Protein Powders Vs Natural Foods
This is a question that’s constantly debated; which is the best source of nutrition, protein powders or natural foods?
I’ve always had this question in the back of my mind, especially since today’s high quality protein powders far exceed the first few generations of protein powders.
However, if you research this and read the opinions of many professional bodybuilders and nutrition experts you’ll find that most claim natural foods are superior to protein powders for both your health and building quality muscle.
Whereas natural foods are indeed the most wholesome (no pun intended) source of nutrition, protein powders indeed have their place and serve a purpose.
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Protein powder: is it for you?
Protein powders offer a refined and processed supplemental form of protein. In a similar way that vitamins are extracted or manufactured and packaged for sale, protein is also a highly desired nutrient which is essential for the human body.
There are various forms of protein, and as with any manufactured product, many variations and grades of quality are available.
Protein powders became more and more popular as people realised the full potential of working outwith protein supplements.
Proteins are made up of amino acids, which are the building blocks of human connective tissue, including muscles, tendons and ligaments, not to mention the brain.
While proteins can be metabolised for energy, they are better at helping to metabolise body fat for energy.
Protein is a thermogenic; it is slow burning, requiring 30 per cent more energy to be digested than carbs and fats.
Furthermore, excess protein cannot be stored the way carbohydrates (sugars) are. Proteins are found in meat and meat products, nuts, fish, and beans.
Advantages of choosing natural foods over protein powders
- It’s all natural
- Arguably, creating muscle with another animal’s muscle makes more sense
- Foods often offer well balanced meals with necessary carbs, fats vitamins and minerals
- Powders add a lot to a grocery budget
- No added preservatives, sugars, or sweeteners
Advantages of choosing PP over natural foods
- In a liquid form, the proteins are more quickly digested and delivered
- Protein powders are convenient, and can come with you to the gym, etc.
- Protein powders have a longer shelf-life than, say, meat
- Protein powder offer a huge protein dose (up to 40 grams), which food usually does not contain in a single meal
- There are specially designed combinations to fit different goals and needs
Whey Protein and Building Muscle: The Making of Protein Powders
Let’s first take a look at how protein powder is made, specifically whey protein.
Whey is derived from milk and is noted to be the highest quality source of protein available, even more so than whole food sources of protein, which is why this question is so common.
Whey protein also has the highest level of BCAAs (branched-chain amino acids) than any food source.
This goes without saying but we all know how important quality protein and BCAAs are to building muscle.
Whey grants us lean muscle, decreased recovery time from workouts, and also has positive effects on metabolic rate.
Over the years the quality of protein powders has become extremely advanced.
For starters, there are different types of whey protein (means of processing are listed here as well) such as whey isolate, whey concentrate, micro-filtered, instantized, ultra-filtered, and hydrolyzed.
Many of today’s whey products contain a combination of these. Many whey protein powders may also include extras such as digestive enzymes and formulas to assist with nutrient partitioning.
There are other types of protein powders as well such as casein and egg protein. Some of the whey products may contain these other types of proteins to allow for both fast and slow absorption.
The Power of Natural Foods for Building Muscle
Now let’s briefly talk about the role that whole foods play in the muscle building process. One of the main contributions whole foods grants towards muscle gains as well as burning off fat is the overall nutritional value.
Certain foods contain nutrients that are necessary for not only muscle recovery but more importantly for the body to function properly.
If you’re body doesn’t get the nutrients needed then it won’t matter how much protein you get; you won’t build quality muscle.
Taking in carbs after an intense workout is beneficial to building muscle. Whole grains give your body the ability to fight off countless diseases and ailments.
Fruits and vegetables are filled with vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and can also prevent an array of diseases.
I could elaborate for pages upon pages on the benefits of consuming whole foods. The bottom line is whether you’re into weight training or not, your body craves the nutritional value of whole foods.
You need certain nutrients to fight off diseases, which would obviously get in the way of building muscle, and you need these nutrients to recover and rebuild muscle tissue. Let’s not forget about our overall health and long-term quality of life.
Natural foods that give protein
A great example of natural food sources that contain protein along with other essentials are;
Whole eggs are high in protein, healthy fats, they help lower bad cholesterol levels while raising the good, and they’re packed with amino acids as well as vitamins.
Certain types of fish also contain natural healthy fats which offer numerous health benefits (which in turn equates to muscle building benefits) such as preventing heart disease, aiding in fat loss, lubricating joints, and can also help fight off several illnesses and diseases.
- Steak and beef
Steak and beef are great sources of protein which also include B vitamins and can assist in strengthening bones. Pork and chicken are also packed with essential vitamins and nutrients.
Your body also needs a balance of carbohydrates and healthy fats that you won’t get with protein powders alone (although many mix foods like bananas, milk and peanut butter in their protein powder.
Protein Powder between Meals
So which is better for building muscle, natural foods or protein powders? If you had to choose between the two, it’s pretty obvious that natural foods are best.
However, adding protein powder to your nutrition plan along with natural foods can prove to be more beneficial than natural foods alone.
For starters, your body needs to quickly absorb protein after intense workouts to start the muscle recovery process.
Whey is hands-down the best source of protein to do the job and you must note that carbohydrates are also important post workout.
Also, protein shakes can be a convenient means to maintaining a positive nitrogen balance between meals throughout the day which can enhance muscle growth.
Adding natural foods to your protein powder is discussed below. The intent is still not to replace natural food meals but to give some options and recipes for making high quality whey protein-based powder and meals.
Protein powder and Natural Foods for Post Workout Meal
Now here’s a time where protein powder may actually be more beneficial than natural foods; post workout.
Your muscles are screaming for nutrients after an intense workout. Not to get off topic but many bodybuilders and weight trainers these days, take some sort of BCAA (branched-chain amino acids) or EAA (essential amino acids) supplement immediately after their workouts.
After few sets workout and follow that up with my post workout powder/shake about 20 minutes or later.
I say that to stress the importance of protein in your body as quickly as possible and there’s no better protein to do the job than whey protein.
I feel you also need some simple carbohydrates and well as healthy fats for this meal.
…and the best of both worlds?
Protein powders are great and have a definitive purpose. Let’s be honest; it’s very difficult to get the quantity of protein you need daily for building muscle in natural foods alone.
Natural foods are even better because you need the nutrients from natural foods you can’t get from protein powders alone.
Without those nutrients you’ll be depriving yourself of muscle gains, not to mention these nutrients are required for overall health and for your body to function properly.
But you may find that a combination of protein powders and natural foods are best for maximum muscle growth.
Be sure to always do research and read the labels before buying protein powder of your choice. Coaches, trainers, nutritionists all agree that a blend of natural food combined with protein powder offer the best results.
Protein powders (even if they are meal replacements) do not contain enough nutrients to be the main daily food source.
Use protein powders as they were designed; to assist with daily meals to reach physical goals and you should get the majority of your nutrition from natural foods.