Protein powders are a bit like marmite, people seem to love them or hate them and often have a very strong opinion (usually against using them). I wonder whether those people have all the facts though and whether they are tarnishing all protein powders with the same label?
A good diet - Is it the same for everyone?
A good diet is always the way forward but there are circumstances and individuals that may benefit from protein powders. If you follow personalised nutrition and functional medicine then you'll also understand that what a good diet is, is different for each of us.
The basics are to eat a balance of protein, fat and carbs to make sure we're getting a good range of nutrients in terms of vitamins and minerals. Replacing any meal with a protein powder though might mean missing out on some nutrients, so I'm not advocating the shake for breakfast, lunch or dinner approach.
Who might benefit from a protein powder?
- Those who find it difficult to eat large meals and want to gain some weight. That's not necessarily the obvious weightlifters that come to mind.
- People with digestive issues or sensitive digestion might also find protein drinks useful and easier to digest.
- Other groups are people training late in the evening, they might prefer protein powder rather than eating late because they've already eaten their 3 meals that day.
- The same applies to commuters who train after work and don't eat until they get home.
- People with intolerances or allergies.
Be clear about the type of protein powder
The thing about protein powders is that we need to be clear about the type we're talking about. There are many types and it's about getting the right one.
A pure protein powder is just the whey, pea protein, hemp, soya or egg powder. This can be mixed with water, fruit or juice, it can even be added to porridge and for example doing this could be useful for someone intolerant to the common breakfast proteins of eggs and yoghurt.
Compare this to a protein powder which contains added carbohydrates, sugars and perhaps un-natural flavours. This might be the kind you often find in the vending machine at the gym or in the windows of sports supplements shops. You need to know that you need the carbohydrates otherwise you could be adding on more than you burnt off, and I would choose a natural flavour over an artifical one.
If you're exercising a couple of times a week and find a protein powder useful after exercise or as a morning snack, then carry on. Choose the best you can and get advice if you're not sure.
If you're exercising every day or using protein powders to replace meals, then you check that you're getting enough nutrients from other food sources by using scientific testing.
How about protein bars ?
Protein bars are made from protein powder mixed with other ingredients, often this will need to be a sugar type syrup (E.g. Sugar, glucose, brown rice syrup or honey). That's because it needs a binder and it needs sweetness to make it edible.
- Useful if you have food intolerances/allergies and need to take food with you.
- Useful for travelling/commuting as an emergency, portable snack.
- You could pile on the calories if you've not exercised enough to burn it off.
- Check what the other added ingredients are.
Protein powders can be useful for some people, if you are going to use one then get the best you can afford. If you prefer your protein from animal products or vegetarian sources and you've found what suits you, then that's fine too