The Comprehensive Guide To Protein Powders

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The Comprehensive Guide To Protein Powders

More and more these days, athletes, gymnasts, body builders and regular fitness lovers seem to be tapping into the power of protein. The most common type of protein we see them take is a protein powder, and this unique supplement is a necessity for people looking to improve their strength, shed weight, or make serious gains in the gym.

Although millions of people take some form of protein powder throughout their day, not many people understand the science behind what makes it work or just what it is they help your body to do. With so many different types of protein powders now available, it makes sense that people want to get educated about this unique supplement, and you’ve come to the right place.


Protein powder is a general term that can encompass many different forms of protein, including everything from pea protein to hemp protein. They all serve the same goal, though, and that is to improve the physical stature of the person taking them whether it’s to gain muscle, lose fat, or just put on some weight.

Choosing the best protein powder is a serious investment for many, and although they may be costly to purchase, with the right care and use they will be an invaluable ingredient to have in your pantry and one that will help you improve out of sight physcially.

This extensive guide to protein powders will answer any questions you ever had and more, so you can make an educated decision on how they might benefit your life.

The Science Behind Proteins

Before we can delve into what it is that protein powder does for us, we need to learn the basics about how they work within our body and why we need them.

People who aren’t exercising generally don’t have any need for additional protein as they get most of theirs from regular food, however anyone following a fitness regime that involves things like weight lifting or strength training will make it beneficial to use a protein powder.

Protein is a necessary part of our everyday diet and when we don’t get enough there can be serious side effects. Those who use more expenditure working out will deplete their protein faster and so the need to top up these levels is there, and that’s what a dedicated protein powder can do.

Protein structure.

Protein has a range of functions within the body, and it helps us to build and repair muscle that might have been damaged when we work out. The carbohydrates found in these shakes also work in our body by replacing depleted sugars and refueling with energy so that we can continue on with our day.

History Of Protein Powders

Before you can get started on your protein for beginners education, you should learn a little about how we came to discover the powers it has on the human body. Although athletes and strong men had been using various supplements for hundreds of years, the first commercial marketing of a product such as this was an egg based protein powder that was released in the 1950s.

The powder was created by Irvin P Johnson and was marketed to bodybuilders and physical athletes, with mostly those in these serious groups using the supplements. Another powder, made mainly from soy proteins, was released around the same time by Bob Hoffman, and although it didn’t taste quite as good as the powders we know today, it was still used by serious athletes.

When the bodybuilding trend really began to take off in the 70s and 80s, more and more everyday people wanted to beef up, and so the protein powder trend also picked up with it. This meant more research went into the science of protein and how it could help the body, as well as new and exciting ways to make it taste better.

Before whey protein powders came on the market in 1993, these supplements were mainly made from egg, milk, and soy. Because the world of bodybuilding had yet to explode, there wasn’t enough feedback to say how effective these ingredients were on building muscle and as they were relatively cheap to purchase, nobody felt the need why.

Don Duchaine is considered the first proponent of whey powder, which is made as a by product of cheese. Whey seemed to deliver even better than the other types of supplements had before it and it quickly took off as the must have ingredient for protein powders from that day forward, showing no signs of slowing down even today.

How Are Protein Powders Made?

Protein powders are made using whole foods, but just because they’re made from these that doesn’t make them a whole food themselves. Instead, a protein powder is made by taking the protein component of the food and placing it with other ingredients that help give it the final form and taste.

Three types of protein powder.

Other ingredients commonly found with protein include thickeners, sweeteners, vitamins, minerals, greens, fiber, fats, and grains, depending on the purpose of the protein powder. However, the most important ingredient is the protein component itself, which is extracted from various foods using different methods.

  • Hydrolyzed protein: This uses a method called hydrolysis which is essentially pre-digestion, and is the most expensive of all methods to do. This type of protein is created by adding water to protein polymers which them breaks them down into smaller groups called peptides.
  • Ion-exchange protein: An ion is also known as an atom, and this means they have change-bearing properties. Ion exchanging means that the protein is being separated from the food by using electrical charges and is the most common method used for any milk based protein powders.
  • Microfiltration protein: Similar to how water is filtered with a reverse osmosis process, this type of protein is extracted by pushing the protein through a membrane.
  • Protein isolates: This means that most of the protein is extracted by using a wash, usually water or alcohol. Water is usually the cheaper way to do this and alcohol the most expensive, however the end result is about 95 percent of protein by weight.
  • Protein concentrates: This uses a heat drying process and extraction with acid to get the protein from the food. Once done, you end up with around 70 percent protein by weight.

