Supplement Series: What's the Deal with Protein Powder
Updated: Sep 22, 2021
When I was younger I scoffed at using supplements. I figured I was young and active, and why would I want to pollute my body with a bunch of unproven supplements? But the exception was always the protein shake. Extra protein made sense to me and I was too poor as a student to buy a lot of protein food sources so I used protein powder occasionally.
Now that I am older…. 😛 I have a different view! There are a few supplements that I have tried, and some of them have stuck. Today I will give you the rundown on what I am taking and why. But let me start off by saying that supplements are not necessary, although they can be helpful. At least the right ones!
This will be the first in a series of articles about each of the supplements that I use and why, including some references for more information.
I will start with protein powder - the iconic supplement that everyone knows about. There are countless pictures out there of bodybuilding bros guzzling down gallons of protein shakes daily.
I have personally found that protein is the most useful supplement, both when trying to gain muscle or lose weight. Why is this? Protein is the building block of muscle development and so as we workout our need for protein for muscle repair increases. Insufficient protein will slow your progress towards muscle building goals.
A high protein diet is also well suited to weight loss because it promotes feelings of fullness, and increases your metabolic rate. The metabolic rate increases through two means. The first one is due to thermogenesis, that is the digestion of protein uses more energy than the digestion of fat or carbohydrates. The second effect is that a higher protein intake helps to maintain and build muscle which helps your body to naturally burn more energy.
The supplements world of protein does get confusing here because there are so many different options on the market today. How do you know which one to choose? Let me take you through a few of the different
Whey Protein - This is the most basic, simple protein. Sometimes it is called whey concentrate, and it is what I would call ‘regular’ protein powder. This protein is actually one of the 2 proteins naturally found in milk, and is sourced as a by-product of the cheese making process. It is considered a complete protein because it contains all 9 essential amino acids and it is low in lactose content. That being said, there is still enough lactose in it to make you uncomfortable if you are lactose intolerant.
Whey Isolate - In this version of protein powder, the whey is processed to reduce the fat and lactose content, leaving mainly protein. This is easier to digest for those that are lactose intolerant but not for those with milk allergies.
Whey Hydro Isolate - This version of whey protein goes a step further than regular isolate and breaks down the protein chains, which makes it easier to digest. I would recommend this if you are lactose intolerant as your best option. My wife is lactose intolerant and can consume whey hydro isolate in moderation without any side effects.
Casein protein - This is the second protein found in milk. It is absorbed more slowly by the body, and it is generally recommended to take this protein at night. I have not used it on it’s own, but if you struggle with feeling full and are always hungry, this protein would be good to help you feel for longer than whey protein
Blended protein - There are multiple options out there that blend whey concentrate, whey isolate, whey hydro isolate and casein. The idea here is to keep proteins with different rates of digestion in your system to provide a near continuous protein source available for your metabolism. This is the idea anyway. On the surface this would appear to be great for bulking, but I would suggest it is important whether bulking or losing weight. Again with the idea of feeling full, this type of protein may help you avoid other snacking in between meals which might contribute to fat gain instead of fat loss. From my own experience, it definitely will keep you feeling full longer.
Other proteins - If you find that even hydro isolate is not agreeing with your stomach then I would suggest exploring the alternate protein powder options out there. Just to list some of them:
But still, we come back to the question… which one do I choose??
I am going to make it simple and cut through a lot of the noise here. Just use regular whey concentrate unless you are lactose intolerant or a vegan. Regular whey is cheaper than the more processed alternatives which are really more hype than substance. At the end of the day what matters most is the net amount of protein you take in. The blended proteins tend to be more expensive, and hydro isolate is very expensive. The side effect of whey concentrate is that you might be more gassy or bloated at times but unless you have a medical condition (allergy or lactose intolerance) in my experience, your body will adapt over time. And let’s face it, who can resist a good pull my finger joke!
I tend to mix my protein powder with milk. As I don't typically eat cereal for breakfast or drink milk otherwise during the day, this also becomes my main dairy intake. When trying to cut calories I may mix my shake with half milk and half water, but I am not currently doing that with my ongoing fasting regime. This is one of the reasons why I don’t think the blended protein is necessary. Now if you are mixing it with water then I would go with the blended protein to get that long lasting satiety.
It is still important to choose a good brand, so do your research. In the UK I prefer using the Bulk brand which I find tastes very good and has been effective for me. It does not cause a lot of bloating, and has helped me on my goals for adding quality protein to my diet, without a lot of extra calories. This in turn helps me to achieve my weight loss goals.
I believe this brand is available in other European countries also. The value is great as well. I should mention that I am pretty new to the scene here though, so once I found a good option I stuck with it. If you have any recommendations I would love to hear!
When I was in Toronto, I also used a site called Supplement Source. Great prices on multiple brands and opportunity to try many different types of protein. I was usually ordering a blended protein from them, called Allmax Hexapro. I did have good results and it tastes great, but it costs a lot . I would look for another option in future.
I would love to hear what your recommendations on protein are! I am always willing to try something new. Key things that I look for are the calorie count (the lower the better), the number of grams of protein per serving (the higher the better), great taste and mixability.