in the things you can buy. The classic, stereotypical body building, maxi-muscle slurping powders can definitely stay in the “NO WAY” camp as far as I’m concerned. They are synthetic, full of additives, colourants, sugar, sweeteners, bulkers and nonsense. I’m going to solely concentrate on the natural products from now on.
As a basic recap – there are 2 different forms of protein; animal and plant based. I use the analogy with clients that animal protein is relatively anatomically similar to what we will eventually turn it into ourselves so we refer to it as complete protein. Basically it has all the amino acids in it that we need to grow, repair our muscles, form immune cells from etc. Plant based sources on the other hand are incomplete – I don’t know about you but when I look in the mirror I don’t see huge similarities between myself and a pumpkin seed or chickpea so in order to gain all those amino acids we need we have to combine them.
This is the same when we choose a protein powder.
Whey based proteins come from dairy so they are complete, whereas vegan products either need to be based on a number of plant based sources, or we need to be aware and account for the fact that they are incomplete proteins. I would also always suggest opting for an organic product, especially if using a whey, as then you avoid taking in any additional antibiotics, hormones, pesticides etc that are allowed in non-organic production practices.
The original backlash against protein powders came due to the potential for kidney damage when someone exceeds their protein requirement so this is the next consideration to make. If you are relatively sedentary then you need about 0.8g per kg of your body weight of protein per day, however if you are more active, are unwell, pregnant, recovering from surgery, fatigued (the list goes on) this will increase. I would also mention at this point that in most cases I see people who aren’t achieving their protein requirement as opposed to those exceeding it, but if you are already eating a pretty meat heavy diet then adding a protein powder into your day as well may not be appropriate for you.
My recommendation is always to consider a protein powder as an addition, one that you account for when planning the rest of your meals for the day. I personally find them to be exceptionally convenient snacks – for example if I know I have appointments over lunch and I won’t get to eat until mid-afternoon then I either have a smoothie with some protein in it mid morning, or combine the powder with some hot nut milk to make a protein latte. This then provides a sustained energy release as opposed to either letting my blood sugar drop too low if I didn’t eat and then being ravenously hungry, or having something more carb based which can cause blood sugar fluctuations and energy dips later on.
In terms of the products I use I have listed my personal favourites below. One thing to be mindful of when using them is that whey versus plant will react slightly differently due to the fact they are made from different things. Whey will tend to be thicker and obviously creamier, whereas plant powders may require something extra to bind them if you’re making something like protein pancakes.
I hope that gives a pretty solid round up for you but if I have failed to touch on something or you have any extra questions about protein, protein powders or specific products please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org or comment below.
With healthy wishes,