The Many Benefits Of Protein Powders

There has to be a reason why so many people around the world enjoy a protein shake or two as part of a balanced diet and exercise regime. Once thought to be used just by serious bodybuilders and professional athletes, there are actually a number of reasons why protein powder is beneficial for all kinds of people.

Prevents Injury

When you’re training, regardless of what type of training you do, your muscles and energy become depleted after a workout and this is why it’s important to learn when to take protein shakes for the biggest results. Drinking a protein shake or using protein powder helps to repair the damaged cells and work on strengthening your muscles instead of doing them harm, and this is the main purpose of protein powder.

Convenience

One of the biggest benefits that protein powder has over other sources of protein like chicken breast or eggs is that it can be easily mixed together with water and consumed. This means your protein is ready to be enjoyed anywhere you go and without the need for cooking utensils or appliances.

Keeps You Full

Many people choose a protein shake or protein pancakes as a snack or full meal replacement as it’s known for filling you up quickly. Just be sure to mix it with healthy options in order to get the best effect.

Man drinking a protein shake.

Absorbed Quickly

When compared to eating other forms of protein such as lean chicken or eggs, protein powder is absorbed a lot faster by the body. This means that almost instantly after eating it, the protein will get to work helping to repair cells and replenishing your body where it needs it.

Boost Of Nutrients And Vitamins

Most protein powders come packed with other vital nutrients and vitamins too, so having a morning protein shake is a quick way to get all of your daily needs in just one serving. Many people use them as a morning shake that covers all their basic dietary requirements served up with fresh fruit and vegetables, so it’s just a matter of knowing when to drink protein shakes for the best benefits.

Affordable

Although there’s a common misconception that protein powder is expensive, when it’s broken down on a per serve basis you’ll see that they’re actually quite cheap. Depending on the method that the protein was processed there will be a sliding scale of costs but it’s usually quite affordable, and this is one of the most important benefit of protein powder for those looking to reduce their grocery bill.

Potential Drawbacks Of Protein Powders

Although there are plenty of benefits to be found with protein powders, there are also some things that you need to be wary of. Too many people take supplements such as these believing they are a one stop shop for all of your health needs, when in fact they serve a very specific purpose. Here are a few drawbacks associated with protein powder:

Too Much Protein 

Because protein is sourced from whole foods, people assume that there’s no such thing as too much. Always stick to the recommended intake found on the label as there are some side effects if you go overboard. Cramps, nausea, headaches, bloating and fatigue are just a few issues you can expect if you have too much protein powder.

Dehydration 

When taking a supplement like protein powder you need to understand that it can affect the rest of the body, and one area it does this is with hydration levels. Those drinking protein powders will usually need to drink more water than average otherwise there’s a serious risk of becoming dehydrated.

Man drinking water from a bottle.

Misread Labels 

When buying a new protein powder people often skim through the ingredients assuming that there shouldn’t be anything harmful or unhealthy in there. Some protein powders contain high amounts of sugar or potentially lethal ingredients like steroids, so you really need to be careful of what you’re ingesting.

Meal Replacements

Some people purchase protein powder with a very wrong notion that they can use them as a complete meal replacement, having one for breakfast, lunch and dinner. However, they are only intended for specific times of the day and mainly to help with workouts, so they should never be consumed as a replacement for food.

Educating yourself by learning how to use protein powder safely and how much protein powder per day you can take is all you have to do to avoid these disadvantages. When you’re buying a new type of protein and don’t know a lot about it, you should take the time to research the product, read the ingredients, and look for any reviews from other users so you can see the real side effects it might cause.

The Different Types Of Protein Powders

When protein powder was first invented, it was quite limited in the type of protein used to make it. Today, though, there are a number of different types available to suit people of all backgrounds, ages, dietary requirements, and fitness goals, so it’s just a matter of learning what each of them offers.

