Understanding the Pros, Cons, and Popularity Behind Protein Powders
Protein powder often gets dismissed as a product exclusively for bodybuilders and athletes, or a gimmick hawked by certain weight-loss protocols and program. What’s more, the average person is likely to dismiss it as flavorless at best and nauseating at worst. This couldn’t be further from the truth!
Protein powders have grown in popularity as an effective way to supplement and increase protein intake. They’re increasingly common these days, and in fact, offer a wide variety of potential health benefits that go beyond the exercise room.
Protein, after all, gives us the amino acids we need to repair our muscles. It helps us balance out our blood sugar, which can contribute to healthy weight loss. And, finally, protein aids in the creation of immune cells and neurotransmitters.
But what else can protein do for us? And how do you choose between the wealth of available options? Let’s take a closer look at protein supplements and some of the concerns you might have about them.
The Benefits of a High-Protein Diet
First, the basics:
Protein is an essential building block for muscle, but it also helps in the production of healthy hair and skin. The official, recommended daily allowance of protein for both the United States and Canada is 0.5 grams for every pound of body weight. So, basically, if you weigh 154 pounds, then you should consume around 70 grams of protein every day.
That said, most people get nearly twice that amount in a day. Protein deficiencies are rare, and in fact, there’s evidence to suggest that getting more protein might have a few benefits.
Protein can help boost your metabolism, for one. It takes more energy to break down protein-rich foods into simple amino acids; the simple act of digesting and metabolizing protein burns calories! Protein has a much higher thermic effect compared to carbs and fats, which means it uses a higher number of calories for digestion and metabolization.
What’s more, high-protein diets can help reduce your hunger. In turn, you’ll be eating fewer calories and burning more of them to make the most of your food.
How to Increase Protein in Your Diet
It’s clear protein has a number of health benefits, so how do you get more into your diet?
Start by increasing the amount of protein you consume with each meal. As we mentioned earlier, it’s recommended you consume 0.5 grams of protein per pound of body weight. If you’re looking to burn fat and lose weight, consider increasing your protein intake so you get 40% of your calories from protein sources.
So, for example, add an extra egg to your breakfast, and enjoy more lean animal protein with lunches and dinners. Turkey, chicken, and white fish are great options in this regard.
But what about vegetarians? That’s where things get a bit tricky. Increasing protein intake as a vegetarian also means increasing the amount of carbs you’re consuming as well as total fat content, as vegetarian protein sources are often legumes, grains, and nuts or seeds.
Don’t worry! We’ve got you covered—check out these vegetarian protein sources to get started. Because vegetarian and vegan sources of protein can be tricky to complete, protein powder is often used as a supplement. It’s also widely used by athletes or people trying to lose weight.
Protein Powder Pros and Cons
- Convenient: Throw it in a shake, blend it into a smoothie, or bake it into baked goods. Protein powder makes it easy to get what you need when you need it.
- Filling: Protein is very filling and can help satiate your appetite, letting you cut down on mid-day snacking and eating.
- Great Way to Support Weight Loss: As we mentioned above, protein supplements can help support weight loss, if used properly.
- Nutritionally Simple: Protein powders simply can’t deliver the range of nutrients offered by whole foods. They’re a great way to increase the intake of protein, but they’re by no means a substitute or replacement for nutrient-rich foods.
- Not always necessary: Seriously, we can’t overstate this—protein deficiencies are rare. Even as a vegetarian or vegan, it’s remarkably easy to get enough protein (and then some) during your day.
- Additives and Ingredients: Many protein powders contain added oils, sugars, flavors, probiotics, or amino acids. What’s more, the ingredients in certain protein powders might not sit well with your digestive system, or can be difficult to digest.
Which Protein Powder is Best for You?
That’s the big question, isn’t it?
As easy as it is to recommend protein powders, it can be tough sorting through the many options available to find one that’s right for you.
Let’s take a closer look at some of the most popular protein powders and what they have to offer:
- Whey protein is probably the most popular and common option and is derived from milk. Specifically, whey is the liquid that separates from curds during the process of making cheese. It’s high in protein, but also contains lactose, making it harder for some people to digest. Whey protein isolate thankfully removes most of the lactose, making it quick to digest and giving you a boost of amino acids that help increase muscle mass.
- Casein protein is also found in milk, but is digested at a much slower rate. It forms a gel when it hits stomach acid, slowing down stomach emptying and delaying your bloodstream’s absorption of amino acids. In turn, you get a much more even, steady release of amino acids to help reduce muscle protein break down while promoting muscle mass growth and fat loss when you restrict calories.
- Egg protein is one of the most filling protein sources available, and is one of the easiest proteins to digest. It’s also a complete protein source, giving you all nine essential amino acids in one go. It’s also second to whey as a source of leucine, which plays a big role in muscle health. If you’ve got dairy allergies, egg-white protein might be a great alternative to whey, but may not keep you feeling full.
- Pea protein is a hit amongst vegans, vegetarians, and those with allergies or sensitivities to eggs or dairy. This protein is derived from yellow split peas, which are high in fiber and feature seven out of nine essential amino acids. It’s comparable to dairy protein in terms of fullness, and has been linked to a reduction in high blood pressure, all while offering performance similar to animal-based proteins when it comes to promoting muscle growth.
- Brown rice protein is growing in popularity, offering all the amino acids you need, but with a substantial reduction in lysine. This means it cannot be considered a complete protein. You’ll get similar changes in body composition using either brown rice protein or whey protein, though. While you’ll have to supplement it to get a complete protein, it does show promise.
- Hemp protein contains all of the essential amino acids, making it a good plant-based protein source. Hemp does not contain phytates, which are found in many vegetarian protein sources and can interfere with the absorption of essential minerals. It’s high-protein composition makes it an essential food that may help with weight loss.
So what’s the best option? As with any change to your diet or lifestyle, it depends on your individual circumstances! Supplementing your diet with protein powders can help you increase protein intake to support weight loss or other fitness goals, but it all starts with doing your research and consulting with your physician or nutritionist to determine the best course to ensure your health, happiness, and success.
Why not try one and see how your body responds? There are many vegan protein powders that offer a blend of different sources to ensure that you are receiving optimal nutrition. Ensure that your protein powder is as natural as possible and experiment with different smoothie recipes. You could easily add vanilla protein to any of our breakfast smoothies!
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