Will all of my muscles explode if I don’t have a protein shake?
Today we’re talking all things protein powder because I get it. Supplement stores are terrifying.
Even I’m terrified of them and I know a thing or two about nutrition.
They’re probably not the most… impartial sources of information either.
This podcast is designed to remove the overwhelm from the world of protein shakes. You’ll leave knowing whether you need one and, if you do, what you to look for. Bottom’s up!
Welcome back to the Bite Me Nutrition podcast. Today I want to talk to you about protein powders because it's a topic I still get lots of questions about.
So I'm going to try and answer as many of the big ones as I can in under 15 minutes. It's probably a lofty goal, but I'll do my best just to give you an intro into what they are.
What is the difference? Main types of protein powders that you might come across are maybe a few myths and misconceptions around protein powders. Who needs them? Who doesn't need them? Does anyone need them? I'm not going to go through why protein is important in the diet. Might do that at a later date.
But just it is and you just have to trust me and then probably finish with giving you my top tips for if you are going to buy a protein powder. What are some things that I would look out for to make sure you get something that's good so that's kind of that basically look. A protein powder is generally a food that has been massively stripped down, filtered, so the remaining protein component of the food as close to just that is left. So in certain different types of protein powders, there's usually residual other things that have been left over. But ultimately, the idea of the production of the protein powder is to try and get it just as close to pure protein as possible. So I'd say there are three main types of proteins. I'm not going to talk about like essential amino acids, branching amino acids, these other sort of amino acid style supplements. But in terms of full spectrum protein powder, we've got generally dairy based ones, plant based ones and collagen based ones.
Dairy by far is the most common, and the most common of the dairy proteins is whey protein isolate. WPI. Now it's called whey protein isolate because it is the isolated whey protein shock that you find in milk. So milk has two proteins in it, whey and casein. And in the case didn't even mean that of WPI. They take milk and they filter virtually everything else out. They filter all the casein out. The other protein, they filter out all as much of the fat as they possibly can and as much of the lactose or the carbohydrate as they can. And they're virtually just left with the protein. The way protein isolate as a few other things in there, a few immuno lacto, globulens and bovine growth factors, potentially a few other things doesn't matter. But largely it is whey protein isolate. Now, that generally means as well. Even if you're sensitive to lactose, a WPI usually isn't a problem for you because, like I said, it's ultra-filtered. All the lactose is removed. Usually a WPI will have less than 1 gram of lactose per serve, which is well under the comfortable threshold. I'm pretty sure lactose intolerance is literally the last podcast I did. So if you want to learn more about that, finish this one first, finish what you start and then jump back and listen to the lactose intolerance one. But yeah, most people who are lactose intolerance still tolerate WPI just fine.
The next major type of whey protein that you might see is WPC, which is Whey protein concentrate. This is essentially just WPI with a few less steps, so it's not quite as well filtered. Just means it's slightly higher in lactose in fat, which makes it ever so slightly higher in calories and then of course, a little bit higher in lactose. So if your lactose intolerant or sensitive look, I maybe would err on the side of a WPI versus WPC. Or you could maybe get a WPC and test it out.
The third most common dairy protein supplement is Casein. This is, like I said, it's the other protein found in milk. It's quote unquote, a slow release protein. And this is because it clots in your stomach, which is about as disgusting as it sounds. And that means that it takes a lot longer to digest, which means it kind of fills you up for longer. So it can be useful in that capacity, definitely. It also can provide a bit of a slower release of amino acids. So it's gotten a bit of a name for itself as a nighttime protein because it will give you a steady stream of protein amino acids overnight to help with recovery. In my opinion, there is not strong enough evidence to support that. I don't think that's going to be a game changer for anyone. If you want to experiment with it, go for it. It certainly won't hurt. But I don't think it's the difference between gaining a kilo of muscle or not. But that's the other form of dairy protein. So because it's a slower release and a slower digesting protein, I would be careful with when you're having it during the day. If you're having a protein shake right before you train Casein's, probably not the best idea.
The next kind of umbrella, I guess term or type of protein powders are your plant based or your vegan protein powders. The reason I say umbrella term is because there's lots and lots of different sources that you might find in these protein powders. So a rice protein powder or pea protein powder tend to be the most common things. That's where you similar to the way right, they've taken rice or they've taken pea and they've extracted as much other stuff as they possibly can out of it to try and get as close to just the remaining protein to be isolated. It's a little bit harder to do that to a plant protein powder, so they're usually a little bit higher in carbohydrates but nothing to write home about. You'll also see lots of other fancier blends. I've seen fiber bean protein coming up a lot, you know, might see pumpkin seed, chia seed, coconut, all of these extra things. And that's the rationale there is. Sometimes plants can have an incomplete spectrum of amino acids.
And so what I mean by that is amino acids are the building blocks of protein.So proteins, a big molecule made up of of lots, lots of different amino acids and different proteins have different levels of amino acids in them.And so plant based proteins can sometimes be a little bit low in a certain one of these amino acids, whereas whey based protein tends to provide more of a broad spectrum of these amino acids. Whether that's important is questionable. And I would say, actually I'm earning a lot more on the side of not really.As long as your daily protein intake is fine and you're getting your protein from different sources of protein throughout the day, you're going to cover those potential gaps very, very comfortably.So it's not something I would stress about.
