The Ultimate Starter Guide to Protein
32 Best protein powders for women: fat Loss, vegan + more
You know by now that you should include protein in your diet for muscle gain, fat loss , and, well, your overall health. And we're sure you also know that outside of food you can also get some tasty protein from protein powder as well.
But do you know why the best protein powders for women are so useful? Or is it more of a monkey-see, monkey-do with your favourite influencer on the 'gram? Whatever it is, let's give you a little more background on the best protein powder (for you) and why it could be the key to hitting your protein goals.
How much protein do women need?
The NHS and the British Nutrition Foundation recommends 0.75g of protein per kilogram of body weight a day (that's around 50 to 60g ) but, several recent studies, including one Nutrients paper, suggest that those protein guidelines are too low, especially if you’re highly active. 'Those engaging in 150 minutes of exercise a week (or more) require around 1.2 to 1.5g of protein per kg body weight per day, and athletes will require even more,' says nutritionist Jenna Hope.
Why is protein so important for women?
Maintaining muscle mass and strength is important for your overall health, for preventing chronic diseases and for everyday movement, like lifting heavy objects.
High protein foods help to support exactly that and protein powders, in particular, offer bang for buck. 'Your muscles are made up of amino acids, which are the building blocks of protein,' explains Dr Stuart Gray from the University of Glasgow. 'Powders deliver a huge amount of amino acids to the muscles.'
For busy women (all of us, it seems then) a protein powder can help us hit our protein goals without meal prepping every other evening or losing precious hours of sleep in the morning.
Are some protein powders better than others?
Short answer, yes, but it will depend on your goals what 'better' means. There are some ingredients to swerve across the board according to Hope, though.
'Be aware of added sugars, as they can unknowingly contribute to your total sugar intake. Where possible, opt for protein powders which are free from artificial sweeteners and flavourings, too.'
What are the pros and cons of using protein powder?
On the plus side, protein powder offers a convenient way for you to up your protein intake. It can sometimes be difficult consuming your optimal level of protein through food alone (since you have to prep it, carry it around and then actually eat it – which isn’t all that easy when you’re not feeling hungry), so protein powder is a nifty solution.
As far as cons are concerned? The main one is that protein powder tends to lack the micronutrients that you’d get were you eat a source of protein (such as fish, or steak for example). This generally isn’t a problem if you are getting all of your essential nutrients from food sources and using powder to boost protein intake in-between meals, but would be an issue if you were to supplement food with shakes.
How to pick the best protein powder for you
Now, without further ado, the best protein powders for women. Not the gloopy, concrete-looking slop that you associate with World's Strongest Man but, tailored, vitamin- and mineral-enhanced blends designed specifically for what women need.
Whether you're vegan, dairy-free or lift a lot in the gym, there's a protein powder just for you. Here's our handy guide on what sets pea apart from casein, and whether hemp tops brown rice in the nutrition department.
Note, the products stamped with the esteemed Sports Nutrition Awards logo below have been crowned the 2022 winners of the highly anticipated Women’s Health Sports Nutrition Awards. The rest have been handpicked by our editors, who have tried their fair share of protein powders, so you’re bound to find one that will float your boat.
1. Whey (dairy)
The Fit Protein – Whey Creamy Vanilla INSIGHT £29.95 SHOP NOW
Who for? Women who lift weights
Women who lift weights 30g gives you... 104 cals, 21g protein and 1.9g fat*
104 cals, 21g protein and 1.9g fat* What is it? Basically, it's the liquid scraped off cheese. Revolting, but also the most effective protein for the body to use, says the Journal of Applied Physiology.
'Whey concentrate is around 65-70% protein, which is higher than any plant-based options,' says nutritionist Drew Price. Protein's gold-star nutrient is leucine, an amino acid that triggers muscle growth and repair.
'Around 13% of the protein in whey is leucine, compared with, say, hemp's 7%,' says Price. 'If you’re training regularly at a high intensity, have 15g before your workout and 15g after to get it working faster.'
