Protein powders – do we need them and why are there so many different types?
Protein, protein, protein,we are being bombarded with protein! The health and fitness industry is pushing a plethora of different types, brands and blends of protein powders. It doesn't stop there, the amount of snacks (that are often highly processed and sugary) with added protein seemingly increases daily.
The question is do we really need this added protein or can we get adequate amounts through our diet? The majority of people already get adequate amounts of protein from a well balanced diet thereby questioning the need for additional protein supplements. Nutritious foods such as grass-fed meats, poultry, eggs, seafood, beans, lentils and soy supply good sources of protein. These foods, among others, are all naturally high in protein and will provide you with those all-important amino acids that have so many important functions within our bodies.
Amino acids are the building blocks of protein and they participate in almost all of the biological processes in the human body, such as metabolism, cellular function, neurotransmitter production, nervous system functioning, detoxification, muscle building, immunity and more. It is important to ensure your amino acid pool is stocked up with all of the amino acids (9 of which are essential meaning they MUST come from the diet).
9 Essential Amino Acids
Histidine Found in: Beef, lamb, cheese, pork, chicken, turkey, soy, fish, nuts, seeds, eggs, beans, and whole grains
Isoleucine Found in: Eggs, soy, seaweed, chicken, turkey, dairy, legumes
Leucine Found in: Fish, chicken, beef, dairy, oats, buckwheat and eggs.
Lysine Found in: Fish, milk, chicken, turkey, salmon, red meat, cheese, eggs, soy
Methionine Found in: Legumes, beans, eggs, garlic, onions, yoghurt, beef.
Phenylalanine Found in: Milk, dairy, red meat, fish, chicken, eggs, beans, and nuts.
Threonine Found in: Beef, soy, pork, chicken, liver, cheese, shellfish, nuts, seeds, beans, and lentils.
Tryptophan Found in: Bananas, oats, dark chocolate, milk, cottage cheese, turkey, salmon, snapper, spirulina, spinach and seaweed.
Valine Found in: Cheese, soy, beef, lamb, chicken, pork, nuts, seeds, fish, beans, mushrooms, and whole grains
When dietary intake is insufficient to meet the body’s demands such as intense exercise, periods of growth, muscle and wound healing recovery you may benefit from boosting your protein intake through additional supplementation. Before taking any protein supplements we recommend you consult a healthcare expert or qualified nutritionist to be sure that it is the right thing for you.
Lets have a look at the different types:
Whey protein is a mix of proteins that come from cow’s milk and it contains all of the nine essential amino acids (the ones we have to get from our diet). Whey protein supplementation is often used alongside resistance training to help increase lean muscle mass. There are 2 main types of whey protein:
Whey Protein Concentrate (WPC) – a fast-digesting protein that contains slightly higher levels of carbohydrates compared with WPI and is often taken post workout (within 90 minutes after)
Whey Protein Isolate (WPI) – a very quick acting protein that digests rapidly. It is higher in protein and lower in carbohydrates compared with WPC and is often used pre & post exercise (within 1 hour after)
Casein is another protein that is found in cow’s milk. However, it differs from whey as it is a larger molecule and therefore takes longer to break down and be released into the bloodstream (it is slow-digesting). This type of protein tends to be used more in sports nutrition or in bodybuilding. It is taken away from exercise for muscle recovery or athletes will have it at night before bed to help with overnight muscular recovery.
Having a hypersensitive allergy to cow’s milk proteins, such as whey and casein, is common (El-Agamy, 2007). You may need to avoid these powders if you are allergic to cow’s milk. Additionally, people who are lactose intolerant may not handle these protein powders well as they do contain some lactose (different types and brand will contain different amounts of lactose).
Rice & Pea
Pea protein comes from yellow peas and contains many of the amino acids, but some of the important ones are only in low amounts. Pea protein is highly digestible and will aid in muscle synthesis and recovery and increasing satiety and overall protein intake. Rice protein comes from brown rice and has a great amino acid profile, expect for having low amounts of lysine (an amino acid specifically important for muscles). Combining these 2 vegan proteins (by buying a blend of rice and pea protein) will ensure you get the all of 9 essential amino acids and the best protein concentration possible.
Always be sure to check the ingredients of the protein powders before buying them as they often contain hidden additives, added sugars, fillers and preservatives. Everyone is different and will react differently to the protein powders, therefore it is important to listen to your body and notice how you feel/react when trying out the different proteins. If your dietary protein intake is insufficient, then you can incorporate the powders into healthy snacks such as bliss balls or cookies, or into meals such as smoothies, pancakes, chia pudding, oats and more. It is always better to home make these protein snacks/meals as you can control the ingredients and avoid the added sugars and vegetable oils that are often hiding in the commercial protein products.
El-Agamy, E. (2007). The challenge of cow milk protein allergy. Small Ruminant Research, 68(1-2), 64-72. doi: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.smallrumres.2006.09.016