Protein powder sometimes gets a bad reputation: we imagine that whatever is being sold in supplement stores is all chemicals or that drinking one shake automatically equals to getting huge muscles or that only men should take protein shakes or that it is almost considered as steroids!
Thankfully I am here to stop this nonsense! In the following article, I will give you facts about protein powder, how to pick a high-quality powder, as well as how to use it, when and why.
First, what is a protein? A protein is a chain of amino acids brought by diet or supplementation. Some of these amino acids are called essential and are found only in certain specific foods.
Their primary role is to ensure the life of the cells in the human body through various processes: regulation of blood sugar, optimization of muscular contraction, skin and hair health, participation in enzymatic reactions, etc. We can get protein from an animal (fish, meat, chicken, egg, etc.) or plant (peas, nuts and seeds, etc.) sources.
This macronutrient is ESSENTIAL, and unfortunately, the majority of the population struggles to get their daily dose of good quality protein in their nutrition – which is where a protein shake may come in handy (but more on that later). There are different forms of protein powders (whey concentrate, whey isolate, casein protein, milk protein isolate, etc.).
The goal of this article is not to go into details on the differences between all those but to present you the why, what and how of a good quality protein powder that you could start adding to your daily nutrition.
I usually suggest to my clients to buy milk protein isolate or to buy isolate vegan protein powder if they are dairy or lactose intolerant. It is often an excellent place to start if you are just looking to increase your daily protein intake.
Now back to our irrational fears! We have to understand that in order to gain muscles, we have to make sure that, yes, our protein intake is quite high but, more importantly, that we are lifting heavy weights in the gym following a consistent, efficient hypertrophy program that takes into consideration the number of sets and repetitions, the tempo, the training volume, the time under tension, the duration of rest between the sets, etc., etc.
As you can see, drinking a shake and hoping to get bigger muscles instantly is a bit ridiculous; gaining muscle mass takes hard work, effort, consistency, a surplus in calories and a strict training regimen.
We also have to keep in mind that women don’t have the hormonal structure to gain as much muscles like men.
One female and one male could have the EXACT same diet, protein intake, do the exact same training and the male would gain more muscle mass than the female, thanks to his testosterone levels.
So ladies, please stop being scared of a protein shake because you fear that you will wake up with manly muscles the next day. It just doesn’t work that way!
On another note, it is also false to associate protein shakes with losing weight. A lot of ‘miracle diets’ or nutrition plans include several shakes in their daily recommendations only because they are usually low in calories.
This means that people on those types of diets will lose weight, not because of the protein shake itself, but because it usually contains anywhere around 100 calories compared to a ‘normal’ consistent meal that would contain 300 calories and more. The weight loss doesn’t magically come from the protein powder or shake but from the simple math equation: calories in- calories out!
Remember: The only way to lose weight is to be in a calorie deficit. By replacing meals with a protein shake, we are lowering our calories to optimize our chances of being in a calorie deficit and losing weight. This method is usually not sustainable and can have reverse effects on your health in the long term… So be careful with those shakes diets and don’t associate protein powder with instant weight loss!
Unless exceptions, I would never recommend replacing a meal by a protein shake (protein powder + water; which would be different than a protein smoothie. Side note; a smoothie can easily contain all the nutrients to yes, replace a meal safely from time to time). With that being said, a basic protein shake does have its place; all you have to know is what to take, how to take it and when to take it.
If you go to a supplement store, it is easy to feel overwhelmed by the gazillion containers of protein powder; different brands, different prices, different ingredients. Unfortunately, the majority of those containers contain protein powder that is not of the highest quality and that is also mixed with other ingredients that are sometimes artificial.
The first thing that you need to check when buying protein powder is the ingredient list. If it is long and contains stuff that you can’t pronounce, stay away from it! A good quality protein powder should contain just that; protein isolate from one of the sources mentioned earlier (eggs, milk, peas, etc.). The flavor should come from natural sources (for example, cacao or stevia).
The second thing that you need to verify is the nutrition value. Your 30 grams scoop should contain a lot more than 10 grams of protein! If your ingredient list is short, it should contain at least 25 grams of protein per scoop, and it should not contain carbs or fats. Some products contain a bit of all 3 macronutrients and are of great quality but remember, the goal here is to buy a powder that contains just proteins.
The third thing that you need to do is to make sure you are buying from a brand that is verified, 100% natural, eco-friendly, animal-friendly, etc.
This is quite the challenge considering the number of different brands on the tablets, so I suggest you ask the person working at the store what they recommend. But when you go through those first 2 steps, you will see that not a lot of options are left so it should be easier for you to buy the right container.
The classic way of using protein powder is by mixing one scoop with about 500 ml of water – which is one more reason to make sure to buy a good quality powder that tastes good. You could also mix it with juice, but I would always recommend eating whole fruits instead of drinking fruit juices.
You could add a scoop or half a scoop to your breakfast (smoothie, oatmeal, yogurt) as it is sometimes hard for certain people to get enough proteins in the morning. Finally, you can use protein powder in plenty of different recipes (muffins, cookies, bread, etc.) to give them a healthy swap. There are a million recipes on the Internet of high protein deserts or snacks.
As mentioned in the last paragraph, you could consume your protein powder for breakfast or for snacks/desserts in recipes. Its most relevant usage though would be right after your workout. Getting a good portion of proteins right after your training is essential for recovery and muscle reconstruction.
The fact that it is in liquid form is also beneficial as its absorption will be quicker. Plus, it is a lot more convenient to carry a protein shake than to carry a steak or a piece of chicken to the gym! If you want more information on post-workout meals or snacks, check out my article.
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I hope this article gave you great insights and objective facts on protein powder and all the myths surrounding it. I genuinely believe that everyone should have a container of good quality protein at home; not to become jacked nor skinny, not to replace meals or to consume it ALL the time.
But to add to our nutrition this important macronutrient that we sometimes lack of – for breakfast, as a snack or to optimize our post-workout recovery!
Need help picking the right protein powder for you or not sure how you can increase your daily protein intake? Don’t hesitate to contact me!
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