Women’s Health Lab approved whey protein powders
Hermosa Whey Protein Powder
Hermosa Whey Protein Powder Hermosa £32.00 SHOP NOW
Per 30g serving: 125kcal, 20g protein, 4.5g carbohydrates, 2.6g fat
Pimp up your post-workout shake with Hermosa’s winning whey protein, which beat well-established brands on test thanks to its rich, Dairy Milk-esque chocolate flavour. The texture is on point too – according to testers, it tastes just like a chocolate milkshake when blended with plant-based milk. Um, yes please!
This premium protein is on the pricier side but trust us, it’s worth it. The natural ingredients list features whey sourced from grass-fed cows and the South American stevia is 100% plant based. You’ll bag 20g of protein per serving plus all the nine essential amino acids you need for optimal muscle growth and repair. Bonus points for the snazzy packaging, too.
PE Nutrition Performance Whey
PE Nutrition Performance Whey PE Nutrition £24.00 £20.90 (13% off) SHOP NOW
Per 30g serving: 108kcal, 21.5g protein, 2.5g carbohydrates, 1.2g fat
Offering excellent bang for your buck, this purse-friendly powder packs a punchy 21.5g of protein made using three types of whey (concentrate, hydrolysate and isolate) coupled with 4.8g of BCAAs to aid muscle growth and recovery.
The sweet vanilla flavour went down a treat with our testers and, like Hermosa’s offering, the consistency is satisfyingly smooth and creamy. It tastes great with water alone, but we’d recommend whizzing it up into a smoothie with frozen banana and peanut butter for a decadent post-gym treat.
Foodspring Whey Protein
Foodspring Whey Protein Foodspring £29.99 SHOP NOW
Per 30g serving: 113kcal, 23g protein, 2.2g carbohydrates, 1.4g fat
Foodspring’s whey protein – which boasts 23g of the muscle-building macro, plus 9.8g of essential amino acids for effective recuperation – is ideal when you’re in a rush straight out of the gym. Just give it a few shakes and you’ve got yourself the perfect lump-free blend.
Flavour-wise, the powder avoids being sickly sweet, instead delivering a subtle cocoa flavour that our testers said was super delish when they mixed it with alt milk. They also rated the refreshingly short ingredient list, which is free from added sugar and added hormones, plus it’s non-GMO.
2. Pea (vegan)
Form Performance Protein £26.00 SHOP NOW
Who for? Vegans or women can suffer from bloating.
Vegans or women can suffer from bloating. 30g gives you... 107 cals, 23g protein and 0.6g fat*
107 cals, 23g protein and 0.6g fat* What is it? Made by extracting the soluble protein from fibre-rich yellow split peas, this gives a vegan protein punch - minus the gassy side effects.
High in superstar amino acid leucine, pea protein outranks other plant-based proteins according to The Journal of Nutrition and a study found it as effective as whey at increasing muscle mass during a 12-week training programme.
It's a popular post-workout choice because of its zero fibre (compared with hemp’s 8g per 30g scoop) content makes it easier on the gut, but since it's a little light on crucial amino acids, pair it with another plant protein, like oat bran, which contains plenty. Just add a 30g scoop to a smoothie or make yourself a protein porridge with the oats themselves. Delicious.
3. Casein (dairy)
Slow-Release Casein [Amount : 1 kg; Flavour : Strawberry] Myprotein £22.50 SHOP NOW
Who for? Women aiming for fat loss.
Women aiming for fat loss. 30g gives you... 117 cals, 26g protein and 0.5g fat*
117 cals, 26g protein and 0.5g fat* What is it? Another dairy by-product, its fat-blasting reputation means it's a favourite with the body-building crowd.
Despite its meathead associations, casein is actually ideal for anyone with a get-lean goal. ‘Casein is digested more slowly than whey and forms a jelly in the stomach that keeps you feeling full,’ says Price. ‘It also stops muscle from breaking down, enabling you to lose weight without losing muscle,’ he adds.
Take it in the evening. A study published in Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise found that ingesting 40g of casein pre-sleep improved protein repair rates by 22% - essentially speeding up your progress by around one-fifth. Still not good for the dairy-averse though.
