The last few blogs addressed the importance of protein in your diet. For many people a convenient source of protein is through protein powders. They can be used as a meal or to augment the protein in a meal. Protein powders used in conjunction with strength training can increase lean body mass and strength. However be an informed consumer by knowing what different types of protein powders offer, the serving size, the food nutrients they contain, and how they are processed in order to get best for your money. If you are using them as a supplement make sure you are not getting unnecessary calories, too much fat or extra ingredients you do not need.
Types of Protein Powders
There are fivetypes of protein powders – whey, casein, soy, rice adn hemp. Whey and casein are made from milk. The protein in milk is 80% casein and 20% whey. Soy is a vegetable protein. Rice, although mainly a carbohydrate, does have protein that is extricated through an enzymatic process. Be aware that many protein products are made up of a combination of these sources without full disclosure of the exact proportions. The majority of protein powders are whey based and have more milk fat and cholesterol in them.
Whey protein is a complete protein, meaning that it contains all the essential amino acids needed for the body. There are 20 amino acids and our body can only make 10 of them. Proteins in our body catalyze most of what goes on in our cells. We need to consume or make all of the 20 amino acids, or our body will start taking it from body sources- particularly from muscle. There are several amino acids in particular – valine, leucine and iso-leucine – that are depleted following exercise and are needed in order to maintain muscle mass. Whey protein is believed to be more rapidly digested than casein and more completely than soy protein. There is some evidence that whey protein can also boost your immune system.
There are different forms of whey protein. There are whey concentrates made from taking the water out of whey leaving mostly protein with some lactose, fat and cholesterol. Concentration can vary. If the whey is made through a cold press the powder will also contain the part that boosts the immune system. Then there are whey isolates that are similar to concentrates but have lower amounts of lactose, fat and cholesterol and can also be made through a cold press. Whey hydrosolates are pre-digested protein that are even more bioavailable and are well suited for use after a workout for those interested in building muscle. Lastly, there are ion-exchange purified whey protein that has been more chemically processed and is the purest form of whey but lacks the immune system boosting ability. Concentrates tend to be the least expensive since there is less processing.
Casein is another milk protein and very high in glutamine, the main amino acid in muscles and throughout the body. However, it is not as bioavailable as whey protein, meaning that a lower percentage is absorbed. There is some evidence that there is a slower release of amino acids from casein making it useful for athletes who want to maintain lean muscle tissue, particularly if taken before bed (the body goes into a catabolic state at night when it breaks down protein tissue for energy). Popular forms are micellar casein and calcium caseinate.
Soy protein is the most heart healthy of proteins. It is considered a complete protein but it does have less of the amino acid methionine which is not a problem for adults but could be for infants. Soy can lower cholesterol and reduce the risk of heart disease. Soy isolates as opposed to concentrates may have more isoflavones which can help with menopausal symptoms. There is some evidence that soy can interfere with thyroid function so discuss this with your provider if you have any thyroid dysfunction. There has also been some questions raised about soy’s link to breast cancer but according to the American Cancer Society, although the isoflavones in soy act like estrogen, they have anti-estrogen properties and are not considered to increase the likelihood of breast cancer. Large studies of women who have consumed soy have shown either no link to breast cancer or a protective association, meaning that the more soy consumed, the less the risk of breast cancer. Furthermore, the consumption of soy protein has been associated with a lower risk of prostate cancer.
Rice protein is considered to be well absorbed and hypoallergenic. It is not a complete protein since it lacks isoleucine, but it can be combined with other protein sources to provide all the essential amino acids.
Hemp protein powder is a complete protein. It is grown from the hemp plant and is a member of the cannabis family. It delivers about 14 grams of protein per serving and is a good source of essential fatty acids – particularly alpha-linolenic acid (ALA)- the essential fatty acid that helps with the formation of omega 3’s. Omega 3 fatty acids are heart healthy fats that help fight against heart disease, cancer, some autoimmune disease and even cell membrane formation in the brain. A 1 ounce serving of hemp powder also delivers 4 grams of fiber. I would recommend buying organic to make sure you are not getting any pesticides with your serving.
Know what is in your protein powder. Some powders contain extra sugars like fructose, honey, lactose, maltose and fruit juices to enhance flavor but also add extra calories. Some use sugar alcohols like lactitol, maltitol, mannitol, sorbitol and xylitol which can still raise blood sugars and may cause diarrhea. The consumption of extra protein can lead to dehydration and if someone is also experiencing diarrhea which also causes fluid loss, serious health consequences could ensue like kidney failure. Some protein powders contain artificial sweeteners like aspartame and saccharin. Consumer Lab did a study of some different types of protein powders in 2010 and found that some labels were not accurate and some even contained small amounts of lead. Prolab’s Advanced Essential Whey Milk Chocolate was not approved because it contained less protein and more carbohydrates than stated on the label. Dymatize Nutrition Elite Casein Smooth Vanilla was not approved because the label was found to have additional sugars and cholesterol than stated. Optimum Nutrition Gold Standard 100% Egg Rich Chocolate is not approved because it had additional cholesterol than stated on the label. Shakeology Greenberry was not approved because it was found to have 12.7 mcg of lead in each serving.
Know how much protein, carbs and fat you are getting and know what that means. The Institute of Medicine recommends .8 grams per kilogram of weight. But age, sex, physical activity and purpose should also be factored in. My last blog discussed research indicating that older adults may need as much as 1 – 1.5 grams of protein per kilogram of weight. For someone who is around 50, weighs 200 pounds and who gets 30 minutes of vigorous exercise a day that may mean up to 135 grams of protein a day. Protein powders vary on the amount of protein, calories, fat and carbohydrates in them. If you are using them for a meal then you would expect it to deliver a third of the USDA requirements for food nutrients, vitamins and minerals including the delivery liquid you are using. Every food label is based on a 2000 calorie diet. Be sure your meal supplement isn’t giving you too many calories, carbs, and saturated fat. The USDA recommends that no more than 10% of our total daily calories comes from saturated fat and that we limit cholesterol to no more than 300 mg based on a 2000 calorie diet. That amounts to 20 grams of saturated fat for someone on a 2000 calorie diet. An ounce of cheese gives you 7 grams of fat a quarter pounder with cheese with a small mocha frappe gives you 24 grams. If you have any family history of diabetes, have diabetes or have been told your blood glucose levels are a little high, then this may not be the best way to consume a meal since it could lead to a blood sugar spike.
Try Protein Powder As A Smoothie
One way I like to use protein powder is to make a smoothie. I’m using this Genisoy brand on the left side because it was on the Consumer Lab approved list, has 25 grams of protein per serving, no carbs or saturated fat and has only 110 calories. I add lots of veggies – right now I use kale from my garden – and some fruit, Greek yogurt, flax seed and some dried high fiber hot cereal mix to boost the fiber content. I do find that although this is a thick shake, it does not keep me as full as long since everything is pulverized so more readily digestable but I do like that I’m getting a meal packed full of healthy protein, lots of veggies, and some great nutrients to boost my immune system. I find I need variety in my life and this is a wonderful way for me to get what my body needs to fuel me better and keep me healthy.