Know Your Protein Powder

I’ve been asked about protein powders and bars quite a lot recently so I thought it’d be good to share my responses with you. The conversations go something like this…

Q. Sarah, why do I need to use a protein powder? 
A. You don’t! There is certainly no need to incorporate protein powder into your diet in order to lose/maintain weight, to be healthy or to gain lean muscle. However, protein is a really important part of our diet (read more in Sarah, what should I eat?) and most of use don’t eat enough. Our bodies require protein with every meal as it can’t be stored by the body. It also helps keep us feel full for longer. I believe that real food is alway best and a chicken breast, for example, would always be better than a scoop of protein powder. However, meat can be expensive and it can be difficult to get good quality meat on the go. Therefore, protein powder can be a convenient and cost effective way to increase the protein in your diet.
Q. Sarah, what should I look for in a protein powder or bar?
A. The first thing to know is protein powder comes in several basic forms
– whey
– casein
– soy
– hemp
– rice
– pea
– egg white
These may be found alone or in combination, with or without added flavours and ingredients.
Whey and casein are complete proteins meaning they contain all the essential amino acids your body requires, however are unsuitable for those with dairy allergies and vegans. If you are opting for a non-dairy powder a blend can be a good idea in order to get a fuller range of the amnio acids. For example a blend of rice and pea together will also give you all of your amino acids. Those with a lactose intolerance, rather than a dairy allergy, may find they can use whey or casein based protein powders as they have a very low amount of lactose in them. The only way to know is to try them. Providing you like the taste of milk in my mind these taste the best.
I would not personally use soy as it can be hard to digest unless fermented and soy is also thought to mimic the effects of estrogen hence having a negative impact on the body. Until more is understood about this for me there are enough other options and I therefore avoid it.
The remainder of the powders all have a fairly strong taste e.g. egg white can taste fairly salty as eggs are naturally high in sodium and hemp tastes very ‘green’. Therefore, you may want to choose stronger flavours to combine them with to mask the taste a little. As I am unable to eat dairy I have to rely on these and my personal favourite is Pulsin’ pea protein or My Protein’s vegan blend.
Secondly, you need to look at what other ingredients (if any) they have in them. Many flavoured protein powders can come along with artificial flavours or sweeteners or may even have sugar added. I personally avoid artificial sweeteners as they can trigger cravings and some people believe them to be detrimental to our health, even believing some can cause cancer. As they are by no means necessary I chose natural alternatives to sweeten where needed, however this has to be a personal choice.
When it comes to protein bars many actually have a high proportion of sugar/carbohydrate and may be designed for sports people after intense workouts. As a snack or to enhance your protein consumption you would ideally look for one which is higher in protein without too much sugar. One good rule of thumb is the ME label rule, which I explain here but basically you want carbohydrate minus (fibre+protein) to be less than 10g. It an be quite hard to find a protein bar without artificial ingredients in the UK therefore I tend not to use them as regular part of my diet and only have one in my bag as an emergency snack if I’m out and about and unable to get something I am able to eat.
Ultimately, it’s a personal choice and you may have to try a couple before you find the best for you.
Q. Sarah, how can I use protein powder? 
A. In my mind this depends which powder you use as mentioned above whey/casein tastes like milk therefore works really well in porridge (oatmeal), stirred into yoghurt or a protein smoothies/milkshakes.
Pea/rice/hemp have a stronger taste which can work in a protein smoothie. However, you can also stir them into stews/soups etc, which can work well for vegans/vegetarians trying to increase their protein intake.
You can find some recipes using protein powder here and here.
You will also find recipes on the internet which bake with protein powder. I’ve never had much success, but will let you know if and when I do!
Q. Sarah, I’m vegetarian/vegan and would like to know how to how to get more protein in my diet 
A. As a vegetarian there are good sources of protein to be found in egg and dairy (providing you tolerate them ok). However, as a vegan it can be harder. Protein is found in lots of plant sources and you will find lots of graphics and articles on the internet explaining sources. However, one thing to note is most of these come along with relatively high proportions of carbohydrate and may not contain the full amnio acid profile your body needs (read more about this in the second question). Note carbohydrate isn’t bad however you need to have a ratio of protein:carbohydrate which works well for your individual body. Protein powders can help with this.
Q. Is it safe to use protein powder in pregnancy?
A. I’ll defer to Anna from Protein Pow in this one as I don’t think I could put it better myself!
Q. Sarah, what protein powders or bars do you recommend? 
A. As mentioned this has a lot to do with personal taste however I prefer to go for an unflavoured protein and add my own sweetness and flavour in the form or cocoa, vanilla, berries etc
When I could eat dairy I used to use My Protein’s Unflavoured Whey Protein (if you go for a flavour check you are happy with the ingredients as they use artificial sweeteners in some. They have a new range which is sweetener with stevia, which you may be more comfortable with)
Now I use Pulsin’ Pea Protein (if you don’t eat meat you may wish to mix in rice protein powder to get a more complete amino acid profile) or My Protein’s Unflavoured Vegan blend
A flavoured vegan option (which doesn’t have artificial flavours and is sweetened with stevia) is Sun Warrior, Vega or Plant Fusion and comes in chocolate, vanilla or sometimes berry.

I often have discount codes for the unflavoured ones so drop me an email if you want one and will aim to keep this updated each month with new offers.
Do you use protein powder? Are you tempted to try it?
know your protein powder
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