4. Brown rice (vegan)
Bulk Brown Rice Protein Powder bulk £10.99 SHOP NOW
Who for? Women who enjoy smart snacks (read up on WH's favourite expert-approved high protein snacks, while you're at it).
Women who enjoy smart snacks (read up on WH's favourite expert-approved high protein snacks, while you're at it). 30g gives you... 127 cals, 23g protein and 0.6g fat*
127 cals, 23g protein and 0.6g fat* What is it? Rice grains are ground and treated with enzymes to separate the protein. You'd need to eat 500g of rice to get the same protein as in a 30g scoop. That's a lot of risotto.
Easy on the stomach, rice may seem like a decent alternative to whey – one study in Nutrition Journal found it to be as effective on all counts – but Price has a word of warning.
'Rice doesn't compare in terms of amino acids so I'd guess the subjects in the study were getting a lot of protein from elsewhere in the diet, evening things out.' He advises you to do the same; 'Fill up on quinoa at mealtimes and snack on peanut butter or edamame beans.' Don't mind if we do.
Pulsin Hemp Protein Powder Pulsin £13.00 SHOP NOW
Who for? Vegans.
Vegans. 10g gives you... 35 cals, 4.9g protein and 1.1g fat*
35 cals, 4.9g protein and 1.1g fat* What is it? Made from pressed and ground hemp seeds, this vegan superfood powder will go divinely with your slogan tee and a designer yoga mat.
Good news: Hemp contains anti-inflammatory omega -3 and -6 fatty acids, which are difficult to find on a plant-based diet.
Bad news: 'Although hemp protein has all 21 amino acids, it doesn’t have the optimum amounts you’d find in casein or whey. It’s particularly low in leucine, so try combining 15g of hemp with 15g of leucine-rich pea protein powder to boost the amino acid profile and speed up your body’s rate of repair,' advises Price.
Finally, be warned: 'It can cause bloating, probably down to the high amount of fibre,' says Price. Worth remembering if you don't want to let one rip mid-yoga sesh.
Ote Sports Chocolate Soya Protein Drink Ote Sports £43.50 SHOP NOW
Who for? Busy AF women who work out a lot.
Busy AF women who work out a lot. 52g gives you... 182 calories, 25g protein and 0.5g of fat
182 calories, 25g protein and 0.5g of fat What is it? Soy protein is the protein extracted from soy beans. Unlike many other plant protein sources, it's a complete protein with all nine essential amino acids.
While the health benefits of soy protein are often disputed, soy protein product have plenty to offer. Ote's delicious chocolate soya drink is designed for the highly active and consists of soy protein, electrolytes and vitamins, promising to prep the body's muscles for exercise and aid recovery. Slip one of the portioned sachets into your gym bag and guzzle post-session when you're short of time.
What about protein blends?
Many protein powders are actually a blend of a few of these common types. While whey and casein are usually just single ingredients, a lot of vegan protein powders mix hemp, pea, brown rice or soy to provide a nutritionally complete profile. Some proteins are better at encouraging muscle recovery whilst others can help you gain muscle mass – combining two or more can often help you achieve a few different goals at the same time.
8 ways to use protein powder
You've ordered your powder and are avidly scrolling high protein recipes on the Women's Health site only to realise they're, well, mainly made from food and not protein powder.
No sweat—we got nutritionists Hope and Lee Chambers (@essentialisecoach) to offer their favourite ways to incorporate the little extra protein hit into their day-to-day.
'I love adding protein powder to my porridge', says Jenna, while Lee loves using protein to add a little sweetener to his morning coffee. Why not try:
Mixing with water or milk of choice (aka making a traditional protein shake)
Mixing through your morning porridge (make sure to use this protein powder porridge hack, if you do)
Stirring through yoghurt for a snack
Making into protein pancakes
Blending with banana and your choice of fruit and veg to make a healthy smoothie recipe
Whizzing it into a pudding or mousse
Using it to thicken soup or hummus
Baking it into cakes, bread or pizza bases
How often should you drink protein shakes?
