Firstly, do you need to have protein shakes?
In short, no but…
While it is possible to meet your daily protein target from diet alone, if your protein requirements are quite high you may struggle to do so and you may want more variety than chicken, eggs and tofu. In that case then protein shakes are a great, convenient way to fill in the gaps.
There are some situations where protein shakes or supplements may be particularly handy….
- Your calories and protein requirements are high and you struggle them through food alone
- You have a poor appetite
- You are recovering from surgery
- You travel a lot with work and need something convenient to take with you
- You are vegan or vegetarian
- You skip meals and want to break that habit
- You train early in the morning and don’t like eating solid food before exercise
- You are on a reduced calorie diet and want to increase your protein intake without adding excessive amounts of calories, fat and carbohydrates
- You have a really sweet tooth and including your favourite flavour of protein powder helps curb the sweet craving to stay on track with your eating plan
Types of protein powders
Most protein powders on the market are made from whey, which is a protein derived from milk. It contains all the essential amino acids, has a high biological value, is absorbed quickly and comes in probably any flavour you could want.
Whey comes in two form: concentrate and isolate. The main difference between the two is that isolates go through an additional filtering process which removes more fat, carbohydrates and calories leaving it higher in protein. As it is filtered differently isolates tend to be more expensive than concentrates.
Whey concentrates can vary from 70-80% protein, whereas isolates generally contain 90-95% protein. If choosing a concentrate try and get one that has nearer 80% protein. Isolates are not 100% lactose free but they do contain a very low lactose content and so are sometimes recommended for people that struggle digesting dairy products.
Table 1: Macronutrients in whey concentrate v isolate*
|Per 25g serving*||Whey concentrate||Whey isolate|
|Calories||103 Kcals||93 Kcals|
*Figures refer to vanilla protein flavoured supplement of one brand only. Other flavours and brands may vary.
As you can see, in the grand scheme of things there isn’t a huge difference. A whey concentrate is usually adequate for most people. We are not going to argue over a difference of 10 kcals, 2g of protein, 0.4g carbs and 1.8g fat! Don’t waste energy sweating the small stuff!
Casein is also derived from milk, but the main difference from whey is the speed of absorption. Whey is absorbed quickly, making it a good option after a workout. Casein is absorbed much slower and so provides a steady release of amino acids over a longer period of time. Some research suggests having casein pre-bed for this reason. Our recommendation: if you just want a protein to have after your exercise session or with your oats for breakfast stick with whey.
Soy protein is a plant based protein and so is suitable for vegans and those wanted to experiment with a more plant based diet. There tends to be more favours of soy protein available compared to other plant based proteins. In a recent study of 17 participants it was shown that having a soy based smoothie at breakfast had comparable effects to a whey based smoothie in relation to appetite profile, energy metabolism and subsequent energy intake, suggesting that soy is a reasonable alternative to whey as a protein supplement source to help control weight (Melson et al, 2019). There are often questions and articles on soy and breast cancer risk. Current evidence suggests that eating moderate amounts of soy as part of a balanced diet does not increase the risk of breast cancer.
What the research says: One study in young men showed that whey protein increase muscle protein synthesis 31% more than soy protein and 122% more than casein protein following a bout of resistance exercise (Tang et al, 1985).
Pea protein is more or less what it sounds like: protein extracted from peas. It is plant based and so another option for vegans or those with a lactose intolerance or dairy allergy. It does not contain all the essential amino acids and you may need to add a sweetener as flavour options are often limited.
Choosing which supplement to buy
As you can see there are a lot of options to choose from and that’s just a little snapshot of some of them. We take protein supplements ourselves at Hustle. to help reach our protein targets, and we each have our own personal favourite. But we want to stress that supplements are not magic powders, and are no more effective than protein rich foods. What they do offer however is convenience.
If you are considering buying a supplement, think of it in that sense. To supplement an already good quality diet, not to substitute whole food sources. Choose one based on your dietary preferences, food intolerances & allergies, budget and health & fitness goals.
If you are trying to lose weight, don’t forget to track your protein supplements as these have calories too. Most have 100-130 kcals per serving. So, if you are taking them in addition to your typical diet or as an extra snack that puts you in a calorie surplus you may be hindering your weight loss attempts. Having excess calories from any source can cause weight gain, protein is no different. If you use an app such as My Fitness Pal, scan the barcode for the macronutrient and calorie breakdown.
So, there you have it! Our thoughts on protein. We hope it answered all your questions.
As always, for individual advice speak to a qualified Personal Trainer or Registered Dietitian and if you found this article useful please share using one of the links below!