The use of protein powders have evolved from chalky liquid to delicious fruity shakes, muffins, and supplement bars. They can be found in almost every grocery store, vitamin store, and supermarkets in rows of big tubs in different colors, flavors, and sizes. The prices can range from affordable to insanely expensive.
There is no doubt that protein supplements have greatly increased in popularity and for good reason, but has this supplement been taken to the extremes? First we need to determine the types, the benefits of each protein supplement, how they work and then we will determine where they should stand in our diet.
Whey protein is the most popular and widely used form of protein supplementation. It was the beginner of all protein supplements and remains the Big Daddy to this day. Whey protein is one of the two proteins contained in cow’s milk. It is the water soluble one, making it easy for the body to absorb. Whey is also so useful in anti aging factors because it has a high level of amino acids L-cysteine that helps combat deterioration of bones, muscle tissue, and more. Studies have shown that using a protein supplement daily can help the elderly to stay stronger and less frail while they age. (2)
Of course, the main reason people use whey protein is because they are looking to gain muscle and shed fat. One such study followed the progress of two groups for 12 weeks, one only cut 500 calories and the other cut 500 calories but also supplemented with whey protein. Both groups lost weight, but the second group lost more fat than the first and were also able to preserve more of their muscle mass. (1) This second group had a much greater benefit from their diet. The fat loss and retained muscle not only made them look more appealing but was better for their health.
Most people take whey protein after a good workout to help repair the muscle tissue and gain mass. Timing your supplementation is crucial for the best synthesis and muscle repair. The best timing is about one hour after resistance training although any protein consumed after this time will eventually be used, within the hour it will result in a much quicker recovery. (6)
Casein protein is the other part of milk protein, the curdling part. This is a much slower digested protein but that doesn’t mean it is useless. Casein protein is usually used in conjunction with whey protein but taken a little differently. Because casein protein is absorbed slowly throughout the day, it helps with appetite control and maintained energy throughout the day.
Taking both casein and whey protein at the right time has been proven in even better fat loss and strength gaining. A 10 week study showed the greatest effects of athletic performance of the use of both whey and casein protein supplementation. (3)
Soy protein is usually used only by vegetarians because it’s a much lower quality of protein and has been through a rigorous chemical process to make it digestible. Soy in its raw form isn’t even edible. It does deliver all the protein elements like glutamine, arginine, and BCAA’s to help vegetarians lose fat and build lean muscle mass.
Creatine is a very popular supplement and frequently considered to be a protein supplement but it isn’t. Although creatine does contain some parts of a protein molecule, it can’t be considered a complete protein. Creatine is a natural compound that is made from some of our internal organs that is secreted to our muscles through our blood stream. You can also get a good dose of creatine from eating red meat or some fish.
However, the type of creatine we will be talking about is creatine monohydrate, which is a concentrated creatine supplement used by athletes and bodybuilders alike. Creatine monohydrate can be bought in liquid, pill, or powder form.
Creatine is beneficial in increasing muscle mass in three ways. First, it hydrates the muscle cells with water, allowing for premium protein absorption with little protein breakdown. This makes the protein more effective in muscle growth. Second, it increases the muscular energy in your body to help you get the most out of your workout session. Last but not least, creatine monohydrate more than doubles the recovery rate of your muscles, helping them to grow bigger in a smaller amount of time. It has been proven that using creatine post workout will give you the most benefits. (4)
Protein supplements should be used as a way to make sure to get the optimal amount of protein in your diet and no more than that. Having too much protein can adversely affect the liver and kidneys, cause digestion problems, and cause calcium deficiency and dehydration. (6)
The optimal amount of protein each person needs depends on many variables. Gender, age, weight, and activity will change the amount of protein a person should consume but generally the range is between .4 to .8 grams of protein per pound of body weight. The higher end should be for those athletes really looking to build muscle and resistance training to get it done. (6)
Since you will want to choose the least altered protein powder, the taste will stay harder to handle but there are many ways to mask the taste without all the added sugars. Many people simply add the powder to a smoothie full of a mixture of sweet fruits, yogurt, nut butters, and/or vegetables.
You can also add the powder to many recipes for muffins, bars, cookies, and more. The different flavors available can be played with to make delicious snacks. Chocolate flavor can make a delicious faux chocolate mocha breakfast shake. Vanilla is great to add to muffins and bars. Strawberry flavor is wonderful to make a triple berry protein sorbet by leaving it in the freezer overnight. With a little bit of creativity, you can make a wide variety of tasty concoctions so you never get bored with your protein supplement.
Using a protein supplement will not only help you to keep all your muscle and gain some more, it will cut your body fat percentage. Other benefits include speeding up muscle recovery times and reducing muscle soreness after stressing them through a hard workout.(6)
Protein powders are not known for tasting delicious. In it’s raw form, it has a somewhat sour and bitter taste. For this reason, many protein powders have been altered to make them taste better. When choosing which powder to use, you have to consider what type, of course, but also look at the added ingredients. Look for words like aspartame, sucralose, maltodextrin as they are all added sugar. Too much added sugar or sodium can counteract your health boosting effects of supplementing with protein.
The price of the powder isn’t always the best indication of the quality of the protein. Make sure you read the label and make the wise decision based on the amount of quality protein per serving, the added ingredients, and the source of the protein. The best proteins are the most natural and won’t contain more than 7-9 ingredients in the powder altogether.
You also want to make sure that there is high protein, low carbohydrate, and low fat content in the supplement. Sometimes, there are non-protein added supplements in the protein powder for more benefits. These can be things like fiber to help you stay full and aid in digestion, stimulants to give you an increase in focus and energy, and other added vitamins or minerals. This may make you choose a protein powder or shy away from them depending on whether you want those added benefits or just plain protein.
Protein supplements are a great way to increase strength and bulk in athletes without the use of illegal steroids. It’s also a good way for the everyday person to lose weight without the use of dangerous stimulants. It is not, however, a good way to get a meal’s worth of nutrition on it’s own. Many have been overusing these supplements as a way to eat.
Protein supplements cannot replace whole foods. They lack many of the vitamins and minerals that we need everyday. Also, you can get all the protein your body needs through whole foods, but it can be hard for us to do with our busy schedules and lack of good home cooked meals.
Partially replacing your meals by adding protein supplements as snacks or with other foods is a great way to lose fat and gain lean muscle mass and there is nothing wrong with adopting this habit.(5)