Again, it really depends on you, your goals, your nutrition, and your activity levels.
Protein shakes are ideal for drinking around the time of your workout – either before or after – to promote recovery, or to snack on throughout the day in-between meals. Protein shakes should not replace meals entirely.
Your best bet is to hit up a qualified nutritionist – particularly if you have health, performance, or aesthetic goals in mind – to get the low-down on your daily optimum protein amount, plus how to get as much as you can from food sources and when (and how often) to supplement with protein powder.
Something to pay mind to, regardless of your goals, is that you shouldn’t eat too much protein in one sitting. ‘It's important to spread your intake throughout the day in order for your body to digest it,’ Xander Pipe, fitness nutrition coach and founder of meal delivery service The Key To Food, tells WH. ‘If you eat too much in one sitting, it can place strain on your kidneys.'
32 best protein powders for women to shop now
Beginner's Guide to Whey Protein
Confused about protein powder? Unsure what it is, why it’s used and how it could benefit you? These are all common concerns for those new to the diverse world of sports supplements.
The first step is to understand what exactly whey protein is before you can understand if and how it can help you achieve results.
What is whey protein?
Whey is a component of dairy milk. Milk is comprised of two proteins: 80% casein and 20% whey. Whey is separated out during the manufacturing of cheese from dairy milk. Whey is then filtered, purified and dried to form whey powder.
Whey powder is low in lactose and contains all nine essential amino acids, making it a complete protein source, whilst retaining essential vitamins and minerals like calcium and vitamin B12.
The most common use for whey protein is supplementation in the diet to ensure adequate protein intake, to improve muscle protein synthesis maximising lean muscle gains, and for weight loss success.
There are three main types of whey protein:
Whey Protein Concentrate (WPC) contains low levels of fat and carbohydrate in the form of lactose. The percentage of protein within WPC ultimately depends on its concentration and if there are other ingredients added. True WPC80 has 80% protein content, making it a perfect ‘all-rounder’ protein that tastes great. Whey Protein Isolate (WPI) is created from further processing of whey that strips away all fat and lactose. True WPI90 is one of the cleanest protein supplements available with a 90% protein content. Whey Protein Hydrolysate (WPH) is a specific protein that doesn’t require as much digestion as WPC. It is frequently used within medical protein supplements or infant formulas. However, it often has a bitter taste requiring many other ingredients to sweeten and mask its natural flavour.
When should I have my protein powder?
The optimal time to consume protein powder will depend on your training, eating habits and goals.
Most importantly, consuming protein right after training will ensure your hard-working muscles can recover and adapt. This could be in the form of increased muscle mass, increased strength or decreased muscle soreness and fatigue.
A sit-down meal isn’t always possible with our busy lifestyles. A protein shake is the ultimate convenient solution for an on-the-go healthy snack, particularly when our protein intake is frequently low mid-morning or in the afternoon.
Did you know that all True Sample Packs include a free True Shaker? You’re welcome! One 30g sample of delicious WPI90 mixed with 200ml water is the perfect 3pm snack to stop you reaching for that chocolate bar.
Consuming protein before bed is another prime time to optimise your nutrition. If you’re exercising regularly then you need to ensure your body recovers properly. Depending on the type of exercise, the recovery phase can extend up to 48 hours post-workout. Consuming protein prior to bedtime will help to prevent your body shifting into catabolism, which is the breakdown of muscle to be utilised as energy, undoing all that hard work!
True Night85 is specifically formulated as a pre-sleep supplement due its slow release of amino acids (the building blocks of protein) to ensure you’re feeding your muscles during your (optimal) eight hours of sleep.
How do I choose a whey protein that’s right for me?
Check the ingredients
Most of the protein powders available on the market consist of a blend of protein, additives, sweeteners and other unnecessary ingredients. Be sure to check the ingredient list on any protein powder before you consume it.
