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Q. Do I need to use a protein powder? What is the best kind?
A. There are so many protein powders available today that it can be challenging to know what’s best for you, and which ones are truly healthy vs. the ones being marketed that way. The best way to know what kind of protein powder is best for you is via a food sensitivity test or experimenting with trying only one individually for a few days in a row to see how your body responds.
Do I need a protein powder?
Protein is not just for body builders. Protein is the building block of healthy cells and tissues in your body. Protein provides structure for the body’s cells, organs, bones, muscles, and connective tissue. It is a macronutrient made up of chains of amino acids. (You may have heard amino acids referred to as the building blocks of proteins.) There are 20 different types of amino acids that the human body needs to function properly. While our bodies produce some of these amino acids naturally, there are 9 amino acids that do not naturally occur in our bodies, and thus need to be acquired through eating protein. Protein plays an important role in pretty much every bodily function. This includes hormone regulation, stabilizing blood sugar levels, and supporting the immune system. Whether you work out or not, protein intake is a factor for health.
Protein is found in a variety of foods. Protein is abundant in animal foods like meat, poultry, and fish. If, however, you would rather get your protein from plants, it is also found in larger amounts in foods like legumes, nuts, seeds, and vegetables like broccoli, mushrooms, and spinach. Supplementing with a powder is usually only necessary if protein is lacking from your dietary choices, you are increasing your exercise, or your digestive strength is compromised and you are not able to absorb and assimilate the amino acids from the food you are consuming.
Signs you may not be getting enough protein in your diet:
- Sluggish metabolism
- Trouble losing weight
- Trouble building muscle mass
- Low energy levels and fatigue
- Poor concentration and trouble learning
- Moodiness and mood swings
- Muscle, bone, and joint pain
- Blood sugar instability
- Slow wound healing
- Low immunity
Supplementing with Protein Powder
When I coach clients, my top priority is to always ensure nutrition through whole foods, but there is a time and place where protein powders can be beneficial. If you have an intense workout schedule, are looking to drop a few pounds, or are transitioning to a plant-based diet, then you can likely benefit from including a quality protein powder in your diet.
Now you can’t just pick up any protein powder and assume it will be healthy. The number one thing you want to look at is the ingredients list, and make sure to always choose an option that has a minimal list without unnecessary additives and flavors.
Which is the best kind or protein powder?
There are so many powders that claim to be healthy—but what should you actually be looking for in a protein powder?
As a health coach, this is one of the most common questions I hear from my clients. Most important is choosing one that is organic, weather you prefer plant-based or animal protein, quality organic ingredients are vital. Like all other foods, the ingredients used for your protein powder could have either been grown conventionally and sprayed with harmful chemicals and pesticides, or grown using organic farming practices and conditions. If you want to avoid consuming those chemicals, opt for a protein powder that has been certified organic, and made from real, whole foods, and is free of any artificial ingredients or sweeteners.
Look for a protein powder that uses natural sweeteners like monk fruit or coconut sugar, if any. Ideally, you can get an organic protein powder that is completely free of artificial sweeteners such as sucralose, or filler ingredients.
After that, the type you choose depends on your body type, digestive capabilities, and nutritional needs.
Animal Protein Powders
Grass-Fed Whey, Goat Whey, and Collagen are among the healthiest animal based protein powder options in the organic, hormone-free variety. As with any meat/dairy product, the quality matters, and what the animal was fed matters. Look for one that is labeled to be rBGH/rBST hormone free.
Grass-fed whey protein supplies a rich variety of nutrients that boast numerous health benefits on weight, immunity, brain function, muscle repair, and diabetes. The amount of the fatty acid known as conjugate linoleic acid (CLA) is 3-5 times higher in grass-fed whey compared to commercial whey products. CLA has been shown to enhance muscle growth and metabolism, which helps the body to burn fat!
Whey isolate, however, is lower quality with a higher percentage of lactose, which causes digestive troubles for many people, so can be troublesome. Also, I encourage people to avoid any of the ‘isolate’ proteins because they are processed in a such a way that disturbs and denatures the quality of the protein.
Goat whey protein powder has all the same benefits of cow's whey but with much less lactose, making it easier to digest and a better choice for those who have trouble digesting lactose but still want the benefits of whey.
Collagen Protein is the vital building block of our bodies, including skin, hair, nails, bones, and joints. Collagen can be helpful for improving gut, skin, and joint health. You can find it in flavorless powder form that is odorless and tasteless and dissolves instantly in liquids, making it very easy to use.
Plant-Based Protein Powders
Hemp Protein wins as the healthiest plant-based protein powder, by far. Derived from ground-up hemp seeds, hemp protein powder is a complete protein as it has 20 amino acids, including the nine essential amino acids that your body is unable to produce on its own. It also can be mixed with fruit and still digested well, which is not always the case with other grain-based plant proteins.
Pea Protein is perfect if you are vegan and looking for the plant-based protein powder equivalent to casein or whey. It has a wonderful amino acid profile, including branch-chain amino acids that decrease muscle breakdown after workouts. It can cause digestive upset for some people, especially if mixed with fruit, so let your body be the judge whether mixing it in a smoothie works for you.
Brown Rice Protein does provide essential amino acids, vitamin B, vitamin E, fiber, and carbohydrates which can help to stabilize blood sugar. It can be an option by itself or blended with other plant-based proteins if you tolerate grains.
Overall, it might take some time to see which kind is best suited for your needs, but in many cases adding a healthy protein powder into your regular routine can be helpful.