It's time to talk about protein again! Three weeks ago we started our Protein Talks. In four Mondays in October, we talk about all the things you should know about protein.
If you missed the first three posts, you can find them here:
Today, let's take a look at protein powders.
What is Protein Powder?
Protein powder is a concentrated form of protein, and consuming it makes it easier and faster to add a nice punch of protein into your diet, without having to pull out pots and pans to cook up your fish, chicken or other dense source of protein.
How is Protein Powder Made?
Protein powder is made by extracting protein from various foods that contain it.
The type of protein powder you probably see most often is whey protein powder. Whey is made of milk.
But you can also find grass fed beef isolate protein, which contains same ingredients that you'd get from beef, including collagen and gelatin.
If you prefer to avoid both meat and dairy, you can use purely plant based protein powders. In these, protein comes from soy, hemp, rice or peas.
There's a lot of processing involved in making protein powder. For example, making protein concentrate requires drying proteins using high heat, as well as acid extraction.
Protein isolates are made using alcohol wash, water wash or ionization. After all that is done, everything goes through final filtration process.
As you see, there's definitely a lot of processing involved in making protein powders.
Is Protein Powder Safe To Use?
But, don't we always recommend to eat minimally processed foods, and stay away from everything that comes in a package and has a long shelf life? Isn't all that processing dangerous for health?
In general, if you don't have allergic reactions to the source of food the particular powder is made of, you should be okay. Of course, if you're lactose intolerant, avoid whey protein powders, and if you know that you react to soy, stay away from soy protein powders.
The best way to see if a particular powder works for you is to buy a sample packets. That's a great way to make sure you're not wasting your money by buying a large canister and realizing that it causes you annoying stomach issues.
When You May Want to Use Protein Powder
In my opinion, it's always better to use natural foods than processed products to meet your nutrient needs. However, there are cases when you may want to use a good quality protein powder:
- You're on the go. If you know that your day is going to be super busy, you may whip up a shake with some protein powder in it and bring it with you. Add some healthy fats like avocado, coconut oil or milk or nut butter for more satiety. It's not the best option, but it's better than getting nauseous in the middle of a meeting because you're so hungry.
- You're on the go.. again. As much as I love sardines, not everyone around me loves them. Especially if not they're the ones eating them. When I know that I'm surrounded by a lot of people during the day and don't really have a chance to open my sardines or a container with chicken breast, I may opt for a protein smoothie instead.
- You're on the road. It may happen that you're in the middle of nowhere and the only place you could get something to eat is a gas station. You can probably find some fruits and nuts there, so you're good with carbs and fats. But protein? Not that easy. In that case, it's useful if you have a single-serve packages of protein powder with you that you can easily mix with water.
- If getting protein with your food is difficult. Vegan and vegetarian diets are generally lower in protein, so protein powder can be a good way to supplement it.
- Add to low-protein foods. Love your oatmeal? It's tasty, but relatively low in protein. You can up the protein by adding a scoop of protein powder to it.
- Bake with it. You can make cookies, pancakes and breads a bit more nutrient-dense by using protein powder in them. Here's my all-time favorite Protein Banana Bread recipe.
Do You Have to Use Protein Powder?
No, most definitely not.
You don't have to eat anything anyone tells you if you don't want to. That includes protein powder (and other protein supplements and shakes).
Want to know a funny story?
More than a year ago, I was at a job interview at one of the gyms in San Francisco. The manager asked me, what's the first thing I tell to a personal training client who walks in and says he wants to lose weight.
I told him that I'd first take a look at the client's diet and figure out ways to improve that, and put together an exercise plan to support his weight loss goals.
The gym manager looked at me and said, “No. The first thing to do is to sell that person a protein supplement.”
This is BS. Protein supplements won't do the work for you, they won't help you to lose fat and build muscle without you doing anything. It may support the fat loss goals, but it's nothing you have to take in order to get fit. If anyone tells you that you do, they're lying.
And no, I didn't go to work there.
What To Pay Attention to When Buying Protein Powder?
So if you're interested in trying out protein powder, don't buy the first and the cheapest one you see when you walk into a store.
As a general rule, choose products whose ingredient list is as short as possible. Usually, the shorter the list, the cleaner the product is. For example, there are powders that have just three or four ingredients, and you've likely heard these words before.
Of course, the more protein a serving has, the more value you get. Most protein powders have 20-25 grams of protein in one serving, and about 130-150 calories.
If you're buying your first protein powder or if you want to try out new brand, you could try to see if they have small one-serving packages available. That way you can make sure you actually like the flavor and see how your body reacts to it. If it makes you run to the bathroom a few hours after taking it, it's probably not for you.
Protein powders can be used as supplements in your diet, when you're on the go or if you're simply looking ways to add more protein into your diet.
But they're not doing the work that has to be done in kitchen and workouts, and for most people, they're not necessary.
Do you have a good protein powder recommendation?