Bite it with Britt: Learning the basics about protein powder
In almost every conversation I have about nutrition, the topic of protein powder comes up. Many feel that we absolutely must supplement our diets with protein powder. Do we really need it?
No, not technically. However, some people have a hard time meeting all of their protein caloric requirements in order to accomplish their fitness goals through food alone. This is where drinking protein powders comes into play.
Protein powders are very popular for good reasons. They are:
• Convenient: You can get more protein in less volume than getting your protein through meats.
• Usually low in fat and cholesterol-free, for the most part.
• Cheaper than meat proteins.
• Beneficial in ways beyond merely supplying extra protein.
What is protein?
Protein is a macronutrient found in foods like meats, dairy products, nuts and beans. It is composed of amino acids, the building blocks of lean tissue and muscle. It is recommended that we get most of our protein from whole food sources. With that being said most people reach for a supplement because it is an easier way to get a larger amount of protein in a serving, and let’s be honest, it’s easier than cooking a steak.
Before looking at the pros and cons of certain protein sources, let’s look at the two ways protein supplements are classified:
Protein concentrate vs. isolate: Protein is derived from various food sources and concentrated by removing all the nonprotein parts. This gives you a powder that is 70-85 percent pure protein with the rest being made up of carbs and fats. Isolation takes this a step further and removes even more nonprotein content. This can yield a protein that is up to 95 percent pure.
Complete vs. incomplete protein: Amino acids that cannot be produced by the body are known as essential amino acids. “Complete proteins” contain all nine essential amino acids whereas “incomplete proteins” contain some, but not all, of the essential amino acids.
Now that you’ve got the basics, let’s look at the types of protein.
This is the most popular variety on the market. Whey is a by-product of the process of turning milk to cheese.
Pros: Whey protein has been shown to promote lean muscle growth and fat loss, as well as support cardiovascular health and a healthy metabolism. Whey is also processed quickly by the body, which makes it a great post workout recovery choice.
Cons: Lactose, found in milk, can be an allergen for some, making whey indigestible.
Casein is produced using a separation process applied to liquid milk that can concentrate or isolate the milk protein from the carbs and fats.
Pros: Casein has similar benefits to whey but with a different release. This protein digests slowly, so it is a great choice before bed.
Cons: Like whey, casein can be an allergen to some. And it isn’t ideal post workout because it is absorbed so slowly. It is more expensive than whey and often contains additives to make it more palatable.
This is a complete protein that comes from eggs. It is made by separating out the yolks and dehydrating the whites.
Pros: Egg protein powders are rich in vitamins and minerals.
Cons: Egg protein powder is expensive, and, like the milk-derived proteins, some people are allergic.
Soy beans are one of the few plants that offer all the essential amino acids.
Pros: Soy protein may help improve immune function and promote bone health. Soy may also help reduce cardiovascular disease and reduce the risk of certain cancers.
Cons: Soy has come under heat lately because it is often genetically modified for a greater yield. Soy has also been singled out for its effects on hormone levels. Many foods are already full of soy because it is a cheap protein so there are questions as to whether or not supplementing with it is a good idea.
Often thought of as a carbohydrate, brown rice is becoming the standard source for vegetarian protein powder.
Pros: Brown rice protein is considered a good source of complex carbohydrates, vitamin B and fiber.
Cons: Rice protein is deficient in some amino acids, so it should not be a primary source of protein.
Hemp protein is derived from the seeds of the cannabis plant.
Pros: Hemp is often referred to as super food because it contains all 21 amino acids. It is vegan friendly and hypoallergenic.
Cons: Because it is only harvested in mass quantities and in certain countries (because of its connection to cannabis), it is often the most expensive protein.
Popular with vegetarians and vegans, this protein comes from yellow split peas.
Pros: This one has few additives, so it is a go-to for those looking to get a protein closest to its whole food state.
Cons: It is deficient in some aminos, so again, it shouldn’t be the primary protein source.
Britt’s tips: Read the label. Protein powders are often filled with preservatives, genetically modified organisms (GMOs), and other synthetic toxins like aspartame, saccharin and artificial flavors. Use whole foods to get your daily protein needs.
Britt Glock is a personal trainer and a sports nutrition specialist at Midland Fitness.
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