Protein powder, protein bars and other whey protein supplements are now so common you can find them in the supermarkets, but why do we really need them if we’re already eating healthy foods throughout the day?
In a normal day-to-day diet, we get protein mostly by eating eggs or lean meats such as beef, lamb, pork, chicken and fish. You can also get it in legumes like chickpeas and dairy products. Protein helps keep you fuller for longer which can aid in weight loss and management as it curbs your appetite. You should be having some kind of protein in most of your daily meals along with some carbohydrate (for energy) and a little bit of healthy fats.
Kiwis actually generally have a fairly high protein diet, however, you will likely benefit from taking a protein supplement if you’re doing any kind of weight/strength training, you’re a vegetarian, you’re a competitive athlete or you know you just need to get more protein into your diet.
What is whey protein?
Whey is the liquid by-product created when milk curdles, and accounts for around 20% of the protein content in animal milk (the other protein content is casein which is also available in supplement form).
How much protein should I be having? Should I get a supplement?
Protein acts as the building blocks for your body. Your skin, hair, nails, muscle tissue… Having adequate amounts of protein in your diet helps your body to repair and ‘build’ itself – regardless of whether you exercise or not. If you’re not having enough, your body can’t do this as efficiently, so if you’re putting the hard yards in at the gym you’re running the risk of losing some of the muscle you’ve worked so hard to achieve. The reason that protein supplements are common is because we are supposed to have around 1.5 times our body weight (kgs) in grams of protein per day, which many of us don’t manage to do with a ‘regular’ diet.
For example, if you weigh 65kgs, you should be having around 97.5 grams of protein per day. Now, 100 grams of steak doesn’t equal 100 grams of protein as the meat will contain other things such as water, fat and carbohydrate as well. As a rough idea, you’ll get around:
- 30g of protein from a 100g serving of lean steak or a chicken breast
- 16g of protein from a cup of legumes
- 7g from a 150g pottle of yoghurt
- 7g from 200ml/1 glass of trim milk
Although dairy foods are a good source of protein, products such as cheese contain high levels of fat so it’s not ideal for you to consume large quantities of it. The other side of it is that lean, high protein foods tend to be more expensive and may add additional calories from carbohydrates and fats that you may not want to add to your diet, so it may be more cost effective (and calorie effective) to take a protein supplement instead.
However, not everyone needs protein supplements, so take all of the above into consideration if you’re thinking about using them.
Tips when looking for protein powder
Not all protein powders are created equally! Some are better quality, while some may be mixed with a higher amount of carbohydrates. Some are designed to help you build lean muscle, while others are designed to help you put on weight – the type of protein powder that suits you depends on your personal goals. There are also different types of whey protein, the main two being:
Whey Protein Isolate (WPI) – is virtually fat free so is the best for trying to achieve weight/fat loss, but is also therefore usually more expensive. Should have more than 90% protein concentration and minimal carbohydrate.
Whey Protein Concentrate (WPC) – has less than 90% protein concentration and can be as little as 20%, which is why this is the most common type of supplement. The less protein content it has, the cheaper it will often be so beware of seemingly good deals as you may just be paying for more carbs in the form of lactose, or milk sugar.
Look for a protein powder that contains 60-85g of protein per 100g – the higher the better – and make sure you read the label thoroughly to ensure you’re buying the right product. Some protein powders also mix with water or milk better than others, so get a sample if possible and try it out first.
What if I can’t have milk products?
If you would still like to take a protein supplement but you are lactose intolerant, whey protein may still be suitable for you, but if not, there are some great alternatives out there on the market including soy or pea-based protein powders. Do some research online or ask your local supplement shop for more details.
How do I use protein powder?
Add a scoop to a breakfast or snack smoothie to bolster it with a little extra protein, mix it with water, yoghurt or trim milk, stir a scoop into your porridge, use it in baking or make dessert sauces out of it. If you don’t want the flavour to overpower a food you’re mixing it with, buy vanilla protein powder. If you are exercising, most nutritionists and personal trainers recommend that you should have some kind of a meal with protein and some carbohydrate within 30 minutes of a workout, so a protein shake is ideal for this.
One key mistake when using protein powder is when people take them as an extra in addition to their main meals and snacks. Remember that protein shakes also contain calories – even more so when combined with trim or full fat milk. Take this into consideration and if you’re not trying to put weight on, use your protein powder mixed in with another food during one of your meals or snacks, or use it instead of a snack. Just make sure that you don’t substitute a shake on its own for one of your three main meals of the day as you should be eating real food!
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