What You Need To Know About Protein Powder
Protein is one of those little buzzwords in the health and fitness world. You can add protein to your smoothies, you can find snack bars enhanced with protein, and if you talk to a nutritionist about anything pertaining to weight loss, you’ll probably hear a lot about protein. Realistically, buying fresh meat, eggs, and other traditional sources of protein can become expensive and tiresome. You barely have time to look up ways to cook the stuff, let alone actually prepare it. And maybe you don’t feel like eating a lot of meat, so you’d like an alternative way to get your protein. Protein powders certainly seem like efficient, easy ways to get more of this important nutrient, without having to do much. But they’re a complex product. Here is everything you need to know about protein powder.
Why you may want protein powder
A woman who weighs 130 pounds should get at least 48 grams of protein per day. Every human should get about 0.37 grams of protein per pound of body weight. But getting this, during a busy day, can be difficult. Protein powders offer an efficient way to get enough protein on the go.
Not all protein is created equally
The quality of a protein powder is based on its biological value (BV). This essentially means how readily your body can absorb and use it. It’s the nitrogen that counts—the more nitrogen your body can obtain and use from a protein source, the more lean muscles you can build.
Proteins by BV
The protein with the highest BV is whey protein. The second best option is eggs. Milk ranks third. Beef is fourth and beans are fifth. Some people are surprised to hear that, believing that another meat source like chicken or pork would have come before beans, but this is good news for vegetarians.
The benefits of whey
Whey protein is one of the most easily digestible of the proteins. It also boosts the production of an antioxidant that improves your immunity and reduces stress hormone levels. Just make sure you get micro-filtered whey—anything else is basically a sham. Whey is best for when you need an instant protein boost.
The benefits of egg
The protein from eggs is released slowly throughout the day, so it isn’t the best protein source for pre or post-workouts. But it is a good option for when you need steady energy throughout the day.
The benefits of milk
Milk releases protein into your body slowly, too. But because many people have a hard time digesting it, the problems it causes can outweigh the benefits and it may not be a viable option for some.
The benefits of meat
You won’t find protein powders or supplements made from beef, but when you have the time or energy to cook it, do. This protein, while not as efficient as whey or items higher on the ranking, has two things the other proteins don’t: vitamin B and iron. Both of these nutrients help you absorb other nutrients better.
The benefits of beans
When talking about bean-based protein powders we’re talking about soy protein powders. Soy has been shown to reduce the risk of hormone-related cancers, alleviate menopause symptoms, and help build bone mass. Soy, like milk, is an ingredient that not everyone can tolerate, though.
You can overdo it
In order to build muscle (as opposed to just maintaining it), you need around 0.6 to 0.8 grams of protein per pound of body weight. So don’t buy a protein powder that brags about providing more than that because you don’t need it—excess calories from protein can even be stored in your body as fat, which you don’t want.
Spread it out
Too many individuals have a big serving of protein powder in their morning shake and skip protein the rest of the day. You should spread out your powder, just as you would your food-based protein. Spreading it out throughout the day helps your body build muscles.
You might consider this instead
If you can tolerate dairy, you can make a healthier alternative to protein powder at home. Mix a blend of dairy milk with 1/3 cup of instant milk plus a couple tablespoons of your favorite nut butter and you have a lot of protein from real food. This mixture is just as easy to add to shakes as protein powder is.
Some powders make you gain weight
Some powders are designed to help you gain weight. These are popular among bodybuilders. Typically made from whey and possibly eggs and milk, these are characterized by a high carbohydrate and calorie content. You’ll often find maltodextrin and fructose on the ingredient lists of these. These are meant to be used in conjunction with a rigorous workout routine so you build muscle rather than develop fat.
Some are meant to help you lose weight
When you want to lose weight, you’ll look for meal replacement powders. These are low in calories, sugar, and carbohydrates. These contain carbohydrate sources that release more slowly in the body like brown rice and oats. Meal replacement powders tend to be whey-based. These also have essential fatty acids and several vitamins and minerals added. They’re meant to replace the majority of a meal, but you should mix them with fruit, yogurt and other smoothie-like ingredients.
Plain protein powders
A simple protein powder is different from a weight gain powder or a meal replacement. The main ingredient in these will be the protein source. They are low in carbohydrates, with around five grams per scoop, and high in protein, with around 20 to 25 grams per scoop. Whether they help you lose or gain weight will depend on the rest of your diet. You do not have to exercise rigorously to consume these, nor is there a time limit on their consumption, as there can be with meal replacement powders. Protein powders are the most versatile of powders.
You can’t have powders alone
Ultimately, nutritionists say you should build your diet around real, whole foods, and then use protein powders to fill in the gaps in your protein intake. But you cannot have a diet based on protein powders, protein shakes, or protein bars alone. You’ll miss out on the myriad of essential nutrients you need from whole fruits, vegetables, grains, and animal protein sources.