Whey

The first exposure to this supplement that people have is when they learn how to use whey protein, and this is also the most common type sold today. Whey is one of two proteins found in milk, the other being casein, and is extracted from milk or formed during the cheese making process.

Whey is low in lactose so it suits those with unique dietary requirements and it’s considered one of the complete proteins because it features all nine of the essential amino acids. It’s relatively cheap to produce and extremely effective which is why it’s such a common type of protein powder on the fitness market.

The benefits of using whey powder versus the other styles is that it has more than just one function. Anyone looking for how to use protein powder for weight loss will be looking for a whey powder specifically as it’s been proven to aid with the fat shredding process.

It can also have other potential benefits including lowering cholesterol, lowering blood pressure, and improving immune response, however more research is needed.

The downside to take whey powder is more aimed at people who are allergic to milk or whey, as they can experience serious negative effects. Cramps, nausea, headaches, and fatigue are common for these people, however those without allergies may still be prone to acne and other skin conditions when overusing the protein powder.

Different protein powders.

Casein Protein

This is part of the phosphoprotein family and is also usually derived from cow’s milk, however human milk also contains some amount of it. Some people might use a protein powder with both whey and casein, however there are plenty of benefits of just using casein protein on its own.

The biggest advantage that casein has over others is how fast it gets into your bloodstream and how long it lasts. Unlike other proteins that work hard and fast, casein usually takes a slower approach to release its amino acids so that you’re able to benefit from it for many hours after taking it.

The downfall to casein protein is that there may be some hidden dangers when compared to other types of powders. There have been studies that point to links with respiratory problems, cancer, allergies, and other illness, however none of them have been conclusive. For the most part, casein is safe as long as it’s consumed in the recommended levels.

Egg Protein

As one of the original types of protein powder on the market, egg protein is still a popular choice today. Even before the days of protein powder, bodybuilders would get their additional protein from drinking a few eggs raw each morning, but thankfully today there’s an easier and tastier way to do it.

Egg protein is a great alternative for people who have allergic reactions to dairy or find whey powder to be upsetting to their stomach. Because eggs are low in carbohydrates and have very little fat content they’re ideal for people who might be counting their calories or trying to shed fat.

However, there are some potential risks with egg protein which mainly comes from the dangers of salmonella poisoning. Because the egg is not cooked during the process and only sprayed, there is potential for the bacteria to spread and be consumed when eating the powder.

Pea Protein

When pea protein came on the market, some people were surprised to learn just how much protein can be found in these tiny, green legumes. Peas have around 10g of protein per cup so they pack quite a lot in, and using pea protein powder is essential for those following a vegan diet or those who have an intolerance or allergy to dairy products.

Pea protein actually contains more protein per 100g than whey, but that doesn’t mean it’s better. There are less BCAAs in pea protein than whey which is where some people are put off, but the results speak for themselves. A 2015 study published in Journal of the International Society of Sports found that men who use pea protein in lifting sessions got the same results as those who used whey, so this is good to know.

Although pea protein is considered a complete protein, it’s low in one amino acid which means it’s not as complete as some other types. There are also concerns about its taste and how easily its digested, but that’s all a matter of personal preference if you’re looking for results and a low allergen profile powder.

Hemp Protein

Some people might be put off of the name of hemp protein alone, but it’s got nothing to do with smoking an illegal substance. Hemp protein is made with the seeds of the hemp plant which is ground up and used for powders, with people preferring to use them in baking and cooking thanks to their nutty flavors.

There are a few disadvantages to this type of protein including its ability to cause gastrointestinal distress in some, so it’s always recommended to start with smaller doses. There is a higher level of carbohydrates found in the powder as well so anyone looking to avoid these should avoid hemp protein.

However, they are a low allergenic protein powder and great for vegans and vegetarians as well because it contains absolutely no animal byproducts. It has a huge amount of amino acids including all nine that your body can’t produce on its own, putting it right up the top of the list next to whey.

Women And Protein Powder

When most people think of protein powder the first image that springs to mind is of a muscly guy enjoyed a protein shake after lifting some serious weights, and although that might be just one type or person who uses them, they are actually quite beneficial for women. For that reason, you’re likely to see a lot of protein powder targeted specifically at a female customer base these days.

