Why do I need a protein powder?
“Protein is essential for muscle recovery and repair,” says personal trainer Luke Istomin, whose celebrity clients include Nicole Kidman and Hugh Jackman. “It allows you to build lean muscle while losing fat, and helps you feel fuller for longer.” Beyond working out, protein powders are also a convenient way to top up on vital macronutrients.
How much protein do I need?
Eating enough protein can be challenging, especially if you’re someone who grabs meals on the run. It’s recommended we eat one gram of protein for every kilogram of body weight, which means a 60kg woman needs up to 60g of protein per day. However, that is for a fairly sedentary lifestyle – the more active you are, the more protein you will need. For someone very active, around 1.8g per kilogram of body weight would suffice. But an average chicken breast, one of the best sources of protein, contains between 23-34g. A protein powder helps make up the deficit and is quickly absorbed by the body. “Powder takes 20 minutes to be absorbed, whereas food can take two hours,” says Charlie Turner, a former GB swimmer and co-founder of Neat Nutrition.
Convenience aside, it’s important to remember that good-quality powders don’t contain anything that real food doesn’t: “Whole foods are always better for fat loss in the long term,” says Istomin. “On training days, I tell clients to have 20-30g of protein – the equivalent of one chicken breast – with each meal.”
Which powder should I use?
Most experts favor high-quality, organic whey-based powders. Whey, a protein found in milk (or whey protein isolate if you’re lactose intolerant), is most quickly absorbed and contains all the nine essential and non-essential amino acids your body needs. “Vegan plant-derived pea and hemp proteins are the best whole-food alternatives,” says Turner. “The downside is that they don’t contain the full spectrum of amino acids, so it’s best to look for protein powders that combine both plant sources. They also contain more naturally occurring carbohydrates.”
The use of casein protein, derived from milk, however, is contentious. Some studies have linked high levels of casein consumption to cancer. Meanwhile, soy protein – the only whole food source with a complete amino acid profile – isn’t generally recommended without medical advice as it contains a phytoestrogen that is widely thought to disrupt hormone balance. Whichever protein source you choose, it’s important to check the label. “Many powders are high in sugar, flavorings and E numbers, or contain GMO ingredients,” warns Turner. “A powder should be 60-70% protein; otherwise, you need to question what else is in there instead.”
When should I take it?
“I have a good-quality protein powder with my breakfast to ensure I cover all my nutritional needs,” says James Duigan, trainer and founder of Bodyism. “If I’m working out, I also ensure that I have enough protein afterwards to restore and repair my body. With good-quality protein powders, you should feel the difference within five days. If you don’t, then the protein powder isn’t right for you.”
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