One of the most widely used as well as frequently researched and highly praised supplements in the workout industry is, without a doubt, protein powder.
It’s a staple in every fitness conscious person’s, professional bodybuilder’s or serious athlete’s diet – and with good reason!
If you’re wondering what it is, is it safe, should you take it or the benefits and side effects of protein powder – you’ve come to the right place! We’ve prepared an informational article that will answer all of your burning questions about this fundamental and necessary supplement that you might have.
Whether you are skinny, absolutely ripped, or somewhere in between, this supplement may still have an excellent reason for garnering a place in your diet.
So if you’re new to fitness or are simply wondering should you take protein supplement products – read on and find out all the facts for yourself!
What Protein Powder Is and What It Does
What Is Protein?
Protein is a macronutrient that is indispensable and fundamental for a person’s good health.
It is essential in keeping the vital processes of the body working and plays a huge role in bolstering your immune system, maintaining your lean muscle mass, repairing any and all damaged cells and tissues, production of hormones and even acting as an energy source when other sources like carbs and fat are diminished.
Protein supplements are designed to work with your body to promote all those things, in combination with good exercise and a proper diet.
What Does Protein Powder Do?
It provides you with the necessary groundwork to create the amino acids that your body needs to build muscle tissue efficiently and quickly.
The reason why athletes and bodybuilders have so much to benefit from this substance is that they need it to help their muscles recover and grow much faster, since during periods of intense physical activity their needs for protein intake are drastically increased.
Supplement manufacturers use high-quality sources like milk, hemp, peas, soy or eggs to create the supplement; that’s why they contain all the essential amino acids that your body can’t make on its own, and therefore, you must include in your diet.
Protein powders are rising in popularity because they are much more convenient to take than preparing, cooking and eating high-protein foods like meats, fish, eggs and dairy, which saves your time, money and energy. They also contain less fat and are mostly cholesterol-free.
Classification: The Two Main Types of Protein Powder
There are two main types of protein categories: Animal-Source Proteins and Vegetable Source Proteins. So if you want a vegan protein powder for building muscle, you’re covered as well!
Animal source proteins
Include milk protein derivatives such as whey and casein, as well as beef and egg white protein.
Whey Protein Powder
It is derived from milk and makes up 20% of total milk proteins. It is by far the most popular variety because it’s the most affordable, best tasting and highest quality out of all the other options. It also has the unique benefit of enhancing your immune system.
Scientists indicate that whey-based protein supplements are superior to others when it comes to muscle gain because they contain the highest amount of branched-chain amino acids and are more easily digested.
By the way, if you want to learn exactly why BCAAs (Branched Chain Amino Acids) are absolutely crucial for efficient muscle maintenance and growth, please read our BCAA Guide: Facts, Benefits, Side Effects.
Whey protein comes in two varieties, which are whey isolate and whey concentrate.
Whey Concentrate is the more economical one, has little lactose, fat, and carbs.
Whey Isolate is fat-free, lactose-free and tastes slightly better.
However, if you’re lactose-intolerant, you might still want to check out other options, because even though Whey Isolate is typically lactose-free, those who are especially sensitive to lactose can still be affected.
Read our full Whey Protein Supplements Guide to find out much more and then check out the Best Whey Protein Powders – The Top 5 List to see which are the best on the market today.
Casein Protein Powder
This is also derived from milk and makes up 80% of milk proteins.
The main advantage of this type over whey is that casein supplies your body with a slow-digesting form of protein, which ensures your cells receive a slow and steady supply, instead of the quick one that whey provides.
Taste-wise they are essentially the same.
This one is gaining some traction in recent years with people who are looking for a non-dairy and non-plant protein source.
The main advantage of this type is that it’s naturally packed with creatine and BCAAs, contains no fat and is also cholesterol-free.
Egg White Protein
This is another great option for those who want a dairy-free product. It is cholesterol-free, is naturally low in fat and carbs and has been long used by fitness enthusiasts.
However, in recent years, it’s been losing popularity because milk-derived proteins taste better and cost a little bit less.
Vegetable source proteins are pea, hemp, soy, rice and sprouted grain proteins. They are all great vegan alternatives to dairy and animal protein sources.
Vegetable source proteins
Vegetable source proteins like pea, hemp, soy, rice and sprouted grain proteins. They are all great vegan alternatives to dairy and animal protein sources.
Pea Protein Powder
It is a good source of arginine, and the quality is very similar to eggs and soy, which are considered complete sources.
The biggest downside to Pea Protein is that it lacks the essential amino acid Cysteine, according to this study.
It’s one of the few plant-based proteins that contains all eight essential amino acids and is packed with live enzymes, essential fatty acids, vitamins, and minerals, as well as other helpful substances that aid absorption and digestion and also improve general health.
