Protein. You see it everywhere. Every magazine is filled with ads. All the fitness pros are plugging it on their social media, luring you in with fancy new blends, and for this reason it’s easy to understand why protein is now the most popular health supplement sold to the masses.
If you’re a gym goer or a fitness fanatic and you like to look after your body, you’ve probably considered buying protein to help you reach your goals.
But just as with any booming industry bombarding you with products and information, there are traps!
Just because you see your insta-idol advertising a particular brand of protein it does not necessarily make it the best one on the market. In fact, more often than not my bet would be to say that they may not have even used to brand they are plugging to achieve that body that you lust after which is plastered all over their page. If they are being paid to promote this then it’s likely to have come much later.
That being said, protein shakes can be life savers in the modern world.
So what’s all the fuss about?
Basically protein is essential to lower body fat levels, build muscle and have a toned physique. It is used by the human body to repair any damage cause by going to the gym/training which breaks down your muscle tissue. Without protein it would be a lot harder for you to recover and rebuild that muscle and get that toned appearance you desire.
Protein is also a satiating nutrient which basically it means it will keep you fuller for longer, curbing any over-eating to stop you consuming too many calories leading to weight gain.
Aside from the training-based benefits, higher protein consumption will improve the look and health of your teeth, hair, nails and skin.
In all honesty, if your goal is muscle gain or fat loss you’d be silly not to aid your progress by upping your protein intake- you’re making your recovery from each session much harder than it needs to be!
My protein journey
I’ll happily admit that when I first began using protein I would blindly follow my instagram idols and YouTube promoters, and use their discount codes to decide which shake I should buy. I was constantly on the search for the best tasting product, something sweet with a creamy consistency and no chemical after taste. Those were my only criteria. I never even considered the quality of the protein or even the amount I was getting per portion.
Did you know that some of the cheaper brands of protein will simply list “blend” on the back of their product instead of the individual ingredients?
Since then I’ve learned two things about protein that I think have been key in my journey.
At the end of the day you need to balance the quality of the protein with the price you are willing to pay for it.
Protein is there for convenience. The word “supplement” is in the name. If you don’t know what you are doing with it in relation to your diet, it’s not going to be the miracle cure to make you “big” that instagram lets you think it is.
It is important to never forget that protein is food. In modern fitness culture we are so used to hearing about it in the shake form that it is easy to forget that protein is one of the three macro-nutrients alongside carbs and fats. Every time you drink a shake, you are still taking in food, even though it is in its liquidised form.
So what’s on the market?
There are so many types of protein out there that it can be very confusing, especially for beginners, navigating all the information about which type of protein is best for you. Of course there are complex pros and cons for each, but in this article I’m going to address the very basic reasons why one person might opt for a certain protein type over another.
Pea Protein and Hemp Protein
These proteins are ideal for anyone following a vegan diet, or for anyone that has an intolerance to dairy. They don’t use animal by-products to create their blends.
Hydrolysed Whey Protein
Whilst it is pricier than your average whey protein, hydrolysed whey is ideal for anyone with digestive problems, for example anyone who is sensitive to too much dairy although they aren’t entirely lactose intolerant. Using this protein will take away the risk of getting that ‘bubbly gut’. Hydrolysed whey is broken down even further for faster and easier digestion.
Quite simply, beef protein is the best source of protein that your body can absorb the nutrients from. It has the highest percentage absorption rate so if you are simply looking for optimum intake this is the protein for you, but it does come with the price tag to match. It is also dairy free, although definitely not vegan!
Casein is great to take before bed or if your lifestyle means you have long fasting periods during the day (for example: eating at breakfast knowing your next meal won’t be until 3pm).
It gives a slow release of amino acids which is the breakdown of protein in the blood, and keeps you in a positive nitrogen balance which is associated with periods of growth and repair. Essentially this is what you need in order to build muscle, with the added bonus of keeping you fuller for longer!
This is the protein I would always recommend (unless your diet prohibits you). It is the most reliable type of protein and has a high quality of amino acids. In my opinion it balances price and quality the best of all other options.
There are many many benefits to taking a protein supplement, but at the end of the day, I would still always recommend a good, balanced meal over a quick shake.
Shakes are not the magic secret to gains.
They still have sweeteners in them, they are still manufactured and man-made, and they still have calories in them!
Wholesome, nourishing food is always going to be more enjoyable and beneficial to sit down and appreciate over swigging back a shake in a hurry. In a balanced diet you will be taking in protein from different sources. If you stick to shakes you run the risk of becoming intolerant to certain types of protein, which can cause sensitivity when they are reintroduced into your diet.
The basics of getting lean and losing weight is to consider your calories-in versus your calories-out. Drinking lots of shakes may mean you are hitting your protein quota, but be careful those calories aren’t tipping you over! If you’re gaining weight and can’t work out why, I’d suggest you go back to your shakes and see the kind of calories you’re really taking in.
The amount of shakes you need to have per day or per week will depend entirely on you. Your situation, your lifestyle, how regularly you can eat, what you can be consistent with and enjoy, and most importantly, your personal preferences.
If I had to simplify all of this into one definitive sentence I would say: stick to whey unless your diet dictates otherwise, and alway consider how protein supplements will fit into your lifestyle to help, rather than hinder, your progress and your specific fitness goals.
I wish someone had told me that when I first started.
Of course, protein can still be confusing, so if you are still wanting advice or nutritional help, do get in touch with me online or via my website!