As a true food advocate, there are few supplements I strongly recommend. But you may have noticed I do use a lot of protein powder in smoothies, energy balls, and even baked goods. In the sports nutrition industry, protein powders are the heavy weights for sure with consumers spending nearly 5B annually on this form of supplementation.
With that type of volume, there is sure to be some confusion. The topic “how to pick the right protein powder” probably warrants its own thesis. But in this post I’m going to give you the reasons I use protein powder and the few things I look at when considering whether or not to give a brand a shot.
Why is protein important?
Again, that question is a lengthy and long answer, but I’ll give you my Cliff Note interpretation:
- It’s the building blocks of all tissue and cell formation and required for growth and maintenance of a healthy body.
- It takes a while to digest, making it satiating so that you can feel fuller on fewer calories when you eat higher protein foods.
- Consuming protein with meals can help curb blood sugar spikes that occur from high glycemic foods. This helps to maintain insulin release and a more stable blood sugar but also help stabilize energy, mood and hunger.
- You burn more calories through digestion of protein than of fat or carbohydrates because of its thermogenic effects. You can burn 20-30% of the calories the food contains during digestion, which is higher than the other macronutrients.
How much protein do you need?
Now, that is a HOT topic in the field of nutrition! Some people look at it in total grams some as a macronutrient percentage of total calories. The exact number of grams of protein everybody needs is different based on their size, body composition, lifestyle and at the end of the day, their preferences. Some argue we eat too much, others not enough. I have designated a full post to it here “How much protein do you need and where do you get it?” And it follows the general recommended allowances.
Here are two things I want you to keep in mind when you think about your daily protein consumption:
- You can’t use more protein than your body needs. Excess protein will be broken down by the body, the energy portion burned or stored and the excess amine groups will be excreted in the urine.
- Because protein can’t be stored, you need to eat it every day. You can’t think “well I had that 28oz rib eye on Tuesday so I’m good for the week.” It simply does not work that way.
Why use protein powder as a supplement?
Well, if we’re spending 5B annually on protein powder, there must be some benefit, right? I use it almost daily and in a lot of recipes for a few reasons:
- It’s a very easy and convenient way to get in the 20g of recommended protein within 20 min after a hard workout.
- It’s a great addition to fresh fruit and other greens and super foods in a smoothie to boost the macronutrient composition of a smoothie to make it an easy grab and go meal replacement.
- Protein in a smoothie will also help slow the blood sugar spike that the naturally occurring fruit sugar would have caused helping to regular blood sugar, mood, hunger and energy levels.
- In most cases, it’s really yummy! And a simple way to add flavor, boost macros and satiating and thermogenic power to what could be simple baked goods. See the recipe at the end of this post on how to make simple brownies that also end up being gluten free!
Things to keep in mind when looking for the right protein powder for you:
1. What are your goals?
This has got to be the most important thing you ask yourself before you buy any supplement. Are you trying to lose weight? Gain muscle? Improve performance in a particular sport or just get healthy? The answer to those questions will dramatically influence which, if any, type of powder you should purchase.
2. Protein content.
How much protein bang are you getting for your caloric and fiscal buck? Powders can range from 10-50g per serving with a huge variance in total calories, fat and price. Knowing your goals is essential to knowing what you’re looking for here, but generally, most of us will do well with something that has about 20g protein for under 200 calories.
3. Protein source.
The most common protein source is whey and it has good bioavability (your body can easily use the protein), is very efficient and often tastes the yummies. Whey is milk based though so it will not work for vegans or anybody with a dairy intolerance. There are many plant based proteins as well, ranging from soy to rice to pea. They are not as dense and sometimes a little grittier, but brilliant solutions for vegetarian/vegans and those who have eliminated dairy products looking to boost protein content quickly.
4. Sugar and sweeteners.
Sugar really just is energy, but added sugar is a no-no. Look for how your protein is sweetened. Many save calories by using artificial sweeteners (mostly sucralose) or the natural zero calorie sweetener stevia. Depending on your goals and how you’re going to use the product, less sugar/sweetener is better so you can toss it in the blender with some fruit and get the added advantage of the natural sweetness from the fruit sugar.
5. Added benefits.
What other little treats did the manufacturer choose to put in there? Added vitamins and minerals like calcium and iron? How about fiber for added satiation and general health? Many are now featuring digestive enzymes and probiotics. Some brands may feature a “fat burning” or other added antioxidant benefits. Again, depending on your goals, all of these little things can nudge you towards the right product for you.
6. Product quality and safety.
I’m not an industry expert here, but I’m not sure the regulations in the supplement industry are as top notch as let’s say the pharmaceutical space. So you want to be careful with the brand you pick and what they’re talking about on the label. Things like organic and non GMO are good. If they don’t say that then it might be worth looking into the product quality a bit more.
Which protein powder do I recommend?
I have a few that I’ve really liked in the past and am not particularly attached to any one and it can be hard to find one that scores high in all six areas. Recently, I have been working with Purely Inspired Organic Protein and I’m pretty happy with it! Tasty and efficient plant based proteins can be tricky to find. This one is also gluten free, non GMO and vegan with 20g protein for only 140 calories. It also has 7g fiber, some added digestive enzymes and probiotics and is sweetened with organic cane sugar and stevia. It comes in chocolate and vanilla and is available at Walmart. It should be pretty easy to find and is less than $20 for 18 servings.
What about protein bars?
Typically, I’m not as big a fan of the average protein bar because they simply aren’t as nutritionally efficient when you look at calories to protein ratio and you can’t get the added benefit when you put in in the blender with fresh fruits and veggies. BUT, they are essential if you’re an on-the-go, grab-and-go kind of person. And the right bar really can help you stay on track. On the flip side, the wrong bar can be loaded with sugar, chocolate, caramel and peanut butter with 50% more calories than a snicker bar. Simply not necessary or efficient.
How do you pick the right bar? Ug! I could write an entire sister post to this one but I wanted to mention it here because Walmart is now also carrying these Mission 1 Clean Protein bars and they are good! For 200 calories you’ll get a very portable and tasty 21g protein and 17g fiber! These are whey based and are sweetened with sucralose and stevia so the taste is great. They are also very affordable and you can buy a 4 pack box for under $7 and each bar is only $1.84.
Simple Protein Brownie Recipe
- 1 cup Purely Inspired Vanilla Protein Powder
- 1/2 cup Sugar (or Sweetener of your choice)
- 1/4 tsp Salt
- 1/4 tsp Baking Powder (gluten free optional)
- 1/4 cup Coconut Oil (melted)
- 1/4 cup Apple Sauce
- 2 eggs
- 1 tsp Vanilla
- 2 T Cocao Powder + 2 T Milk of your choice
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees and prepare pan by coating with coconut or spray oil.
- Mix together protein powder, sugar, salt and baking powder in a large bowl.
- In a small bowl, mix together coconut oil, apple sauce, eggs and vanilla.
- Add the wet ingredients the the dry and stir until well combined, do not over beat.
- Remove 1 cup of batter into a small bowl and add cocoa powder and milk. Pour remaining vanilla batter into an 8×8 baking pan. Using a spoon, create two rows of chocolate batter on top and use a tooth pick to swirl.
- Bake for 12-18 minutes*
- Remove from oven, let cool on a rack, cut into 16 squares and serve!
*Baking time makes ALL THE DIFFERENCE here, so keep a VERY close eye on them after about 10 minutes. You want to pull them out just before they become too dry. I haven’t quite nailed it myself but these are still very yummy!
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