Woman drinking a protein shake.

There are even some experts who believe that women can benefit from protein powder more than their male counterparts because they usually fall short in this area, where many men won’t. If a woman is using protein powder to try and use weight, replacing meals with some form of it will actually be more beneficial than those who aren’t trying to cut calories.

Because women are completely unique to men physically, their protein powders might come with different ingredients to regular protein powder. Therefore, finding one that’s marketed to women is usually a good idea, however there’s nothing stopping females from drinking regular protein powder and expecting the same results. As long as you’ve read the ingredients and understand the content, most protein powders have been created equal.

Veganism And Protein Powder

With more and more people making the switch to a vegan diet, whether for health or ethical reasons, we’re now seeing an explosion of vegan protein powders on the market. As discussed before, these are common protein sources like pea and hemp protein, and they can be just as effective as protein sourced from whey or casein.

Because a vegan may find it hard to get their protein adequately from a plant based diet, adding a simple bit of protein powder each day to your diet can give you the nutrition you need. As vegans don’t eat any animals or animal byproducts, they don’t have things like lean chicken breast or eggs in their diet, and some may worry that they aren’t getting enough protein.

Although these vegan protein powders have been huge with those who don’t consume animal products, they’re not the only people enjoying them. A common complaint with people who drink whey or casein protein is that it can cause a stomach upset, either due to sensitivity or allergies to cow’s milk.

Therefore, the vegan protein options like hemp or pea are great for more than just one group of people and will still give you the protein boost you need to help your body recover.

Other popular types of vegan protein powder include soy protein and rice protein, so if you’re a vegan or looking for a non dairy supplement you can work your way through the options until you’ve found what works best. Just because you don’t eat meat or animal products there’s no reason you should miss out on all the good that protein powder can do for you.

Flavored Vs Unflavored Protein Powders

One of the biggest debates that happens among protein powder lovers is whether or not it’s best to have unflavored or flavored powder. While it definitely comes down to a personal choice, there are some things to consider when making yours such as the nutritional content, protein content, taste, and price, so it should be weighed up carefully.

Vanilla and chocolate whey protein powder.

The biggest difference between flavored and unflavored protein powders comes from the taste. If you’re someone who finds it hard to stomach regular protein powder without adding in sweeteners or fruit, you’ll want to go for the flavored variety. However, if taste isn’t that important because you’re drinking it just for the effect, you won’t mind the unpleasant flavor.

One reason why people are happy to put up with the taste of unflavored protein powder is because flavored varieties might contain additives. This can include everything from sweeteners to artificial colors, so if you’re after a purer protein powder that’s as close to a natural food source as possible you’ll want to avoid them.

Finally, in terms of price there again is quite a difference between the two, with the cheaper option being to buy unflavored protein powder. If money is a problem and you want the best value for your money then you should be prepared to drink down the unflavored protein, but if you are happy to spend more just to enjoy what you’re drinking, you won’t mind paying a little extra.

Finding The Correct Dosage

When you’re completely new to the world of protein powder you might feel a little confused about how exactly to take it, and whether or not you are getting enough. Protein powder is all made differently, and so the best thing to do is check the guidelines or nutritional information that comes with your powder and follow those as closely as possible.

Another common question people have is when exactly they should take their protein powder, and there are a few choices depending on your routine and what you’re using it for.

  • Between meals: Some people find that a protein shake or protein pancake made with powder is the perfect way to avoid unhealthy snacking during meals and to keep them focused on whatever they might be doing.
  • At meal time: If you’re stuck out and don’t have any food you can quickly whip up a protein shake for a meal. However, don’t do this for every meal as it’s not recommended to be used as a complete food source.
  • After workout: This is the best time to have your protein shake as it’s when the body is most in need of the extra protein it can provide. Take within 30 minutes of your workout session to allow the protein to restore your damaged muscles.

One of the biggest debates between those in the bodybuilding community is whether or not you need to take your protein powder on rest days. Traditionally, weight lifters and strength trainers will have a day of rest in between sessions to allow their muscles to repair, and so it might not be as necessary to get the fix of protein, or at least that’s what people once thought.

