I constantly get asked my opinion and advice on protein powders. . . Should I be taking a protein powder? What's the difference between an isolate and a concentrate? What does sprouted mean? When should I be taking it? Will it make me bulk up? I'm a vegetarian, do I need to be taking protein powder? How often do I take it?
Protein powders are very popular, and for good reasons...
// They are more convenient than high-protein foods like meats, fish, eggs and dairy;
// They are either fat free or contain only a small fraction of the fat found in high-protein foods;
// They are money-savers when compared to high-protein foods like meats and fish;
// They are beneficial in ways beyond merely supplying extra protein;
// They are often great-tasting and can be used by the whole family.
Protein powder choices also happen to be afar and wide with many sub-categories and choices between them. Thus why so many customers and clients are unsure about all the questions posed above. So I've decided to do a quick run down of the most popular choices, the key differences among them, and find out which is best for you.
Questions to ask yourself before buying a protein powder:
// What do I want protein powder for? I'm a vego and think I need more / I'm weight training / Mum told me to get it
// Is dairy a sensitivity for me? Coz if it is, I'd steer clear of the ever-popluar whey-based formulas
// How much dairy am I already consuming? If your body is a-okay with dairy, but you eat a lot, I recommend getting something that's NOT dairy. Too much of something is never a good thing.
// When do I want to be taking the protein? In my breakfast / Post workout / Before bed / As a snack at work
// How much protein am I currently getting from my food? Do I eat animal meats, nuts or seeds, legumes, eggs, organ meats, leafy green vegetables? And how much?
These can all give you (and your Nutritionist) a very good idea as to which kind will best support your health and your goals.
Having said all that, here's a run down of the most common forms available from good health food shops, and a little bit about them.
>>> Whey Protein Concentrate
This type of protein powder is made from a protein in milk called whey. Due to its strong amino acid profile and ease of absorption, it is arguably the most popular sports nutrition supplement. Whey protein has been shown to augment muscle protein synthesis, support fat burning, boost the immune system, improve insulin sensitivity, and decrease appetite. Containing around 70% protein, it's a good option for anyone wanting to supplement their diet with additional protein, and if they have no dairy intolerance's or sensitivities as the lactose in this can cause upsets.
>>> Whey Protein Isolate
This is essentially when whey concentrate is further processed and purified, and we end up with what we call whey protein isolate. You should note, however, that the amino acid sequences do not change when protein is denatured (from concentrate into isolate), and whether a protein is denatured during processing does not affect its muscle-building qualities. Whey isolate is generally preferred by those wanting a very quick absorbable protein post workout, as it's the isolate that gets delivered to your blood stream quicker than a concentrate. Due to the additional processing it is also higher in available protein, clocking up near 90% protein.
>>> Hemp Protein
Sadly, this is yet to be legally classified as a "food" here in Australia (even though it is in every. other. country. in. the. world) but I see no problem with ingesting it and there's plenty of health-minded people that will agree with me. A complete and highly absorbable vegetarian protein that is naturally higher in omega 3 essential fatty acids that all other protein powders on the market.
Hemp is much lower in protein than other sources (around 33%) but some will argue that your body will use it more efficiently than whey based protein for example. It does contains all the essential amino acids in great quantities however.
An important aspect of hemp seed protein is a high content of arginine (97mg/g protein) and histidine (23 mg/g protein), both of which are important for growth during childhood, and of the sulfur containing amino acids Methionine (20 mg/g protein) and cysteine (16 mg/g protein), which are needed for proper enzyme formation.
Other benefits of hemp that you won't find elsewhere include GLA (omega 6 fatty acids), CLA (conjugated linoleic acid which supports stubborn belly fat loss), no carbs, heart-loving phytosterols, minerals, vitamins E, D3 as well as some Bs, and gut cleansing fibre.
Hemp also supports a truly sustainable Australian hemp industry for food, fibre, fuel, paper, building and bioplastics. Yay! Oh and Paleo folks, this is an awesome option for you!
>>> Sprouted Brown Rice Protein
Much more common these days, and yep, believe it or not, you can get protein from a grain. This is a great option for anyone who cannot tolerate the dairy based proteins. Being rice, it is higher in carbohydrates than other proteins but the protein content is still up there at about 75%.
It dissolves and mixes into liquids very well, but depending on brands, can be a little grainy to taste. If you're following a paleo-based diet, this one isn't for you.
