When you first venture into the world of fitness it seems as though the must have supplement of choice to support those hard earned gains is protein powder. But what is protein powder? What do the different types do? And is there anything in particular you need to look out for in terms of quality and effectiveness? Well, here’s a list of our most commonly asked questions and answers to these very questions.
Q: What is protein powder?
Protein powders are typically condensed sources of protein that are convenient, cost effective and are obviously high in protein and often low in calories. Protein powders come in several types, such as whey protein, casein and even vegetarian and vegan proteins. These all have slightly different properties because of the protein sources they are made from, which influences their amino acid profile.
It is these amino acids that are the building blocks of protein that the body uses to repair muscle after exercise. High quality proteins such as whey contain all the body’s essential amino acids that are required to support muscle recovery/growth and large amounts of a ‘special’ amino acid called leucine, which is an important nutritional trigger of muscle building processes.
Other animal sources of protein, such as meat, dairy (from which whey and casein are derived), fish and eggs contain leucine and all the essential amino acids, so are also excellent to support muscle growth. Plant protein sources (with a few exceptions) contain only a few essential amino acids, so vegan protein powders often combine different plant sources, that have different amino acid profiles, to ensure that all essential amino are contained in the supplement.
Q: What is whey protein?
Whey protein is derived from the ‘waste’ product of cheese manufacture. Don’t let the term waste fool you though as it is a very high quality source of protein and as it has most of the fat and dairy sugars (lactose) removed it is also low in calories. Whey is also very easy to digest, making it an excellent post-workout source of protein, but can be taken any time to help meet your daily protein needs.
In this regard, it is important to note that daily protein intakes, specific to your goals, are more important than just having the odd protein shake. For example, for muscle growth it is suggested that you consume around 2g or protein for every kg of lean body mass (if you don’t know your lean body mass just estimate it, you don’t have to be that accurate!). So if you weighed 80kg you would be looking to consume 160g of protein per day. Obviously, a shake containing 30g of protein is a start but you still need to focus on the rest of the diet to maximise your results.
Q: Could I be allergic to protein powders?
Like any food there is the potential for you to be allergic. Protein powders can contain lactose, soy and gluten, which can be present in small amounts depending on the product, so always check the label for anything you know you are allergic too… known allergens will always be stated in bold writing.
To make it easy for you on our website we also have specific categories for each protein and which ones are suitable for your own needs, for example gluten free, dairy free, lactose free, vegetarian and vegan.
Q: Is protein powder low carb?
Generally speaking, yes. Most of the sugars have been removed to leave a more ‘pure’ protein supplement. However, some do contain lower amounts of carbs than others depending on how they are manufactured. Whey isolates have the lowest carbs of pretty much any protein powder because manufacturing ‘isolates’ more of the protein from the whey and removes more of the unwanted sugars and fats.
Q: Do protein powders have any side effects?
No. Protein powders are just condensed forms of proteins found elsewhere, no different to getting them from their original sources. For example, if you are fine drinking milk then whey protein will give you no issues.
Protein powders should be considered like any other form of food, just in a more convenient form and the associated risks are exactly the same, no more, no less.
Q: Do protein powders help with weight loss?
There is certainly some evidence to suggest a high protein diet helps with weight loss. Protein is a ‘filling’ macronutrient so helps control hunger during periods of restricted calorie intake that is required to cause weight loss. Protein also has quite a high energy demand to digest and absorb and this is another reason why protein helps create an increase in overall energy expenditure which can help contribute to weight loss. Protein will also help protect muscle and preserve metabolic rate, so is a must for anyone looking to lose weight.
Q: Are protein powders good for you?
Protein powders on the whole are quality sources of protein that will help you not only meet your daily protein and essential amino acids requirements, but are is also rich in several essential minerals.
As with any food or supplement, whether it is good for you will also largely depend on the overall diet. Would a diet consisting of just whey protein be healthy? Of course not (as would be the same for pretty much eating any single food), but it is certainly has qualities in terms of its nutritional composition that contribute significantly to our essential daily nutrient requirements.
In summary the type of protein powders available are completely safe to use and have many positive impacts on health by contributing to our daily essential nutrient requirements. Protein powder, as part of a high protein diet, is important to support healthy weight loss and to help recovery and muscle growth after exercise. Protein powders are a cost effective and convenient way to increase protein intake in the diet and can be used any time, but are especially useful after exercise when an easy to digest source of protein can be beneficial for some people.