A long list of strange and confusing ingredients and numbers is generally a warning sign, particularly if it says ‘proprietary blend’, which means the manufacturer doesn’t have to disclose the amounts of the blended ingredients. This often means you will be ingesting mostly the cheapest ingredient with only a whisper of the ingredient you actually need.
All of True Protein’s ingredients are pure, simple and natural. There are no additives, fillers, artificial flavours or artificial sweeteners. All True Whey Proteins are from New Zealand grass-fed cows. For flavouring, True Protein uses the best quality raw ingredients and 100% natural flavourings and sweeteners to ensure a superior final taste. Simply read True Protein’s labels to see for yourself!
Read the reviews
Many products are listed across several distributor sites or in store as well as on the manufacturing company’s site. It’s normal to feel unsure about a new product or if the quality is up to scratch. Get an idea of what people are saying about the product from reading the reviews and star ratings.
Get a sample
There are so many protein varieties available and we all have our own unique taste preferences. A sample is a great way to try a flavour you may be hesitant about. This will help you to determine how well the protein mixes together with liquid, test the texture and see if you would actually use and enjoy the product before you commit to buying a larger quantity.
True Protein Sample Packs are the perfect introduction to the premium protein range. Sample packs are available for WPC80, WPI90, Vegan85 and ProDefine, with a sample of all the available flavours in each pack and a bonus True Shaker!
Feeling confused about protein powder is perfectly normal if you’re new to fitness and sporting supplements. Whey protein is the most readily available supplement and for good reason.
Consuming whey protein has a wide range of benefits; when taken at the right time it can boost performance, assist with muscle recovery, increase your lean muscle mass and strength as well as aiding fat loss.
When making a decision on which ‘whey’ to go, consider your health and fitness goals as well as personal taste preferences and when you plan to use it. True WPC80 and WPI90 are versatile and delicious as a snack, a post-workout shake, blended in a fruit smoothie or as a sweet treat alternative.
If you’re comparing products, always check the ingredient lists. The best choice is a product that uses all-natural ingredients without artificial additives, preservatives or flavours. Doing your research first can prevent harmful substances from entering your body.
At True Protein, the research has been done for you with premium whey proteins from grass-fed cows, naturally sweetened with stevia or freeze dried fruits and no harmful additives or cheap fillers.
The Ultimate Starter Guide to Protein
There is a ton of information—often contradictory, and certainly overwhelming—about protein intake and protein supplementation, especially as it relates to athletes. We created this guide to the ins and outs of protein for gym-goers just starting out on a fitness path, and for more advanced athletes looking to navigate the endless stream of information. We’ll cover the following topics:
Table of Contents
What Is Protein?
Before we start exploring the basics of protein, let’s make sure we can all answer this key question: What is protein, anyway? To quote Encyclopedia Britannica, protein is a “highly complex substance that is present in all living organisms. Proteins are of great nutritional value and are directly involved in the chemical processes essential for life.”
Yes, friends, protein is powerful stuff.
WHY PROTEIN MATTERS
Protein has numerous important functions in the body. Your organs, muscles, skin, hair, nails, and bones all contain protein. Protein is essential for the growth and repair of tissue and cells, it helps support a healthy functioning immune system, and it plays a role in manufacturing hormones.
For athletes, protein’s role in muscle growth and repair is perhaps its most important function. A protein-focused diet is critical for anyone looking to bulk up. If your aim is to lose weight and you’re reducing your caloric intake, you still need to consume enough protein to prevent your body from turning to muscle tissue for energy, rather than burning unwanted fat. Even individuals who train purely for improved health and fitness (as opposed to targeted weight loss or muscle gain) should pay attention to protein intake, as it is critical in helping counteract the damage done to muscle fiber during strenuous workouts.
In addition to helping the body burn fat, rather than break down muscle tissue, protein benefits weight loss and weight maintenance efforts in a number of ways. Protein consumption increases the feeling of satiety (fullness), which helps reduce cravings and limit over-eating. Protein also has a higher thermic effect (the calories used to digest and metabolize food) than carbs and fat, which leads to a boost in metabolism. High-protein intake has been linked to reduced belly fat, as well as to long-term prevention of weight regain after weight loss.