It’s one of the best sources of this macronutrient when it comes to general health, but it is also very expensive.
This one also contains all essential amino acids and in studies like this one – it performs similarly to whey protein.
However, it does have a downside – the Isoflavones contained in it can interact with hormones like estrogen and potentially skew its levels when over-consumed. This might lead to reduced testosterone levels in men.
This one is lactose and gluten free and also has very similar results when it comes to the whey variety.
The only downside is that it contains comparatively small amounts of the BCAAs Lysine, which makes it less ideal to increase muscle mass.
There are many more sources of plant-based powders, which include sprouts, grains, and seeds like spirulina, chia, quinoa, millet and others. They’re perfectly suitable for those who don’t want an animal based product and are rich in vitamins and minerals and provide antioxidants, amino acids, and fiber, as well as other benefits.
Hydrolysate Protein – a special type of protein
Protein hydrolysates are produced from purified protein sources by heating with acid or with the addition of proteolytic enzymes – which is then followed by purification procedures.
It is the most expensive type of protein and is the highest and purest quality available, boasting excellent digestibility and amino acid profile – which makes it ideal for serious bodybuilders and athletes.
However, it causes a greater spike in insulin levels.
Finally, if you want to learn the reasons to take this supplement, check out What is Whey Protein Powder and 5 Primary Reasons to Take it article.
The Primary Benefits
So is it good for you? To answer that, we’ve prepared an extensive list of the main benefits of protein powder:
- Increase Muscle Mass Production
- Increase Muscle Tissue Recovery
- Improve Hormone Production
- Improve Immune System
- Improve Red Blood Cell Production
- Healthier hair, fingernails and skin
- Indirect Fat Loss effect
- Hunger Reduction
The main benefit is simply convenience because it can take an inordinate amount of time to naturally prepare, cook and consume large quantities of protein with food, in particular for bodybuilders who want to ingest 200+ grams of it per day.
Who has that kind of time in today’s fast-paced society, especially if you have to eat 6+ meals per day.
So unless you have a personal cook who can prepare those meals for you in perfect proportions and don’t mind feeling full all day and eating all of that – protein drinks might just be the saving grace that you need if you’re a serious bodybuilder.
Finally, while all the other benefits are evident and self-explanatory, the fat loss effect needs a separate explanation.
The effect is indirect; this type of supplement won’t help you burn fat just by using it. Studies show a higher protein diet that includes low GI carbs is great for weight loss.
It helps you stay fuller for longer, curbs your hunger and increases your lean body mass – and as we all know, the more muscle mass you have, the more calories you need to maintain it!
This all works to raise your metabolism and make your resting calorie burning rate higher than normal.
But What About the Taste?
These supplements usually taste great, with many different flavors and smells to choose from, so you can easily find the ones that you’re going to like.
However, keep in mind that protein drinks are not a replacement for food and should only be used to supplement your diet – they are not a substitute!
To get the full benefits, you still need to have a healthy diet and a proper exercise routine. Otherwise, you risk becoming fat!
For more in-depth information about all the benefits, check out the 13 Astonishing Benefits of Whey Protein Powder.
Are There Any Harmful Ingredients?
Since not all protein powder is created equal, you need to look carefully at the ingredients on the manufacturer’s label, before you consider buying this type of supplement.
We firmly suggest that you only consume those products that have natural ingredients, don’t have any artificial colorings or flavorings. Especially those that don’t contain any potentially harmful ingredients such as Sucralose, Acesulfame-k, Aspartame Saccharine, and more, including simple sugars and anything hydrogenated.
You need to be very mindful of what you put into your body, or you may risk damaging your health if you use a poorly chosen supplement.
That is why we recommend purchasing products only from trusted and reputable manufacturers, with 100% transparent ingredient labels and multiple years in of experience in the industry.
There are other safety concerns if you’re still wondering “Are protein powders safe to use?”
Some protein drinks are highly processed and heated to the point where the protein is denatured and is nearly impossible for the body to recognize and appropriately use.
This can result in higher toxicity and levels of acidity in your body and can cause many unnecessary side effects.
That is why it is of paramount importance that you only consume supplements made by respected and trusted manufacturers who manufacture them in proper laboratories with appropriate equipment and certification.
We’ve already shown you that certain powders can be packed with garbage, so do your due diligence when picking a product and don’t fall for cheap knock-offs that use wrong manufacturing techniques and sub-par ingredients.
Finally, you always need to stay extremely well hydrated when using such supplements; otherwise, your body might enter a state knownas ketoacidosis.
