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Protein powders – do you need one and how to choose one

No longer just a mainstay of bodybuilders, protein powders have gone mainstream with shelves of them in supermarkets across the country. But a lot of the people we see in the clinic are confused about if, which and how they should be using protein powders. In this blog post, we’ll try to clear up this confusion and take a look at the differences between plant-based protein powders and animal-based protein powders, how to choose a quality powder, and how to use protein powders effectively.

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Plant based powers

Plant based protein powders include soy, pea and brown rice powders. There are also vegan powders that use a combination of plant proteins.

The benefits of plant based powders is that they are often suitable for people with food intolerances, being dairy and gluten free. They are also quite affordable. Pea powder in particular is slow digesting and may keep you full for longer.

The downsides are that some plant based powders are not complete proteins – for example, pea protein powder lacks the amino acid cysteine and brown rice protein powder is deficient in lysine. Similarly, while soy protein powder contain all essential amino acids and is a complete protein, there are concerns that the isoflavones it contains can interact with hormones like oestrogen and possibly skew hormone levels if taken in excess. However, according to Brian St Pierre from Priority Nutrition, this is only a concern if you otherwise eat a lot of soy-based foods. “If you are having the occasional shake with soy protein in it, it’s probably not anything to be concerned about,” he says.

Animal based powders

The most common animal-based protein powder is whey, closely followed by casein, both of which are dairy-proteins. There are also egg-based powders on the market.

Whey protein is fast acting, which makes it beneficial for stimulating muscle growth and development. In contrast, casein, while also a milk protein, is slower digesting and is often taken at night to provide a steady source of amino acids for up to seven hours. Given the discussion over the optimal window for protein supplementation after training, the benefit of this is questionable.

As a dairy-based product, both whey and casein are unsuitable for people who are lactose intolerant.

How to choose a protein powder

There are massive variations in the price of protein powders. This mainly reflects the amount of additives and fillers in the products, with purer products having a higher price point. There are a selection of natural protein powders available that do not contain preservatives, colours, flavours or sweeteners.

There is also a price difference between products like whey protein concentrate (WPC) and whey protein isolate (WPI), with isolate being considered a purer form of protein. However, the advantage of these more processed powders comes with a price premium that may not be worth it – according to Brian St Pierre from Priority Nutrition, the advantage is small and a basic whey concentrate powder from a reputable company can provide great results if taken with care given to timing and overall diet quality.

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Protein powders are most effective when used as a recovery drink within 30 minutes to 2 hours of a high-intensity workout. This means weight training, intervals or endurance training sessions of 45 minutes or longer – not after taking the dog for a half hour stroll around the block.

The Australian Institute of Sport recommends that it is most effective to eat some protein just after exercise, and to spread the rest of your day’s protein intake out over meals and snacks during the rest of the day. So rather than having a huge slab of meat at dinner, have smaller portions of protein-containing foods like lean meat, dairy, nuts and legumes throughout the day.

Ultimately, our view is that protein powders, used judiciously, can play a role in aiding muscle recovery. However, they should not be treated as a substitute for a healthy and balanced diet. Real food has the added benefit of being cost effective and providing you with a wide range of vitamins and minerals that a protein powder could never hope to fully mimic.

As mentioned in our blog earlier this month ‘Are you hitting your protein sweet-spot? it is advisable to calculate your protein requirements based on your lean muscle mass. A DEXA scan can give you an insight into how much lean muscle mass you have, accurate to the gram. Why not get a before and after scan to see if your protein intake when exercising is working for your body? Visit Body Measure in Crows Nest, Sydney, to help achieve your optimum body and health! You are worth it!

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Are you hitting your protein sweet-spot?

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Protein is an essential macronutrient for good health, and is especially vital for building and maintaining lean muscle mass. But how much is enough? How can you calculate how much you need? And can you have too much protein? In this blog post, we’ll explore these issues and break it down for you.

Why protein is important?

Protein is one of life’s essential nutrients. Brain cells, muscle, skin, hair and nails are just some of our body parts that are protein-based – in fact about half of the human body’s dry weight is made up of protein. The amino acids in protein are also necessary for the production of some hormones, such as adrenalin.

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How much protein do you need?

Estimates vary on how much protein is needed, with some recommendations excessive in our opinion. The suggested guidelines from the Australian Institute of Sport strike a good balance. The Institute’s recommendation for sedentary men and women is 0.8g of protein per kilo of bodyweight per day. On average, a sedentary man needs 56 grams per day, and a sedentary woman needs 46 grams per day.

To put this in perspective, some examples of the amount of protein in food is:

  • 85 grams of meat has about 21 grams of protein
  • 1 egg contains about 6 grams of protein
  • 2 tablespoons of peanut butter as 8 grams of protein
  • ¼ cup of almonds has 8 grams of protein

Requirements are slightly more for some athletes, of up to 1.7g/kg/day for elite male endurance athletes, those at the start of an intense resistance training program, and those involved in power sports. Other people with higher protein requirements are pregnant and breastfeeding women, and people over the age of 50 to reduce the risk of age-related sarcopenia (muscle wastage).

But it is important to note that the guidelines from the Australian Institute of Sport are for athletes. If you are overweight or have a high body fat composition, it is advisable to calculate your protein requirements based on your lean muscle mass. A DEXA scan can give you an insight into how much lean muscle mass you have, accurate to the gram.

How to make sure you are getting enough protein?

Most Australians do get adequate protein in their diets, and as excess protein cannot be stored by the body there is no benefit to eating more than your body requires. However, it is most effective to eat protein at regular amounts throughout the day.

Protein deficiencies are most common in people following strict vegetarian or vegan diets. This is because most plant proteins are not complete – they do not contain all the essential amino acids that our bodies require. Soy products, quinoa and amaranth seeds do contain all the essential amino acids, but most plant proteins lack at least one amino acid. This means that vegetarians and vegans need to ensure that their diet contains a variety of protein foods from different plant sources to ensure they get an adequate mix of amino acids.

Inadequate protein intake is also a concern for people following fad diets such as long-term juice and vegetable fasts or the cabbage soup diet, and of course, those suffering from an eating disorder.

Too much of a good thing?

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According to the Australian Institute of Sport, daily protein intakes under 2 g/kg of body weight in healthy people is unlikely to cause side effects. However, for people with pre-existing kidney disease high protein intakes can accelerate the disease progression. Other possible risks that are still being evaluated include an increased risk of osteoporosis due to an increase in calcium excreted in urine. The Australian Institute of Sport also warns that an excessive focus on high protein foods can displace other valuable foods – especially fruits and vegetables – from the diet.

Ultimately, it is important to eat a well-balanced diet that provides all your essential macronutrients as you strive to change your body composition and build lean muscle mass. Good overall nutrition will ensure that you have enough protein to build muscle, reduce fat and get lean.

For help on achieving your health and wellness goals, come in for a DEXA scan at Crows Nest. We can measure how much lean muscle mass you have accurate to the gram which will help you calculate your ideal protein intake. Sydney’s Body Measure can help you can change your body composition by discussing the optimal mix of nutrition and exercise best for YOU!