Your Complete Guide to Protein Powders
Why I Coach A High Protein Diet
Supplements can be confusing. I get asked a lot, "should I be drinking a protein shake?" The answer to this question is way more complex than one would think and if I had no information about this individual, I would respond, "probably not".
This doesn't mean I am not a protein powder fan or against them. By all means, they are extremely handy when trying to increase protein intake. Now-a-days, they're even tasty. I remember the times when I'd actually prefer to not drink them because of the chalky aftertaste. I digress, powders are quite a controversy.
Before I break down all things protein powder, I want to first acknowledge that many people will disagree with my reasoning and advice on consuming. I do not care what others think; I've done my own research, have extensive background, and continue to read and learn about the supplement space. I am also human; I am allowed to change my stance as more studies are conducted and more education is given.
Across the board, I would say nothing is more nutritious than consuming protein from a legitimate animal source. Beef, chicken, salmon... these animals contain the most pure form of protein, no added ingredients, full of vitamins and minerals, and contain all the essential amino acids we need to consume. If you have the option to eat two eggs for breakfast or a protein shake, I'd hope you would chose the eggs.
However, I coach most of my clients to eat a high protein diet. Give or take your goals, around 40% of your diet should be protein. Why do I recommend this?
If your goal is weight loss: eating a high protein diet will increase satiety resulting in you naturally being full and eating less. Protein will not spike your blood sugar like carbs will; protein will not initiate an insulin secretion (your fat storing hormone). It's incredibly hard to over-consume protein because of the gram for calorie density. When paired with strength training, protein will help you maintain and build muscle, while a caloric deficit will help you lose fat.
If your goal is to excel in a performance goal such as long distance running: a high protein diet will keep your muscles and joints strong through a constant impact sport. A high protein diet will help you recover quicker therefore making runs day after day easier and require less recovery time between work sessions. Paired with a higher carb diet, you won't feel "constantly hungry" despite the amount of cardiovascular work your doing. A high protein diet will also keep your hormones regulated; which is sometimes a problem amongst endurance athletes.
If your goal is to build muscle and get stronger: A high protein diet will repair damaged muscle fibers torn in the gym which results in bigger, larger, stronger muscles. Protein is the key macronutrient to rebuilding and growing muscle fibers. Paired with a good strength training routine, you will see results.
Many people with physical goals would benefit from consuming a high protein diet. In fact, even if you don't have a "physical" goal; a high protein diet is a very healthy way to approach your macros and daily calories. If you consume a low protein diet, you are left with a high carb (results in fat storage) or a high fat (high calorie) diet. A well balanced diet for the majority would be to consume 40% of your diet from protein, and allow carbs and fat fall into place as your goals align with your diet.
How To Know If Supplementing Is Right For You
Step 1: Figure out what your goal is.
If you already know what your goal is, then great! You have completed step one. If you have never truly thought about your goal, yet, you spend a lot of time working out and have a diet you'd deem healthy, maybe its time to have a chat with yourself. Goals are so important as they are the driver, or the catalyst, to seeing results. If you hit the gym 5x a week and eat a salad every day for lunch in hopes to see "results" or "changes", how will you know what a result is without a goal?
Practice setting S.M.A.R.T goals. Yes, I broke out the old S.M.A.R.T-goal rule; Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, and Time-Sensitive. A smart goal looks something like this:
"I want to lose 15lbs in 8 months by lifting weights, so I can feel strong and confident in a bikini on vacation."
...compared to a goal that is not a specific, measurable, attainable, realistic or time sensitive:
"I want to lose weight for vacation"
Another S.M.A.R.T goal for runners would look like:
"I want to run a half marathon in 3 months and finish under two hours by training 4x per week".
"I want to run a half marathon faster than last year".
See how these are specific? Measurable? Attainable?
Step 2: Does your goal require a higher protein diet than what you are currently doing?
If the answer is yes, try consuming the protein changes in whole foods first. This may mean choosing eggs for breakfast versus oatmeal or opting for beef jerky as your snack. If you are still unable to reach your protein goals, then supplementing with protein powder is encouraged.
If the answer is no, then good for you! Don't change a thing and keep hitting your protein targets consistently.
If the answer is, I don't know how much protein I eat, then you need to spend a few days tracking. I urge you to use MyFitnessPal or a tracking app, weigh your food, and see how many grams of protein you average for 2-3 days throughout the week. Vary the days so you can get a good snapshot of how your protein intake varies day by day, such as a Monday (high motivation day), a Thursday (out of meal prepped foods, may do take out) and a Saturday (typically a fun, not tracked and laid back day). If you see that you are under-consuming protein for your goals, then supplementing is encouraged. If you find that you are hitting your protein targets with real whole food, then you may not need to use a protein powder.
