There's a stigma with protein powder that it's just for buff men trying to bulk up. You see a giant tub of it on-top of the fridge in a guy's flat and you think "Oh, this dude's serious."
Why does it seem like protein powder is just for the bodybuilders? And is protein powder really necessary? Let me explain...
First and foremost: protein powder is not just for bodybuilders trying to gain some extra muscle. That's not at all what protein powder does. Whether you lift or not, anyone can take protein powder.
Protein powder is a supplement with a high percentage of protein. Protein is a crucial part of our diet and it can be hard to get from regular foods because of the lack of it and the higher cost than carbs and fats. Cafes might have all the smashed avocado you can stomach, but a sandwich with say, a 4:2 ratio of meat to bread is unlikely offered on the menu. This is where protein powder comes in handy. It's cheap and it's (usually) low in carbs and fat.
Protein is important because it contains essential amino acids that are responsible for building and repairing muscle tissue, making enzymes, hormones, and other bodily chemicals. Our bodies don't produce all of these essential amino acids. We only produce 12, meaning we need the remaining 9 from food. Protein is commonly associated with bodybuilding because when you strength-train (lift heavy weights), your muscle fibers tear and it's protein's job to repair them and make them stronger. Therefore, people who strength-train need more protein in their diet to help repair their muscle tissue.
Types of Protein Powder
There are many different sources of protein powder, each with pros and cons. Choosing the best for you is all about preference and lifestyle.
Whey is the most popular type. It's cheap and provides a lot of protein with not too many carbs and fat added into each serving. It's digested rapidly, so amino acids get into the blood and do their thing quickly. Whey is a cheese by-product, so it's not suitable for vegans and could cause issues if you're lactose intolerant. Though most whey protein bothers my stomach, I found that Legion Athletics' WHEY+ didn't. It's also the best tasting whey protein powder I've found with 0 fat and is free from artificial crap and ingredients that I can't pronounce.
Casein is also found in milk, but it's digested more slowly than whey. If you'd rather the release of amino acids be a "slow burn", choose casein. Casein is good to have before bed to help aid muscle recovery while you're sleeping. It's harder to find in stores than whey and I personally have never tried it.
If it wasn't obvious, egg protein comes from... eggs. (Who remembers the Amanda Show? "I like eggs.") Egg protein has little to no fat or carbs because it uses the white bit of the egg only. It's digested slowly, like casein, and is rich in vitamins and minerals. I personally have never tried it.
Soy, rice, hemp, and pea are the common protein sources in vegan protein powder. While soy is a "complete protein" containing all of the amino acids we need that our body doesn't already produce, there are ongoing studies that say excessive intake of soy can affect the normal production of hormones. For example, it could decrease the production of testosterone in men. For more details on that: Read here. Vegan protein can also contain a high percentage of toxic heavy metals (no, I don't mean Iron Maiden and Metallica).
A rice and pea blend is your best bet because it's easily digestible and contains an amino acid profile similar to whey. Just remember to read the nutrition label to make sure you're not consuming a lot of carbs and fat with every serving.
My favorite vegan protein is Vega Clean Protein in chocolate flavor. I am eager to try Legion's vegan protein powder THRIVE. It has more calories than Vega but it's low in heavy metals and has zero GMO ingredients.
Should you buy protein powder?
It really depends. If your goal is to build muscle and you're lifting weights in the gym, it's definitely worth trying out protein powder.
If you're not trying to build muscle, it's still important to pay attention to how much protein you're having daily. According to the Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA), at minimum you need 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight/0.36 grams of protein per pound of body weight daily.
For example: I am 129 pounds (59 kilograms). At minimum, I should be having 47 grams of protein daily. But, because I am trying to build muscle and lose fat at the same time, I aim to have 120 grams of protein a day.
Maybe you have a busy schedule and buying a chicken wrap at KFC seems easier than bringing in a home-cooked container of chicken breast. My advice: Skip the KFC and have a protein shake instead. Your body will thank you.
best places to buy protein powders
In the USA: Legion Athletics. Yes, I am an affiliate with Legion Athletics but that's because I trust their products and believe that WHEY+ is the best quality whey protein powder you could get. The only reason I don't recommend buying Legion from the UK is because the supplements are made in the USA and the customs charge for shipping to the UK is extortionate.
Protein Powder Recipes
You don't have to have a boring shake of water and powder every time. There are a ton of ways to use protein powder and a simple Google search will give you thousands of recipes.
For a shake, my favorite recipe is:
- 1 scoop of protein powder
- 2 cups of almond milk
- 1 frozen banana
- a scoop of cacao powder (If you're weird and don't like chocolate, swap the cacao powder for frozen berries)
- *adding ice just makes it even better
For a snack, my favorite recipe is:
Mix in a bowl:
- 100 grams of fat-free yogurt
- 1 scoop of protein powder
- a scoop of cacao powder
- sweetener (honey or agave syrup)
Here's a link to my favorite protein powder recipes (okay, they're totally all just dessert):
Comment below and let me know what protein powders you like and if you have any recipes I should try.