WHAT ARE MACROS?
You’ve probably heard the buzzword “macros” and you’ve probably wondered what this cryptic fitness language is all about. “Macros” is simply slang for macronutrients—the nutrients that our bodies need in large amounts to create energy and fuel the activities of every physiological system. Protein, carbohydrates, and fat are the primary macros. We need each of these macros in our diets in order for our bodies to function properly.
Tracking macros—specifically, measuring the ratio of protein, carbs, and fat consumed—is an increasingly popular nutrition trend in the fitness community, geared to help reach specific body composition or fitness goals. For example, if your focus is on building muscle, you need enough protein to enable that muscle growth. If you train intensely, you need enough carbs to fuel those hard sessions. Macros work together, so the percentage of protein, carbs, and fat is the focus of many diet plans.
HOW MUCH PROTEIN DO I NEED?
There’s no single clear answer, as an individual’s protein needs vary based on lifestyle, activity level, and fitness goals. The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) recommends that adults obtain 10–35 percent of total calories from protein. The Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) for protein is 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight (that’s 56 grams daily for the average sedentary man and 46 grams daily for the average sedentary woman). For active adults, protein needs are understandably higher; a commonly recommended, yet broad range is 0.8–1.5 grams per kilogram of body weight. The American College of Sports Medicine recommends 1.0–2.0 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight per day for athletes, depending on training volume and intensity.
There may be reasons to caution against ingesting too much protein. Although widely disputed, extremely high protein intake is rumored to be associated with kidney problems, excess weight gain, and other health issues. In reality, these risks are more likely to be related to the source, rather than the volume, of your protein intake (for example, getting the majority of your dietary protein from fatty, highly-processed meat can be an obvious cause for concern). It’s possible that any nutrition plan, if taken to an extreme, may result in ill effects—ranging from lack of proper nutrient balance to potentially dangerous conditions. Protein intake is critical, however the right amount for you depends on numerous variables. Your best bet, as with any diet plan, is to consult with your doctor or a registered dietician to determine the amount of protein that will healthily support your body and your individual goals.
WHOLE FOODS VS. SUPPLEMENTS
Our bodies need amino acids, which are organic compounds found in proteins, to function properly—22 of them, to be exact. Of these, we make 13 (the non-essential amino acids) within our bodies; the other nine (the essential amino acids) must come from our food. Food protein sources that contain all nine essential amino acids in adequate quantities are considered “complete proteins.” Examples of complete proteins include lean meat, fish, eggs, dairy products, quinoa, and chia seeds. Incomplete proteins—or proteins that lack some of the nine essential amino acids—include legumes, nuts and seeds, vegetables, and grains. Eaten in combination, incomplete proteins can work together to provide all the essential amino acids.
While most experts agree that the majority of our protein should come from a mix of real food sources, and that it is possible to obtain all of our protein requirement from food, supplementation with protein powders is an easy, convenient, and often quicker-to-digest alternative to solid protein sources. Protein powders are beneficial for people who don’t have time to prepare complete protein meals, or who want to take their protein to go. And for people who follow vegetarian or vegan diets, supplements can help increase their intake of high quality complete proteins.
WOMEN AND PROTEIN SUPPLEMENTATION
If you think protein shakes are just for the guys, think again. Women are equally in need of high-quality protein to help build and maintain muscle mass—whether they’re running after the kids or chasing Olympic gold. For many women—from athletes looking to build lean muscle mass and enhance recovery, to busy professionals wanting a nutritious and delicious meal on the go, to moms short on time for self-care—protein shakes are an excellent way to boost daily dietary protein intake.
TYPES OF PROTEIN POWDER
Visit the supplement section in any store and you’ll see a vast array of protein powders. So how do you know what to look for when buying protein powder? It depends on a number of factors—your goals, your dietary restrictions, and the amount you’re willing to spend, to name a few.
Let’s examine several of the most common types of protein powder to help determine which one may be best for you.