We will talk about leucine in a second. If someone was about to be like, whoa, hold on, Jono. But other than that, getting a blend of a vegan protein powder or a blended vegan protein powder is often a good way to protect against that if you're still worried. So rather than getting a pea or a rice protein, getting something that is a blend of both, because they tend to cover each other's gaps. I may have already locked myself into a corner and said that there's three major types, but soy protein, I forgot about soy protein. It's just that most people don't have it because they're scared of it, which is silly because soy is awesome. But soy protein isolate, as it sounds, take soy, remove as much other stuff as they can get left with soy protein isolate and a few other bits and pieces like some isoflavones. But basically the soy protein is a really good option as well, because it does also have that full spectrum of amino acids. So rather than having being high in some but not in others, it's quite a complete protein. It's what we call it. So it's a really good option as well. Bit of evidence to show that soy protein may also help lower your cholesterol.So that's conversation for another time.
But cool to note collagen, when it comes to hair, skin and nails or recovery from injury, tendon and ligament injury, it has potential there. I'll go into that in its own podcast. For the sake of using it as a protein supplement, though, I would not recommend it. I would use it as an additional supplement on top of a protein supplement. Hitting your protein needs in the day via collagen is going to leave you. It's not as effective as it could be because, again, collagen is not a broad spectrum amino acid. It doesn't it's not high in everything. So you're better off having a dedicated protein powder and using collagen if you wish, which I'll go into at a later date very quickly, though, coming back to the amino acid Leucine.
So of all of the amino acids, leucine is an amino acid and it is quite important for muscle growth making sure you get at least 2 grams of leucine in a serve of protein to maximally stimulate muscle growth or recovery. Please don't think that leucine is about getting jacked like a bodybuilder. It's just about supporting your muscle as optimally as possible. That means protecting against loss, recovering from exercise and potentially growing new muscle. So it's to cover all of those scenarios. When it comes to an animal based protein, they're virtually always high in leucine particularly. That's what makes Whey so popular, or one of the reasons why Whey is so popular. It's a very good source of leucine. Often what you'll find is vegan sources can be a little bit lower in leucine, but they sometimes add additional leucine, which is a good way to get over that two gram amount. Or sometimes if you want to get really into the nitty gritty, you could add your own little spike of leucine. I don't think that's super useful if it's sort of between the one five to 2 grams of leucine mark per serve, and you'll often see a little amino acid breakdown table on the protein powder that will give you that information. I don't think getting from 1.6 grams of leucine to 2.1 gram of leucine is going to have any noticeable impact on supporting your muscle, but, you know, something to be wary of very quickly.
I also wanted to touch on these gender specific proteins, protein supplements like just don't the protein is protein, it's gender neutral. You don't need if you're a man, you don't need a man's protein if you're a woman. You don't need a woman's protein. It's just silly. So you're not silly. It's frustrating that they are using that as a tool. Too often what it is is what's called the pink tax. And that's where, unfortunately, female specific protein powders get, you know, about ten to 15% extra because they're better for women. Quote unquote. Huge quote unquote. Not real.
You may also see things like lean proteins or shred or thermogenic protein powders. They are usually whey protein, plus a bunch of caffeine, maybe some capsaicin and a few other fat burning supplements that do not burn fat. So I would stay away from those that don't do anything. They're going to be more expensive. They're all sort of slightly higher risk of contaminants, so not worth it.
You're also potentially going to come across a mass gaining style supplement that's usually a protein powder, plus a carb powder, maybe a type of fat and some extra vitamins and minerals and things like that. They're fine. It's just that you could also just take some protein powder and some oats and some honey and some blueberries and make your own mascara supplement, which is pretty tastier and it's going to give you way more other vitamins and minerals. So by all means use a mass gain. If you're struggling to gain mass and the rest of your diet is not helping and you've taken care of the rest of your diet first, but ultimately they are a valid tool for some.
And I just realized I was going to talk about who should and shouldn't use a protein powder. So basically it's important to note that protein powders do not work more effectively than food based sources of protein. They are literally just another option. Often they can be more convenient, but not always. And so if you are hitting a decent serve of protein at each and every meal, if you're getting an adequate amount of protein every day through food, adding a protein powder in will do nothing. If you are struggling to get to your targets with food, you might find that adding a protein powder as a smoothie or a protein shake, or mix through some oats, or mix through some yoghurt or something like that to bump up your daily protein intake makes that much easier. So if that's why you're using a protein powder, great. If you're using a protein powder because you think it's more effective than food based sources of protein, you can save your money.Just spend your money on the food.
When it comes to shopping, there's probably a couple of things I would look for in a good protein powder. The first is at least 20 grams of protein per 30 grams serve. That just means it's high in protein, which from a protein supplement is what you want. You also want a relatively short ingredients list. You want something to flavour it, you want the protein itself, you might want something to help it mix. And then you might want a couple of things to flavour it.
In the case of a vegan protein, the ingredient list might be a little bit longer because it might have multiple sources of protein. But if I'm getting over like eight different things in my protein powder, I'm starting to question what these other things are because I would rather eat the other things that I need in my diet and use a protein powder to get protein.
The last thing is obviously you want something that's going to taste good. I would be wary of very fancy flavours. You can fatigue of those pretty quickly. Most companies do single serve sachets so you can test something out before you try, before you buy. That's the phrase I was looking for. Brain has left the building and I think that's probably a good cue for me to leave as well. Hopefully that's been helpful and give you a bit of an insight into some protein powders. If you've still got questions stalking me on Instagram, send me an email via the website. Do all the things. Otherwise, thanks so much for listening and I'll catch you guys next time.
Episode Links & References
- A systematic review, meta-analysis and meta regression of the effect of protein supplementation on resistance training-induced gains
- Perspective: The public health case for modernising the definition of protein quality
- High protein plant based diet versus a protein matched omnivorous diet to support resistance training adaptations