Lifestyle,  Nutrition

What to Look for in a Protein Powder

Are protein powder supplements really necessary? The answer is — it depends! Protein is an essential macronutrient that plays a vital role in our overall health and well-being. While whole food sources like lean meats, beans, and nuts are excellent protein sources, protein powder has gained popularity as a convenient and effective way to meet our dietary needs. Here, we’ll delve into the benefits of protein powder, exploring how it can support muscle growth, aid in weight management, and enhance post-workout recovery.

Benefits of Protein Supplements

  • Weight Management — loss or gain
  • Muscle Growth
  • Post-exercise Recovery
  • Food Challenges eg. Older adults, vegan’s, vegetarians, and people with chronic illness
  • Injury/Surgery Recovery

1. Convenient and Efficient Source of Protein:

Protein powder offers a convenient way to increase our protein intake without the need for extensive meal preparation or cooking. It provides a concentrated form of protein that can be easily mixed with water, milk, or added to various recipes. This accessibility makes it an ideal option for individuals with busy lifestyles or those seeking a simple way to meet their protein needs.

2. Muscle Building and Recovery:

Protein plays a crucial role in muscle growth and repair, making it essential for athletes, fitness enthusiasts, and anyone looking to build or maintain muscle mass. Protein powder, particularly whey protein, is rich in essential amino acids that are quickly absorbed by the body, promoting muscle protein synthesis. Consuming protein powder within 60 minutes post-workout can help repair muscle fibers and support muscle recovery, leading to improved strength and performance.

3. Weight Management and Appetite Control:

Protein has been shown to promote feelings of fullness and reduce appetite, making it a valuable tool for weight management. Protein powder can be used as a meal replacement or as a supplement to increase overall protein intake, which may help control calorie intake and support healthy weight loss or maintenance. Incorporating protein powder into a balanced diet can help curb cravings, promote satiety, and prevent overeating.

4. Nutrient Density and Versatility:

Protein powder is not only a convenient protein source but also a nutrient-dense option. It contains essential vitamins and minerals that are beneficial for overall health. Additionally, protein powder can be incorporated into a variety of recipes, such as smoothies, pancakes, energy balls, and baked goods, adding a protein boost and enhancing their nutritional value.

5. Improved Recovery and Exercise Performance:

Intense exercise places stress on the body, leading to muscle damage and inflammation. Protein powder, especially when consumed post-workout, can aid in muscle recovery and reduce exercise-induced muscle damage. Studies have shown that protein supplementation can enhance exercise performance, increase muscle strength, and improve endurance during prolonged physical activity.

6. Considerations and Quality:

When choosing a protein powder, it’s essential to ensure quality and select a product that aligns with individual dietary needs and preferences. Different protein sources, such as whey, casein, soy, or plant-based proteins, have unique nutritional profiles and benefits. Consulting a healthcare professional or registered dietitian can help determine the most suitable option.

Not only is it a very personal choice with regards to flavour and texture, but also what you, as an individual, can tolerate.  Ideally, choose a high-quality unsweetened powder with only natural ingredients. Many contain unnecessary artificial flavours, sweeteners, and fillers.

Cautions: Limit protein for kidney disease — People with kidney disease can’t tolerate a lot of protein at one time. In this case, choose a protein powder that has a lower protein content (10-15 grams per serving).

Different Types of Protein

Whey protein is the most researched in terms of effects on muscle gain, weight loss, and wound healing. Whey contains all essential amino acids, especially leucine. The branched-chain amino acid (BCAA) leucine activates a biological pathway that prompts muscle protein synthesis and helps build muscle.

Whey protein has been shown to increase nesfatin concentrations — a neuropeptide produced in the hypothalamus involved in the regulation of hunger and fat storage.  A recent 2019 study found that increasing levels of nesfatin in overweight women improved their resting metabolic rate and reduced fat around the trunk and upper body.

Most people can tolerate whey protein without an issue even if they’re intolerant to lactose. Whey isolates and concentrates are best to use after a workout.

Note: Free-range chicken, eggs, sustainable wild-caught fish, beans, lentils, and nuts are nutritious food sources of BCAAs. 

Soy protein is another common choice and somewhat controversial. It’s still unclear as to whether sex hormones are significantly affected by soy protein consumption. A recent clinical trial found that soy-based protein can be effectively incorporated into a calorie-restricted, high-protein diet for improving body composition and cardiometabolic health.

If you do choose soy, find one in isolate form that’s not genetically modified.

Rice protein is 100 percent plant-based and a good choice for vegetarians and vegans or for people who don’t consume dairy products.

Pea protein is suitable for vegetarians and vegans and highly digestible and hypoallergenic.

Hemp protein is also 100 percent plant-based. Another good option for vegetarians and vegans. It’s also a source of omega-3 fatty acids.

Things you should look out for in a protein supplement:

Artificial Sweeteners

Artificial sweeteners may disrupt your gut microbiome and cause side effects including headaches, migraines, and gastric distress such as bloating. The easiest thing to remember is the 900 numbers shown on the nutrition label. For example sweeteners used can be sucralose, Splenda (955), aspartame, Equal, NutraSweet, (951), and saccharin (954).

Glucose, Fructose, and Dextrins

These additives are unnecessary and can cause bloating and gastrointestinal distress. They can also cause malabsorption issues and mineral loss.

Milk and Skim Milk Powders/solids

Milk and skim milk powders are often used in cheaper supplements as bulking agents. These powders are often high in lactose sugar (also known as milk sugar) causing bloating, gastrointestinal distress, constipation, and loose stools.

Thickeners and Gums

Xanthan gum and guar gum are commonly used as thickening agents to create fullness; you will find these in many meal replacement shakes. The common side effects from these are gas, bloating, gastrointestinal distress and nausea. 

Try my Strawberry Dream Smoothie Recipe here…Yum!

Conclusion

Protein powder can be a valuable addition to a balanced diet, offering numerous benefits for muscle growth, weight management, and post-workout recovery. Its convenience, efficiency, and versatility make it an attractive choice for individuals seeking a convenient source of protein. However, it’s crucial to consider individual dietary needs and preferences when selecting a protein powder and to ensure it complements a well-rounded diet and healthy lifestyle. Unlock the power of protein powder and harness its benefits to fuel your journey towards better health and fitness.

References:

1. Pasiakos, S. M., McLellan, T. M., & Lieberman, H. R. (2015). The effects of protein supplements on muscle mass, strength, and aerobic and anaerobic power in healthy adults: a systematic review. Sports Medicine, 45(1), 111-131.

2. West, D. W., & Phillips, S. M. (2012). Anabolic processes in human skeletal muscle: restoring the identities of growth hormone and testosterone. Physiological Reports, 2(4), e12064.

3. Leidy, H. J., & Campbell, W. W. (2011). The effect of eating frequency on appetite control and food intake: brief synopsis of controlled feeding studies. Journal of Nutrition, 141(1), 154-157.

4. Soenen, S., & Westerterp-Plantenga, M. S. (2008). Proteins and satiety: implications for weight management. Current Opinion in Clinical Nutrition and Metabolic Care, 11(6), 747-751.

5. Jäger, R., Kerksick, C. M., Campbell, B. I., Cribb, P. J., Wells, S. D., Skwiat, T. M., … & Smith-Ryan, A. E. (2017). International Society of Sports Nutrition position stand: protein and exercise. Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition, 14(1), 20.