Step 3: Figure out when you should consume your protein
The answer to this question will be based on the clients goal and schedule. But, I will tell you right now that remaining consistent is the number one goal to results. So if consuming your protein shake after a workout will make you remain consistent, then do it. If you want something sweet every night but want to cut calories, try making a chocolate shake as your night cap. If you skip breakfast because you don't have an AM appetite, try consuming a drinkable protein shake in the early hours.
Step 4: Find a protein powder that is right for you.
Try to consume a protein powder with all the essential amino acids (EAA's). If you chose vegan protein, you will need to add additional ingredients to reach the full amino acid profile. Think of amino acids as the highway to your vacation in paradise. Amino acids are the building blocks of protein (a protein is made up of 20 amino acid links, 9 of which we must consume through food). By consuming amino acids, you are jumping on that highway to get to your vacation (goal/results). By consuming protein that has an incomplete amino acid profile is like taking the back road to your vacation... it's going to take much longer, be unenjoyable, feel lethargic and tired, and not as fulfilled. This is what trying to build muscle and reap benefits of protein are like without the full amino acid profile. It will take a lot longer to build muscle and get to your goal.
Listen to your digestive system while testing. This is a difficult one since many protein powder companies make you buy a large 2-5lb tub to find out that it causes gas and bloating. The most important factor of choosing a protein powder is to make sure it works for your body.
Consider the macros present (or not) such as carbs and fat. Do you need more carbohydrates with your protein to replenish glycogen storage for endurance results? Or, are you wanting to cut carbs and fat to lean out? Chose a protein powder that adds to your goal and does not make you take steps in the wrong direction.
Third party testing. Since protein powder is a supplement, it does not need to be tested for accuracy on the label or added ingredients. Companies that undergo third party testing are ensuring the validity of the products protein content, macro profile, and ingredients used.
Below, I will give details into each protein powder type for you to decide which protein is good for you.
Protein Powder Types
Your standard protein powder will be most likely a whey concentrate. Whey is a dairy protein that contains all the essential amino acids. When you see the word concentrate, you should know that it will contain the fat and carbs associated with whey protein. This is fine if you are taking that into account of your macros. That being said, you must understand that whey concentrate powder is only 25-80% protein; the rest will be carbs and fat. Some positives of whey concentrate powders are they are relatively cheap, found everywhere, and typically taste the best.
Whey isolate protein powder is a bit different than concentrate, as it is stripped from the carbs and fat through ultra-processing. This is an excellent option for people who are solely looking to increase protein intake without additional calories from carbs and fat. Whey isolate still contains dairy and the full amino acid profile. It is generally more expensive since it takes more to process and create.
Vegan (pea, brown rice, pumpkin seed)
Vegan protein powder is a great alternative to those who are dairy free or do not consume animal products. However, it traditionally is missing important amino acids needed for muscle synthesis such as leucine. Therefore, for this protein powder option to help you build and strengthen your muscles, you will need to combine it with other vegan protein sources such as chia seeds, nut butter, etc. This can start to add up in calories, so take into consideration if it is meant as a protein supplement or a full meal replacement. Vegan protein powders may vary in taste; there are good brands and not so good brands.
Casein is a great protein source that differs from whey in terms of timing. Casein is a slower digesting protein; therefore it is more filling and will break down much slower than whey. For this reason, many users like to consume casein protein at night so the hours spent sleeping can digest the protein and not disrupt their day-time satiety. It is a dairy product and has a full amino acid profile.
Egg white protein powder is an excellent option for most people. It is very high in protein (25+ grams per serving) and does not contain carbs or fat. It is dairy free and contains the full amino acid profile. The downside to egg white protein is the availability; it tends to be hard to find and relatively pricey.
Collagen is the protein that surround your joint capsules, hair, skin, and nails. Collagen does not contain all the amino acids and is an animal product. Research shows that collagen supplementation may help joint health and hair growth in those who don't consume enough protein on a day-to-day basis. However, the benefits of muscle growth are slim because of the lack in amino acids. Collagen may help people who train in repetitive-joint movements such as running, cycling, and swimming. However, you want to be sure it contains type 2 or type 3 collagen fiber types.
There Is No "One Size Fits All"
As you can see, protein powders will vary from person to person. You must take into consideration your goals, your body, your preferences and availability. I hope this blog post clears up the questions you have surrounding protein supplementation.
My Favorite Protein Powder Brands
Whey Isolate | Casesin | Vegan
Use code "FitFearless" for 20% off first time orders OR double rewards points for reoccurring customers