A beginner’s guide to protein powder
For many of us, knowing when (and how) to implement nutritional supplements into our diets can be something of a minefield. And when it comes to protein powders, we tend to leave them firmly in the capable grasp of bodybuilders.
However, if you’re exercising regularly, additional protein in your diet can be extremely beneficial: breaking down amino acids in the body, aiding muscle growth and repair, as well as preserving lean muscle tissue when shedding fat.
So, what are protein powders exactly?
As it’s difficult to get the required amount of protein in our bodies from food alone (chicken, steak, eggs, fish, milk etc), protein powders are purely nutritional. They come in various forms, the most common being whey, soy and casein.
Which type of protein is right for me?
Best for: Beginners and regular exercisers
Whey is the most common base for protein powder, as it comprises all of the nine essential amino acids needed for muscle repair. There are three forms you can buy: isolate, hydrolysate and concentrate. Isolate is high on protein and low on allergenics (which is great for the lactose intolerant). Hydrolysate (most popular with serious athletes) is produced in a way that effectively means it has been predigested, with a super-quick absorption rate in the body. The cheapest option is concentrate, however the significant fat and cholesterol levels offset the benefits of the protein content.
Best for: Those looking to build muscle
Derived from milk, casein protein is very similar to whey protein - however it’s absorbed much slower due to the fact it takes so long to digest. This type of protein powder is primarily used by bodybuilders (or those looking to build muscle). Casein protein shakes are consumed just before bed to release a steady flow of nutrients into the body during sleep, preventing the body from burning muscle.
Best for: Vegans, vegetarians or people intolerant to lactose
Ideal for vegans, soy protein is derived from soy beans (one of the very few sources of plant-based protein) as opposed to milk. Pound for pound, it contains less protein than whey and casein - however for vegetarian or vegan gym goers (who have already eliminated a number of common protein sources) it’s an extremely useful alternative.
What is the best way to consume protein powder?
The most common way is as a shake or a smoothie, adding delicious extras such as fruit, vegetables, almond butter or milk. Thanks to the surge in popularity of protein powders, there are plenty of recipes on the web for protein-based muffins, pancakes, and even pizzas. These chocolate chip cookie dough protein bites by Boysahoy use whey powder for a natural muscle-repairing treat.
When is the best time to drink them?
Right after exercise, when your muscles have been broken down and are in most desperate need of protein to rebuild. However, providing your body with a constant stream of muscle-repairing amino acids is most beneficial - so try having a shake every three hours. If you’re looking to lose weight - a protein breakfast will fill you up. If you’re looking to build muscle, drink a protein shake before bed.