The Keeping Healthy Getting Stylish Guide to Protein Powders
Posted Sep 19 2013 3:00am
Protein powders have been a regular part of my diet for several years now, even well before I was blogging. When I started losing weight and reading up on diets, I went low carb for a while, and one of the books I was reading suggested that you consume protein shakes as part of this approach. I started with an unflavoured whey protein which I would have in smoothies and mixed into porridge. Then I started experimenting with different flavours, and since then I must have tried over 10 different brands of protein powder.
Needless to say I don’t consume protein powders in quite the way I did back then, but I do still use them.
I like having protein powder in my diet for several reasons. Firstly, I find that when it is added to meals that would ordinarily be lower in protein, such as smoothies, they become more filling. I like the added variety the different flavoured powders can offer as well. When it comes to strength training, although I don’t exercise as much as other people, or lift particularly heavy, having some easily absorbed protein for recovery in a form other than a chunk of meat, eggs or dairy, is convenient and tasty, and helps my body to get the most out of the workout.
Those are just my reasons of course. Protein powders in general can be useful for you if you exercise a lot and are looking to build more lean muscle. They will not make you into a scary bodybuilder ladies! Building some lean muscle is a very good idea for various aspects of your wellbeing. Muscle is metabolically active and burns energy at rest. Focusing on strength training when you are maintaining your weight can be a good strategy. I also found that when I was gaining weight (for my health) that having some decent muscle under the added (good and very much needed) fat, helped to give my body a better shape.
Protein powders can also be useful additions if you find that you are very carb sensitive – i.e. that you have unstable blood sugar levels, energy dips and get very hungry easily. In my health coaching practice, I’ve found that some women with PCOS benefit from lower carbohydrate / Glycemic Index diets and protein powders can be useful in making that approach easier to implement (NOT soy based powders – I am wary of these with women with hormonal issues given the mixed research on soy phytoestrogens).
The downside of protein powders is that they are not a whole food. All are processed to some degree by their very nature, and some are extremely processed and full of crap! The bottom line is that you can meet your bodies protein requirements very easily with real whole foods, even if you follow a vegan diet. What might be worth considering is if your health and wellbeing could be improved by them, I believe that some people need more protein than others (exclusive of exercise etc) so it’s about finding out what works for you (shameless plug – the Super Conscious Living Programme would help you with that!)
One of the many reasons I started to move away from a plant based diet was my reliance on processed foods and I found I was consuming 1-2 servings of protein powder a day to meet my needs. Now that I eat a range of animal and plant based protein, I don’t feel that need for powders as much. Over the last few months I have reduced my intake of protein powder down, but I do still like to have the option to add some to those more carb based foods like smoothies, muffins and snack balls etc.
When it comes to purchasing protein powder, things can get a bit tricky. One thing I have learned while I’ve been blogging is that other people’s tastes in protein powders is highly individualised and varied. I LOVE Sun Warrior (more on that in a sec) but some people have tried it and find it tastes chalky.
The best way to find out what protein powder is going to work for you is to try some different ones out. To give you an initial idea of what direction to go in, here are some things to consider:
Are you vegan or is choosing the least processed option important for you? Then look into brown rice, pea or hemp protein options. Soy powders can be vegan, but also more processed. Read the nutritional information, lots of ingredients that sound like chemicals = processed / only a few ingredients = less processed. Also bear in mind that an ingredient can sound ok, but in reality be very processed through it’s creation. For example some whey protein is made using high heat, acids and chemicals in it’s manufacture.
Is price an issue for you? The most affordable protein powders tend to be made with whey. Generally speaking, the cheaper the powder the more processed.
Are you trying to get leaner / lose weight? If so, make sure you check out the number of calories per serving. Look for around 100 calories and 20g of protein. Never ever go for meal replacement shakes. Protein powders should be additions to your diet, not meal substitutes.
Would you like to make baked goods with your protein powder? I think that all protein powders can be used in baking, but different varieties have particular characteristics. Take a look at the guide on Protein Pow for more ideas.
Now that I don’t use protein powders that much, and because I believe in a balanced approach for my health and my purse, I tend to go between the more expensive / less processed option of Sun Warrior vegan brown rice protein and the cheaper but more processed MyProtein Impact Whey in vanilla that is made with whey protein concentrate. As I don’t consume huge quantities, the fact that it is processed doesn’t worry me that much, and I feel the positives outweigh the negatives.
Protein powders come in all sorts of wild and wacky flavours now, but if you are starting out I would always recommend vanilla as that flavour is pretty versatile, goes well with various other ingredients and can be made chocolately with a spoonful of cocoa powder very easily.
The biggest issue with buying a protein powder is that you have to take a gamble on whether or not you will like the taste. MyProtein sells small sample packs of many of their proteins for 99p which I think is a great idea. If you have any friends that use protein powder, asking them for a scoop to try before you buy can be a good idea as well. Other than that, it can be a case of trial and error!
Here is a list of some of the protein powders I have tried recently and a very brief review:
Sun Warrior – raw, vegan, brown rice protein. My favourite, but fairly expensive at £35 for 1 kg. Tastes good mixed into a pudding with a little water as well as in smoothies. Some people find this chalky in texture.
MyProtein Impact Whey – I have been using the vanilla. Affordable, but processed, works well in smoothies blended with other ingredients. Has a more artificial taste than Sun Warrior. Makes utterly gorgeous protein fluff (pictured above)
MyProtein Pea Protein – I purchased this for use in baking savoury recipes from the Protein Pow site. So far I’ve only made protein bread, more experimentation needed!
Spirutein – I used to buy this all the time! Made with non GMO soy, but also a heck of a lot of other processed ingredients, these come in a huge range of flavours. I moved away from these due to the soy and processing, but the flavours are fun!
Maxitone - Maxitone products are directly marketed for women. They might be a nice place to start if you aren’t sure what to expect. My first ever protein powder was from this brand. These are whey protein based and more at the processed end, but taste pretty good in smoothies and mixed in to porridge.
Protein Pow is a great site if you are looking for protein powder recipes, plus Anna says that she only used protein powders on her blog that don’t contain any crap, so looking at some of the brands she uses could be helpful.
Do you use protein powders? Which brands would you recommend? Please share your experiences and links to other useful resources in the comments to help others, the more the merrier!
A readers request post, hope this is helpful Jo C! Do you have a readers request for me? Message me on Facebook and I’ll see what I can do!