The most recent recommendations is that people should continue with a serve of protein on their days off as the body is still in repair mode and can use any help it can get, especially from a source as valuable as protein powder. Therefore, if you’re used to heavy lifting and usually take a rest day with your powder, it’s best to keep it up and give your body the best chance for recovery.

The Shelf Life Of Protein Powder

Just like any other consumable product, protein powder comes with its own shelf life. Although each manufacturer and type of protein will have its own expiry date, the general rule is that a tub of protein powder should last around two years. This is provided that it’s been stored correctly in an airtight container and out of the heat or sunlight, but for the most part it will last this long.

Protein powder on a shelf in a store.

One of the reasons why it’s important to follow the use by date of protein powder is due to safety, and this can be especially true in the case of whey or egg protein that has the potential to cause serious harm. Just as you wouldn’t eat expired dairy products or old eggs, so too should you have the same thought process for protein powder.

Another big issue with eating out of date or old protein powder is that many of the essential nutrients will begin to break down. You might assume that you’re getting the full benefits of a protein shake but if it’s from an old container the reality is probably quite far from this.

Protein powder will be most effective when it’s newly processed so try to only buy amounts that you know you will drink, and preferably what you can drink within just a few months. When storing it outside of the packaging, always use an airtight and sealed container that will ensure it tastes good and does its intended job.

Protein Powder Vs Other Supplements

Those in the bodybuilding and fitness world are no strangers to health supplements and those that claim to enhance their performance or speed up recovery. When compared to whole food sourced protein powder, there are definitely some supplements out there to be skeptical of, but not all are bad. Here are some common supplements and how they stack up:

  • Creatine monohydrate: One of the safer and more natural supplements, when taken in the right dosage is said to improve your lifting performance.
  • Caffeine: Another common natural supplement that can give a boost of energy if taken correctly.
  • Boron: Proven to do nothing for the average male user, this is one supplement that received far more hype than it was worth.
  • HMB: Although there was a time when many people thought this was the solution to making gains, studies have shown that the high cost is nowhere near worth the results you might see.
  • Workout Drinks: Depending on the drink and its ingredients, there is usually a lot of hype surrounding these with very little results. Some stimulants can be dangerous if taken too often, so be careful with the limits on these.

Recipes To Make With Protein Powder

The most common way to enjoy your protein powder and get all of its benefits is by making it into a shake with water or blending it with some of your favorite fruits and vegetables to create a smoothie.

Coconut protein pancakes.

However, if you’re feeling a little bored with the standard fare then here are some creative ways to get your protein fix each day:

  • Protein pancakes: You can get creative with your toppings, but add some almond milk, protein powder,banana, egg, and flax seed meal together to get a serious boost of essential amino acids.
  • Protein Pizza: When making your standard pizza crust, throw a dash of protein powder in and get an added serving of protein in your favorite meal.
  • Peanut Butter Protein Cookies: There’s no rule that says protein has to be boring, so why not mix toghether with natural peanut butter, dark chocolate chips, and protein powder in with your regular cookie mix and get the delicious benefits.
  • Carrot Cake Quinoa Loaf: There are plenty of healthy ingredients just reading the name of this recipe but they’re made even better with a few scoops of protein powder. You’ll be left with a fast and tasty snack to enjoy before a workout that will save you from sugary sweets.

A Key Ingredient For Your Body’s Success

Protein powder has certainly come a long way since it was first invented in the 1950s, with very limited ingredients and a taste that is nothing like the brands we know today. As the technology progressed and we learned more and more about nutritional science, the way we develop and enjoy protein powder is now better than ever.

Recent advancements in protein powder like pea protein and hemp protein are just the beginning for this unique type of supplement, and there’s no doubt that its benefits will only continue to improve. Scientists and developers are finding new ways to process protein so that it’s more cost effective and potent than ever before, and that’s something that we can all benefit from.

There are now special protein powders for women, vegans, vegetarians, and those with dietary requirements, as well as the hundreds of other types around. As the supplement begins to grow and adapt to what people need, we are seeing better results with less of the negative side effects, which is great news for people who rely on these bio molecules.

Regardless of how you take your protein powder, there are countless benefits to be had from this natural supplement.

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