If you have friends or family who are passionate about fitness, or even if you’ve just set foot in a gym, you’ve most likely heard the term ‘protein shakes’ being thrown around. Often used interchangeably with ‘supplements’,
Protein powders are simply concentrated sources of protein, extracted from plant or animal products.
Three common forms of protein powders
- Protein concentrates: Produced by extracting protein from whole food using heat and acid or enzymes. These typically include 60–80% protein, with the remaining 20–40% composed of fat and carbs.
- Protein isolates: An additional filtering process removes more fat and carbs, further concentrating the protein. Protein isolate powders contain about 90–95% protein.
- Protein hydrolysates: Produced by further heating with acid or enzymes — which breaks the bonds between amino acids — hydrolysates are absorbed more quickly by your body and muscles.
Are protein powders only for those who want to build muscle?
While protein powders may have largely been popularised and associated with muscle or body building - thanks to a large number of sports nutrition brands selling protein bars, shakes, sippers, powders - protein powders are also used for a large variety of reasons not limited to working out. In fact, certain protein powders are also fortified with vitamins and minerals. It is important to remember that
Protein powders are but dietary supplements that are used to enhance or fill gaps in your diet.
So why should you use protein powders?
When giving up all animal-based food products, it may be necessary to make up for the missing protein in one’s diet with the help of supplements.
Teenagers, especially those who work out, need more protein to fuel their still-developing bodies.
Increasing physical activity
If you normally work out for an hour a day, but are now training for a professional competition, your body will need more protein than usual.
When recouping from an injury
This is especially relevant for athletes who often face major injuries and may need to bounce back quickly.
The last two reasons explain why protein powders are widely used in sports nutrition -- which plays an essential role in boosting the effects of physical training, whether you’re an athlete or just looking to improve your health through exercise. Professionals in this space offer a variety of services to support your health goals -- be it daily nutrition guides or or a comprehensive plan for training and sports competitions.
The many types of protein powders
As we dive deeper into the world of protein powders, first, let’s take a look at the different types of protein powders and what they are best used for.
Arguably the most popular protein supplement, it is made of whey -- a by-product of the process that turns milk into cheese. This protein powder is acid soluble and digests quickly, increasing amino acid delivery into the blood and muscle tissue. It promotes cardiovascular health, and its quick absorbency means it is perfect for post-workout recovery.
This is produced using a separation process applied to milk, which isolates the milk protein from the carbs and fats. Its benefits are similar to whey, but the digestion period is longer, making it ideal before a fasting situation, such as prior to bedtime. Casein also contains several bioactive peptides that benefit immune and digestive symptoms, and some even work to lower blood pressure.
This is made by separating the yolk and dehydrating the egg whites. It is second only to whey in leucine content, and is a viable way to increase muscle protein synthesis. It’s also rich in minerals and vitamins, making it a healthy addition to any diet.
This is one of the few plant-based proteins that offers every essential amino acid. It is made by isolating the protein once soybeans have been hulled and dried into flour. While it contains less leucine as compared to whey and is not optimal for muscle building, its phytonutrients are beneficial to the elderly and those at risk of heart disease or reduced bone density.
Yes, brown rice is increasingly being considered a viable source of plant-based protein! It is a good source of complex carbohydrates, vitam B, and fiber. It’s also hypoallergenic, making it easily digestible. However, it is deficient in some amino acids and cannot be the main source of dietary protein.
This one’s made of the yellow split pea, and is hypoallergenic. It contains only a few artificial additives, making it the ideal source for those looking for a supplement that’s closest to the whole food. While it can contain all essential amino acids, it remains deficient in certain aspects and cannot be the primary source of protein in one’s diet.
How exactly do protein powders work?
When your muscles are stressed beyond normal i.e. during a heavy workout - they go through wear and tear. Proteins are needed to repair this damage, which in turn builds muscle mass. In order to build muscle and strength, you need to consume more protein than your body breaks down naturally during resistance training.
Protein supplements work to release amino acids into your bloodstream - the basic building blocks of protein that aid muscle repair. Protein is broken down through the digestion process with the help of dietary enzymes called ‘proteases’. The faster these are broken down, the sooner they can be converted into amino acids that repair muscle tissue and promote muscle growth, faster and more efficiently.
How much protein should one consume?
It’s important to remember here that dietary guidelines recommend 0.8 grams per kilogram of body weight, and this may vary based on activity levels and age.
Anything greater than the recommended limits is used for energy or excreted.
When is the best time to have protein?
The short answer, it depends on your fitness goals. The point at which maximum muscle protein synthesis is achieved is termed the ‘muscle full effect’. This suggests that muscle protein synthesis is only elevated for about two hours after ingestion, after which it returns to normal. It then implies that there is a finite amount of protein that muscles can use in a single setting, and we should limit our intakes accordingly.
If building muscle is your goal, try to take your protein within two hours after working out. If you’re doing resistance training, you can benefit from taking protein either immediately after or before your workout.
Let's bust some common myths
Powders can substitute whole sources
Yes, gulping down a protein shake in place of a healthy snack may be a tempting option in a time-crunch -- but nothing can replace whole, real food. Use these powders only to supplement your regular diet that should contain a variety of micro and macro nutrients.
Everyone needs the same amount
While there are recommended amounts for men and women, the quantity of protein an individual should consume depends on various factors such as lifestyle, activity levels, and health conditions.
More protein means more muscle mass
This will only happen if you supplement your protein intake with regular trips to the gym. If you’re not working out, simply consuming protein will not result in increased muscle mass.
Finding the best fit
You’re set -- but before you go ahead and make the purchase, here’s what you should keep in mind:
For muscle growth: Choose a powder with a high biological value (a value that measures how well the body can absorb a protein)
For weight loss: Choose shakes with no added sugars or dextrins/maltodextrins
For patients of diabetes: Choose ones without added sugar i.e. don’t choose protein powders with sugar listed as one of the first three ingredients
For those on a budget: Buy tubs of protein powder instead of the more expensive ready-to-drink protein shakes
For everyone: Make sure you buy a genuine product! Which brings us to the last point...
BEWARE of fake products
Here's what you can check to verify the authenticity of the product:
- Check the seal: Ensure it has an unbroken seal that is uniformly attached and with proper edges. The seal should have the brand name endorsed on it -- if it’s plain, there’s a higher chance of it being a fake.
- Check that it has a hologram mark and an MRP tag: Most brands have a 3D hologram, which you can compare to the original supplier hologram on the brand website.
- Verify the LOT number: You can do it online or check with the brand’s customer care.
- Check that the labels: Inspect to see if labels are clear and graphics on the packaging are of high quality. You could go a step further and compare the label with that of a competitor, to check for any major differences. If there are large amounts of ingredients you haven’t seen before, it could be a low-quality fake.
There you go -- absolutely everything you need to know about protein powders to choose the one that’s best suited to your needs! And, if you don’t know where to get your protein powder from, you can get them on the cure.fit app.