Chances are that you are already somewhat familiar with protein supplements, have tried a tub or two or even have a tub sitting in your cupboard at home. Somewhere along the way in most peoples health and fitness journey, protein powder seems to have it’s place. But the big question is what are the benefits to taking protein powder and what does it actually do?
Protein powder is one of the most widely used and popular supplements used today. Surpassing all of the hype, protein powders have stood the test of time. They have evolved over the years to become superior supplements that for the most part have very clever ingredient profiles. There will be a protein powder that can give you that extra little bit of firepower to get you over the line.
Benefits of protein powder
Whether it be whey protein, plant-based or collagen protein, we all need to know the benefits of protein powders. There is plenty of evidence based research to date which has identified that using a protein powder can have many health and wellness outcomes. Lets take a look at the benefits in detail.
Source of high-quality protein
Protein powder can be derived from many high quality and natural sources. Examples of these are whey, pea, rice, egg, soy, collagen. New types include fava bean and pumpkin making an appearance in the resurgence of plant-based proteins.
Whey protein supplements are by far the most popular protein supplement consumed in the world. They are also the most widely researched as well. A whey protein supplement is a complete, high-quality protein, containing all of the essential amino acids. Depending on the form it is quite easily digestible and readily absorbed making it a very convenient and highly bioavailable source of protein.
Main Types of Protein
- WPC or Whey Protein Concentrate – Whey protein powder supplements list whey protein concentrate on the label and is generally 80% protein with the remaining comprising of lactose, minerals, fats and moisture
- WPH or Whey Protein Hydrolysate – The long protein chains have been broken down into shorter chains. These are called peptides which then makes this type of protein more easily absorbed and digested.
- WPI or Whey Protein Isolates – Are the most easily digestible and readily absorbed and the purest of the protein types. They contain 90-95% protein and little to no lactose making them ideal for individuals who may have a dairy intolerance.
All have their advantages and specificities and your choice will be determined by your overall goal and preference.
Plant proteins are often favoured for those who follow a vegan or vegetarian lifestyle. Their popularity and improved quality and taste means that they are also the preference for many regardless of this. Plant-based proteins often contain a blend of pea and rice protein to make a full amino acid spectrum. Many also have added probiotics, minerals and digestive enzymes to create a more superior product. Plant Protein now boast additional wellness benefits as well as the protein itself.
Collagen proteins are rapidly becoming incredibly popular. They are a great alternative to whey protein or for people who have an intolerance to lactose. Collagen protein is now another high quality option that still provides a great number of benefits.
Protein can provide the additional protein required to ensure that protein requirements are met on a daily basis. It can be hard living a busy lifestyle while trying to consume a set number of solid meals. Shake based protein supplements fill this gap perfectly.
Protein to increase and retain lean muscle mass and for improved strength
As we know, protein is one of the three major macronutrients, with carbohydrates and fats being the additional two. Our food is comprised of these three macronutrients to then allow us to have energy for our everyday life activities.
Protein is the building blocks that are essential for building lean muscle mass. In short, it is our cells that require protein for protein synthesis. This is required for the process of hypertrophy, repairing lean muscle mass and improving body composition.
Leucine is the most growth-promoting (or anabolic) of the amino acids. Research now appears to suggest that consuming protein both before and physical activity or resistance training has a significant impact on increasing and improving muscle growth and also increasing strength.
As we age, our muscle mass decreases. Protein supplementation can be of assistance in this instance to both retain the lean muscle mass that you already have and to also prevent muscle loss due to ageing.
Protein for satiety and weight loss
Over both fats and carbohydrates, protein aids in keeping you fuller for longer. It is more satiating as it has a higher thermic effect, meaning that your body takes longer to break it down burn it off as energy. When we eat and digest our food, our metabolism increases – this is what is called the thermic effect. Protein tends to be an extremely important part of a weight loss plan due to both satiety and thermic effect.
When it comes to weight loss specifically protein aids in :
- Suppressing the appetite which overall will lead in a reduction of calories consumed across the day
- Aiding in increasing metabolism so that you burn more calories overall
- Aiding to retain and build lean muscle mass especially when in a caloric deficit
- Assisting you to reach and maintain your ideal body weight and body composition
Protein and it’s anti-inflammatory and anti-microbial effects
Lactoferrin which is found in whey protein has shown to have anti-inflammatory and anti-microbial properties. This small protein has also been shown to be able to suppress immune responses to prevent inflammatory diseases.
Another small protein found in whey called glycomacropeptide which is a milk-derived bioactive peptide. It has also been shown to have some reduction in intestinal inflammation.