>>> Pea Protein
This comes from Yellow Peas (Pisum sativa) have been known for centuries as a healthy vegetable food. The main difference between green peas and yellow peas is the harvesting date: green peas are harvested before maturity; yellow peas are harvested at maturity. If you are yet to try pea protein, let me want you it does have a much stronger flavour than your whey and rice proteins, and I find it thicker as well. As a vegetable based complete protein, it is suitable for those who suffer from allergies, have restricted diets, are dairy sensitive, or who want a vegan protein with minimal carbohydrates, as this boasts 83% protein and 3% carbohydrates. I also know that Vital Protein have a unique extraction process that results in a highly digestible protein that does not cause digestive complaints such as bloating. As for other pea protein brands I'm not sure. I'll also note that Vital Protein is sweetened with Thaumatin (not stevia as so often seen these days), a protein naturally extracted from the seed shells of the West African Katemfe fruit.
NOTE: Neither rice or pea protein is a complete protein containing all essential amino acids, but when you put them together, Voila! You get a complete protein! Two brands I know of sell the combination quite nicely - Amazonia and NutraLife
>>> Carob Protein
This is one of my favourites! And no, it's not brown and it tastes nothing like the chocolate-alternative, carob powder. A natural raw food protein derived from carob seed, with an excellent amino acid profile, it has a nutty flavour I suppose you could say. Mixed with cinnamon and oat milk it's delicious!! It is also an excellent source of protein for people who want a low allergy protein that is naturally free from wheat, gluten, lactose, dairy derivatives, soy, egg, and animal products.
Being rich in soluble and insoluble fibre, carob protein is a slow releasing protein, meaning it's one that's better taken for additional protein requirements mid-morning or mid-afternoon, or even before bed. Not necessarily your best bet as a quick replenishment post-workout, but it can still be taken then by all means.
And the stats on this one is 54% protein and 20% carbs.
>>> Egg White Protein
Another form that's not as common to find but still a good option. For me though, I'd rather be eating whole organic eggs from pasture raised chickens instead of taking just the whites in a powdered form.
Egg white protein was the most popular type of protein supplement for many years before milk proteins surpassed its popularity due to their better taste and lower cost. Like milk proteins, egg white is also naturally very low in fat and carbs, cholesterol-free and an excellent choice for those who wish to avoid dairy products.
When sourced from free range eggs, the protein contains considerable amounts of vitamins A, B and D says this source, but I am sceptical to believe this as these are fat soluble vitamins, and you will only find them in fats (ie. the yolks, not the whites).
Nevertheless, one scoop provides approximately 24 grams of protein, four times the amount found in one whole egg, and with just 2 grams of carbs per scoop.
The con's of egg white protein though as taken from here include:
Egg protein powder is typically manufactured through spray drying. Though the eggs are typically pasteurized, egg protein powder is best served cooked to ensure that the avidin, a type of protein, has been deactivated. Avidin binds to biotin, a crucial B-vitamin. When this happens, biotin deficiency may occur and symptoms such as hair loss, skin problems, as well as neurological symptoms in adults like depression, may present.
Egg protein powder may contain dangerous pathogens like Salmonella, too. This is especially true if the eggs were sourced from factory farms. Chickens in concentrated animal feeding operations often live in toxic and polluted environments so it’s no surprise these animals, and consequently their eggs too, end up carrying diseases and infections.
Traces of antibiotics, hormones and other pharmaceuticals may be present in the egg protein powder if the raw material utilized was sourced from factory-farmed eggs as well. Antibiotics in factory-farmed eggs are particularly a concern as it has been found to cause antibiotics-resistance in humans. These dangers are the reason scrutinizing where the eggs for the protein powder were sourced is crucial.
>>> Soy Protein
Not one I recommend at all to be honest. There are far better options and so many on the market these days that I don't see why soy protein need even be an option.
Soy (like hemp) is unique among vegetable protein sources as it supply's all 8 essential amino acids, and most vegetable proteins lack one or more. The isoflavones in soy provide antioxidant benefits, heart health benefits and is often used by women transitioning through menopause.
Soy protein has a characteristic taste that, while not unpleasant, can be hard to completely mask with flavors and sweeteners, especially when soy is the sole protein source in a product.
Also... try to get a protein that is actually protein. I know this sounds obvious, but particularly at the body building stores versus a health food store, there are plenty of options that might sound great when a muscly man is telling you it's the best thing ever.... But they might be the total opposite and loaded with crap! Read the labels - you don't want to be consuming additional sugars from sucrose, dextrose, corn syrup and the like. Same goes with artificial colourings, flavours, numbers, and preservatives. The cleaner the better!
And aim for organic where you can, and if you're buying whey protein or egg white protein, I strongly advise sourcing ethically raised and grass fed products.
Now to you -- Do you use a protein powder and if so which one is your favourite and why? I'd love to hear form you in the comments below.