It’s essentially the buildup of ketones bodies in your system caused by excessive protein intake, which lowers your body’s pH to dangerously low levels. As your kidneys work to rid your body of these toxic ketones, you can lose a significant amount of water, which puts you at risk of dehydration, particularly if you exercise heavily.
And we all know how dangerous dehydration is, so it’s crucial that you stay properly hydrated!
How to Use Protein Supplements
Their use is pretty straightforward with a couple of simple rules to follow.
What to Take Them with?
You can make a drink for yourself with water, milk or juice, depending on your own taste preferences. It’s also a good idea to use a shaker or blender to mix the product properly and make it easier to consume.
When to Take Them for Best Efficiency?
Choosing the correct time can affect the benefits the supplement will have on you and your body.
After Workout – This is the stage where your body needs protein the most, in order to efficiently recover and grow after an intense training session.
Before Workout – If you’re taking a shake with carbs and protein before a workout, it will help lower the damage done to your muscles as you train, as well as contribute to maintaining optimal energy levels while exercising.
In The Morning – Taking it first thing in the morning is an excellent way to get essential nutrients after your long sleep and help curb your hunger throughout the day – helping with your fat loss efforts. So this is the best time to take protein for definition – lean and clean mass.
Before Bedtime – Taking this supplement just before bedtime will help your muscles recover and grow much faster because this process happens mainly during your sleep.
However, with all of this said, most authorities in the industry still feel that the best time for taking protein is AFTER a workout, because that’s exactly when your body needs it the most!
How Much Should You Take?
The commonly recommended dosage is around 1-2 scoops per day, amounting to 25-50 grams of this essential macronutrient. However, it is too broad and doesn’t consider the needs of serious athletes.
We recommend that you use the following scientifically backed formula:
For healthy adults who don’t exercise a lot – 0.75 grams per kg of body weight per day.
For healthy adults and athletes who exercise moderately – 1-1.5 grams per kg of body weight per day.
For serious or professional bodybuilders and those who have very intensive workouts and want massive gains – 1.5-2.5 g/kg body weight is recommended per day.
Note: 1 kg = 2.2 lbs.
For a full write-up about the dosage, please refer to How Much Protein Should You Take Per Day.
Protein Powder Info: Can you Build Muscle and Burn Fat at The Same Time?
There’s no special protein powder for weight loss, because protein shakes are for building muscle only, and the fat loss effect, as previously mentioned, is indirect.
So if your goal is to shred unnecessary fat, you might want to look at certain pre-workout supplements instead that contain protein, but also a plethora of other ingredients that specifically target fat and provide a fat burning effect.
Improve Your Diet with These 10 High Protein Foods
You don’t have to rely on shakes and drinks all the time, to supplement your diet.
If you have enough time and energy, you can always prepare some high-protein foods by yourself.
The Best Sources of Protein Are:
- Fish – (Tuna, Salmon, Halibut)
- Lean Poultry (Chicken Breast, Turkey Breast)
- Lean Beef and Veal (Low Fat)
- Eggs (Especially Egg Whites)
- Curd (Cottage Cheese, Curdled Milk)
Good Sources of Protein Are:
- Nuts and Seeds (Pumpkin, Squash, and Watermelon Seeds)
- Beans (Kidney Beans, Mature Soy Beans)
- Yoghurt (Greek Yoghurt)
- Tofu (Soy Bean Curd)
- Cheese (Parmesan, Non-fat Mozzarella)
Cheese and Nuts & Seeds are not listed among the best, because of their high fat content.
Protein Powder for Vegans
We’ve extensively talked about all sorts of protein and gave you examples of many foods to eat if you want to increase your intake of this precious macronutrient. But what about vegans?
It becomes a little bit tricky for vegans to get sufficient macronutrients, but they can safely use any plant based protein coming from rice, peas, soy, hemp, quinoa, and so on.
Hopefully, we’ve answered whether you should take a protein supplement or not, and why!
The benefits are many and the downsides are nonexistent, so if you are one of the people who want to add a lot of muscle mass and improve their workout results, or even just to stay healthy – protein powders might be just the thing you need.
Just remember that they’re not a magical substance, that you’ll still have to train hard and maintain a proper diet to get the best results – and that you should never substitute your food with them completely.
In today’s market, it is increasingly difficult to navigate through the thousands of different products and correctly pick the supplement that will suit you and your body’s needs most. This is of particular importance because many dangerous products and cheap knock-offs are going around the market containing very harmful or poor quality ingredients that can cause damage to your body.
A correctly picked supplement from a well-known and trusted manufacturer will prevent a lot of frustration and help keep you safe, while guaranteeing good results. A poorly selected one may cause you bodily harm.
You’re welcome to share your thoughts in the comment section about which supplement you are personally using, and why, so we can all discuss their merits and benefits together!
Stay strong and train hard!