Dairy proteins are complete proteins, and therefore are a quality choice for protein consumption. Whey proteins are generally considered the most effective for building muscle. Whey protein concentrate is by far the most well-known and widely-used milk protein, followed in popularity by whey protein isolate. In comparing whey concentrate vs. whey isolate, there are pros and cons to each, depending on your specific needs. Other, lesser-known but still important milk proteins include hydrolyzed whey and casein. Of the two, casein is of particular interest to athletes due to its distinct benefits.
Let’s get to know the key benefits and drawbacks of each type of milk protein.
Whey Protein Concentrate. Whey protein concentrate is one of the most affordable and widely available protein sources. It contains all nine essential amino acids and breaks down relatively quickly. However, it contains more carbohydrate and fat than its whey isolate counterpart, and it is not lactose free.
Whey Protein Isolate. Whey protein isolate is considered a higher quality protein, in that it contains more pure protein (and less non-protein components) than whey concentrate. This makes it notably more expensive, but also more appealing to many protein powder consumers. Although sourced from milk, whey protein isolate is virtually lactose-free, therefore it is well tolerated by many people with dairy sensitivities. Whey protein isolate is also fast acting in the body.
Hydrolyzed Whey Proteins. Both whey concentrate and whey isolate can be hydrolyzed, or turned into hydrolysates, by various processes that partially break down the protein. The benefit of whey hydrolysates is that they are absorbed even faster than already quick-digesting whey concentrate and isolate; the drawbacks are a bitter taste and added cost.
Casein Protein. Also a milk protein, casein is a slow-release protein, meaning it takes from five to seven hours to break down in the body. For this reason, casein protein powders are an ideal option for use at bedtime to optimize overnight muscle regeneration and recovery.
Non-Dairy and Plant-Based Proteins:
Plant proteins and other non-dairy proteins come from a number of sources. In regards to protein powders, the most popular of these are eggs, soy, peas, and rice. Just like their milk protein counterparts, plant proteins come with plenty of pros and cons. In particular, these options work well for anyone with a dairy allergy or intolerance. Some non-dairy and plant proteins are naturally incomplete proteins, but may be mixed with other powders or food sources to create complete proteins.
Let’s get to know the key benefits and drawbacks of each of these non-dairy and plant proteins.
Egg White Protein. Egg white protein (also called egg white albumen) is simply egg whites that have been dried and turned into powder. This protein source digests more slowly than whey, but is an excellent high-quality complete protein to supplement a non-dairy diet.
Soy Protein. A complete protein, soy is considered the most effective plant-based protein, and like egg white protein, digests at a moderate rate. Soy is an excellent source of glutamine, an amino acid which occurs naturally in the body but may be beneficial in greater amounts during muscle building to limit muscle damage and speed tissue repair. Soy consumption is controversial, however, with potential links to disruptions in natural hormone levels and hormone-related cancers.
Pea Protein. Pea protein compares to whey protein in regards to its high rate of absorption. It is an incomplete protein, so in order to reach full effectiveness, it should be paired with another protein, such as hemp or rice.
Rice Protein. Brown rice protein is high in B-vitamins and fiber and is lactose and gluten free. Rice protein should also be paired with another protein source in order to make it complete.
AMINO ACIDS VS. PROTEIN
Many people are confused by the distinction between amino acids and protein. Are they the same thing? The answer: not exactly.
Amino acids are actually the building blocks of protein. Proteins are formed by a chain of amino acids linked together. Our bodies naturally produce 13 of what are known as “non-essential” amino acids. There are also 9 “essential” amino acids; these we can only get through our diet, from whole foods or supplements. Two types of amino acids that are of special interest to athletes are BCAAs and collagen.
The acronym “BCAAs” stands for branched-chain amino acids. BCAAs benefit athletes in a variety of ways, including enhanced recovery, delayed fatigue, and even improved mental clarity. It’s easy to see why endurance athletes in particular find BCAAs appealing, since BCAA-supplementation can potentially help them perform better, longer, and more frequently.
