Spotlight on Protein Powders

There seems to be lots of conflicting opinions about whether we should be consuming protein powders.

To begin with it’s important to understand what protein actually is and why it’s essential to our health. It appears to be a buzzword these days but I wonder how many people really understand its function. Protein is an essential macronutrient, vital for building and repairing cells within the body. With an increasing number of us hitting the gym and looking to increase muscle mass. At the same time there appears to be a greater movement towards a more plant based diet which poses worries about being able to hit protein targets.  

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So what do you need to know about protein powder and when may they be helpful in the diet?

Below I’ve listed a few reasons why protein supplementation might be beneficial to you:

- If you’re vegetarian or vegan and you’re concerned that you’re not getting enough protein in your diet through plant-based sources such as beans, pulses, nuts, seeds, eggs, dairy. It can be especially useful if you have just turned vegan or vegetarian and are still getting to grips with finding plant-based protein sources 

· If you’re struggling to find a quick high-protein meals or snacks on the go, or straight after exercise 

· If you’re focusing on significantly increasing your muscle mass.

· If you’re recovering from injury or surgery and require extra protein to re-build muscle loss and help repair.

Some important things to note about proteins powders:

Avoid protein powders which contain added ingredients e.g. artificial sweeteners, additives or added sugars. Some  can be highly processed. If you’re into eating organically then you may wish to opt for an organic variety although this is not essential and nor feasible for many.  

I recommend checking in with yourself to see whether you really need them or you’re only taking it because your favourite influencer is an ambassador? 

It may be worth making yourself more aware of your protein intake over a week to see where your sources are coming from. 

You might be surprised to know that most people in the UK are consuming enough protein already from following a balanced diet. The current government recommendations are to consume around 0.8g/kg body weight; this equals around 46g for the average sedentary women. For those of you who are trying to gain muscle or are extremely active, it is recommended that they consume more depending on amount of activity and desired muscle mass gain.

But can we consume too much? With mass marketing of protein products it appears to be a competition of who can pack the most protein into their products. Aside from the fact that the majority of us can only metabolise around 20g of protein at once, some studies have shown adverse side effects from very high protein diets. These effects include disorders of bone and calcium homeostasis, poor renal and liver function and in some cases, increased cancer risk and disorders of liver functions. Further research is still required in this field, with more evidence to be carried out on a larger pool of volunteers. However current findings suggest there are no benefits of consuming a diet very high in protein due to the potential negative side effects. 

It is also important to note that many of the people who are consuming over their recommended protein intake are “self-subscribing” due to the idea that they will allow them to give performance-enhancing abilities and allow them to build large amounts of muscle mass. If you are unsure about how much you should be consuming I recommend  speaking to your health care professional for more specific advice. This may allow you to make more informed choices about your diet and whether you should consider supplementing with a protein powder.

Finally, due to the wide range of protein powders now available, it may be confusing when deciding which type to buy. For example: whey, soy, pea, hemp and brown rice protein; all have different benefits and depend on what you focus is and whether you are following a vegetarian or vegan diet.

Finally, protein powders aside… what does 46g of protein per day look like in real food? 

Breakfast: 2 whole eggs with 1 slice of  rye toast = around 10g protein

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Snack:  a handful of almonds (28g) = 6g protein

Lunch – quinoa and broccoli salad = 11g protein

Dinner: carrot and lentil stew with steamed greens and quinoa = 20g protein

Total:  around 47g protein

Finally, here are my takeaway points… can we easily get sufficient protein from our diet without protein powders? YES Can we easily get sufficient protein from a vegan or vegetarian diet? YES Are protein powders bad? NO. Protein powders are an easy and convenient way to increase protein intake, especially when short of time or on-the-go. However, they should be taken to supplement a healthy, balanced diet containing all the major good groups, NOT as a meal replacement. Attention should be payed to the ingredients of the protein powder and the manufacturing methods and it is advised to find a natural, unsweetened version that doesn’t contain artificial flavours or sweeteners.