Do you need protein powder? As a long time Personal Trainer and Body Transformation specialist I’m ofter asked whether or not you should take supplements to achieve your health & fitness goals.
The most frequently asked about is protein shakes, which are the most widely used supplement available.
The answer is often complex and specific to the individual but below is everything you need to make an informed decision on whether they are right for you.
What is a protein powder?
Think of protein powder as the powdered form of chicken breast that is faster to digest (your stomach doesn’t have to break it down first).
That means it is is great when your muscles are craving nutrients in order to repair and grow, after exercising for example. Around that however it comes with as much benefit as eating actual whole food.
Powders are primarily built around whey protein which is derived from milk although other forms including pea, rice and other vegan blends.
Drink protein, grow muscles – right?
Instagram, Twitter and other social networks have become a breeding ground for the idea that you can buy bodies out of a bottle which are unfortunately false claims.
Protein shakes do not have performance or physique enhancing qualities in their own right and drinking them as an alternative to real food would be foolish.
They are a worthy addition after a strenuous workout as they will deliver amino acids to muscle cells supporting protein synthesis, helping them recover and grow.
Are there different types?
There are three main types of whey (milk) protein: Hydrolysate, Isolate and Concentrate.
There are also vegan proteins, but that is a discussion for a different day.
Hydrolysate is produced in such a way that it is incredibly pure and effectively pre-digested meaning it has a super fast absorption rate. It also generally has few fillers and bulking agents meaning you get more of the good stuff. It is favoured by athletes and is unsurprisingly the most expensive.
Isolate ranks 2nd on the list. It is the refined version of concentrate yielding high levels of protein and excludes most allergens including lactose making it a good option for the average joe.
Concentrate comes in 3rd place. It is the crudest form of whey on the market and although this means it is the least processed it also has the lowest protein concentration. This is largely due to its significant fat and cholesterol levels and the tendency for producers to use a large number of low quality bulking agents. It is also rich in Lactose.
Personally I take the financial hit and use Hydrolysate, if that’s not available I will use Isolate and if that isn’t available I will go without as I avoid dairy where possible.
Know your goals and when protein powder fits in
At the start of this article I mentioned how protein powder is effectively the powdered form of chicken breast. This means it will also contain calories, more so if you are using it in a delicious smoothie (here’s one of my favourite recipes) or, for example, with almond milk instead of water.
All of those extra calories need to be accounted for as it will make a difference when it comes to reaching you goals.
To lose fat, regardless of exercise level, you have to be in a caloric deficit. I.e eating fewer calories than you burn in any given day.
You will probably have to eat smaller, leaner meals.
Under these circumstances using protein shakes and effectively drinking your calories would probably leave you feeling hungry, worn down and more likely to cheat on your diet.
Instead eat slightly larger / more delicious protein rich meals and appreciate the satisfying feeling of a full stomach over a convenient shake on the go.
To gain muscle / tone up it’s important to one, eat more calories than you actually need so your muscles have the fuel to recover and grow. Two, follow a great exercise programme so your muscles actually want to develop in the first place.
With the increased exercise intensity it’s important to make sure your muscles are refuelled after a workout so protein powder would be a great supplement to include in your diet.
I would recommend that you should aim to have it within 15 minutes of finishing your workout with a small handful of berries or half a banana for best results!
To get healthier with no real desire to change your body composition in the gym or by following a diet plan there is no need to be supplementing.
You should instead be focussed on eating fresh, organic, wholesome food that can nourish your body. Here is a guide on How to become a little bit healthier: 3 great tips.
So, do you need protein powder?
I believe the most important factor to consider when deciding if you need to begin supplementing with protein is to remember that it’s just a food supplement.
Don’t expect instant results: protein powder is little more than a source of protein, and that will help you build muscle if you’re exercising, but it’s not going to ‘do’ anything for you that food wouldn’t do.
Like all supplements, protein is best used as part of your overall health and fitness efforts, which will include planning the correct training phases, training intensity, consistency, adequate rest periods, and, of course, a nutritional program calibrated to your current goals.
Personally, I take a protein shake after hard workouts, simply because I know I’m not bothered about having less fat than I currently have and want my body to be well nourished so I can train again sooner and harder.
To make sure you are getting the best results possible in the gym and kitchen check out my Online Guides. Packed with recipes, nutritional tips, and exercise programmes it is the ultimate guide to kick starting your own transformation.