Collagen is another type of amino acid. While it is produced naturally in the body, collagen production slows as we age. Collagen is considered the glue that holds our bodies together, and in addition to medical and cosmetic applications, collagen is gaining popularity among athletes hoping to benefit from stronger muscles and connective tissue.
IS PROTEIN POWDER SAFE?
The safety of protein supplements was called into question in 2010, following a Consumer Reports’ investigation into a number of ready-to-drink liquids and protein powders. The report showed that several of the products tested contained toxic heavy metals in volumes considered unhealthy and potentially dangerous for human consumption.
As with any manufactured product, the quality of the many protein powders available today varies greatly. To protect your health, opt for all-natural or organic protein powders, free from additives such as hormones, steroids, stimulants, pesticides, grain-fed byproducts, and artificial sweeteners, flavors, thickeners and colors. Plenty of high-quality protein powders exist, so research before you buy.
Additionally, competitive athletes will want to make sure the protein powders they choose (along with any supplements they consume) are free of any substances banned by the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA). Look for products certified by NSF International (marked “NSF Certified for Sport”) to ensure that the listed ingredients are accurate and do not contain unsafe levels of contaminants, prohibited substances, or masking agents.
WHAT IS THE BEST TIME TO DRINK PROTEIN SHAKES?
Protein timing can be as tricky a subject as protein intake. Just poll the weight room at your gym and you’re likely to hear a range of conflicting opinions. Many of us live by the “magic window” rule, taking care to consume quality protein within a 30-minute window immediately after hard exercise for optimal muscle repair and recovery (some people view this window as 45 minutes; others allow it to stretch to 60 minutes).
It’s a fact that your muscles are more receptive to protein synthesis in the period directly following hard training; however, they remain receptive for several hours. So although the peak time for protein is within the immediate post-workout window, don’t stress if you initially forget your protein shake. Still, it’s a wise practice to pack protein in your gym bag. You’re likely to be hungry after your workout, and a protein shake will not only help support your hard-worked muscles, it will also keep you more satisfied—and less likely to reach for a fast food fix—until your next meal.
It’s also important to spread your protein intake throughout the day. Muscle protein synthesis—or the amount of protein your muscles can actually put to good use—maxes out at around 20–30 grams, so consuming more than that at one time is pointless. It won’t hurt you to have more, but the excess protein will go to waste. Rather, aim to ingest protein with every meal and most of your snacks, spreading your total daily intake across four to six feedings.
As mentioned earlier, another time that may be beneficial for protein consumption is just before bed. If you’re looking for a protein nightcap, go with slow-release casein, which works with your body at rest to rebuild muscle tissue as you sleep.
HOW TO MAKE A PROTEIN SHAKE
You’ve set your fitness goals, consulted your doctor or nutritionist, and determined which protein powder appeals most to you. Now what? It’s time to make a protein shake, of course.
By now you’ve selected your protein powder, so in a sense the rest is secondary. But wait—there are plenty of ways to make a protein shake that is wonderful, and also plenty of ways to make one that’s not so great. Let’s aim for wonderful—and here’s how we can help.
Protein Shaker Bottles and Shaker Cups
You need the right tool for mixing your protein shakes. That’s where BlenderBottle® products come into play. Our shaker cups utilize our BlenderBall® wire whisk—found only in BlenderBottle® brand shakers—to mix the smoothest shakes imaginable. The leak-proof caps keep your gym bag and car seat dry, making on-the-go protein intake easy and stress free. Get started with the original BlenderBottle® Classic, or try one of our newer innovations, like the push-button, lockable, insulated stainless steel Strada shaker.
Protein Shake Recipes and Ingredients
In addition to recommending key ingredients—like yogurt, honey, and cinnamon—that enhance the flavor of any protein shake, we have a wealth of protein shake recipes you can try. Browse our Recipes page and you’ll find fruity shakes, chocolatey shakes, breakfast shakes, decadent shakes, and more. We’ve done the taste-testing for you—all you need is to add the ingredients to your BlenderBottle® shaker, pop in the BlenderBall® whisk, close the leak-proof lid, and mix until smooth.