Protein for recovery after exercise
During physical activity such as resistance training your body begins breaking down muscle protein. The two hour window following exercise, otherwise known as the anabolic window, it is recommended that consuming an adequate amount of protein. A protein shake will give your body the branched chain amino acids it needs to repair and rebuild these proteins. Protein intake after exercise can also also aid in reducing the muscle soreness that is often experienced following physical activity.
Protein and blood pressure
There is evidence based research to suggest that bioactive peptides called lactokinins which are whey-derived ACE inhibitors have been shown to be regulate peripheral blood pressure. Consuming whey protein may modestly lower blood pressure.
Benefits of protein powders
As you can easily see – there are quite a few very positive health benefits that give protein powders a pretty good wrap. In this guide however, we want to outline some of the pros and the cons of protein powders. This will help you make an informed choice and to fully understand the relevance they may have in your particular circumstances.
Convenience and versatility
Consuming an optimal amount of protein each day can at times not be an easy task. None of us appear to be immune to not reaching our targets each day. This is where protein powder can be a somewhat of a saviour. Adding in that one protein shake can be all that is required for you to reach your daily target.
Many of us too are on the go during the day or sometimes in a too much of a rush to ensure that a protein sufficient meal is prepared. This is where protein powder can be useful and more convenient than consuming a meal. Ontop of that having the time to prepare the meal or find a high protein meal can be hard.
Protein powders are also highly versatile. Regardless of whether your preference is for a plant based protein, collagen or whey, basically all can be added to foods such as yoghurts, smoothies, oats and used in baking treats for an additional protein hit.
If a shake is more your style but you have little time to prepare or are once again on the go, protein meal replacements are popular among many and not only taste great and are highly convenient they will often have added vitamins, minerals and fats for additional health benefits.
Often it may become difficult to consume high quality protein sources. This is once again where protein powders can be incredibly handy. Protein powders today tend to be very high quality and have ingredient profiles that are remarkedly comprehensive.
If you are guilty of occasionally making poor quality protein choices or simply they are not available to you – protein powder supplements will definitely allow you to fill that void and ensure your body is functioning at peak capacity.
In general a scoop of protein powder can yield as much as 30 grams of protein per serve which can make it a seemingly very valuable addition to your day.
May be useful with exercise-induced poor appetite
Protein shakes can easily be tolerated when appetite may be suppressed particularly after exercise or some form of strenuous activity. It is quite common for your appetite to be suppressed after a taxing training session and tolerating a protein rich meal is not welcomed or easily digested.
Mixing a scoop of protein powder as a shake will ensure that you are giving the body the kickstart for the repair and building process that it requires without having to ingest a full meal.
It might be assumed that protein powder supplements can be expensive. This is not necessarily the case however. Although many people think of protein supplements as expensive, protein powder can be one of the cheapest options per gram of protein and are often very affordable.
Lack of micronutrients
Consuming whole foods are always paramount. Protein supplementation generally doesn’t contain the vitamins and minerals that you would get if you met these needs through food instead.
Steak for instance is a great source of protein and is rich with such nutrients as zinc, selenium, iron, vitamin B12, potassium and niacin. Essentially a protein powder will only contain these if it is fortified.
Consuming too much protein – Possibility to over-supplement
Just like any other functional food, the way you use protein can affect its impact on your overall health. Consuming too much protein does not have any additional benefits. More does not always mean more. In general consuming 25-30 grams of protein in each meal and approximately 0.8-1.2 grams of protein per kilogram of bodyweight (depending on your specific goals) is more than enough. Overconsumption can lead to health downfalls and excess calories from one particular macronutrient and an imbalance overall.
No additional benefits over whole food sources
Meeting total daily protein needs is the priority. Protein powders can be an effective way to help reach this target, but they don’t necessarily offer any benefits over food. If your diet is sufficient in whole food sources and consists of high quality protein from a variety of sources then in short, consuming protein powder supplements are not advantageous over this. Protein powder supplements are not essential – they are simply to be used to supplement where intake may be inadequate or greatly lacking.
The take home
Protein powder supplements are a very easy and convenient manner in which to add protein to your diet. Due to the technology and research that there is today, protein powders are by far superior in quality and are very easily utilised, digested and absorbed by the body.
No matter what your goals or preference (whey, plant-based or collagen) there is a protein powder to suit. Although whole food choices are far more superior and should be the primary focus, protein powder supplements are still highly regarded and suitable if there happens to be insufficient protein intake and offer benefits that make a mere shake something that could potentially take your health and wellness goals to the next level.