Protein Powders Review – How They Work, For Bodybuilding, Weightloss, Toning Body & Other Benefits
You’ve just put in a good hour of intense training at the gym. Now all you have to do is sit back and wait for that ripped physique to appear. If only putting on muscle mass was that easy!
About sixty to seventy percent of the outcome of your fitness goals is dependent on your nutrition. The remaining thirty to forty percent is dependent on training and exercise regimen. In essence, they work hand in hand.
You should not place more importance on either one because without proper nutrition you can’t build muscle, and without proper training you still can’t build muscle.
Dietary supplements can play an important role in an effective muscle building nutrition plan, when used correctly.
However, the fact remains that most of the dietary supplements on the market are rubbish and will not do anything to increase your muscle size or strength despite all the crazy advertising and hype.
What they will do, with their cool looking labels, scientific sounding names and pro bodybuilder endorsed marketing plans is steal your hard earned money out of your pocket and leave you with no results.
However, if there’s one set of supplements that have been proven to build muscle time and again, it is pure “Protein Powder”.
Your body’s muscles are made up of many small fibers which get broken down while working out. As the muscle recovers over a period of time, you need protein to rebuild those fibers and make them stronger and bigger.
It’s a fact that to get bigger muscles you need protein, and plenty of it. But it’s not always easy getting in quality solid food protein sources every day at exact times.
This is where protein powders come in, with their high bioavailability, branched chain amino acids (BCAAs) and anabolic properties, they provide a very convenient and easy way to meet your daily protein requirements and sustain your lean muscle mass.
Introduction To Protein Powder
Protein powders come in different forms made from plants such as soy, hemp, pea, etc. or animal products such as milk and eggs.
The most available protein powders are whey which is from milk, casein from milk also and soy from soy plants.
Basically, they are either plant based or animal based and are a more bioavailable form of protein products guaranteed to give your body easy and faster sources of protein. This is why they are so prized by people interested in fitness and sports.
Types of Protein Powders
There are tons of protein powder supplements on the market. However, it is best you know the basic types of protein powders and their unique properties to enable you make the best choice.
The types of protein powders can be broadly classified into two based on their sources be it animal or plant.
Animal Based Protein Powders
As the name implies, animal based protein powders are protein powders that are extracted from animal protein sources such as milk and eggs.
Animal based protein powders have a distinct advantage over plant based protein powders because they are complete sources of all essential amino acids.
They contain all the amino acids that cannot be produced by the body and then some.
The types of animal based protein powders are;
- Whey Protein Powder:
Whey is a liquid left over from milk once it has been curdled and strained and is a by-product of the cheese-making process.
Whey protein powder is one of the most popular sports nutrition products in the world because of its availability, cost and effectiveness.
Once consumed, whey is rapidly digested, then absorbed by your digestive system so it gets into your bloodstream and to your muscles very quickly, initiating the recovery and rebuilding process.
Whey protein powder comes in one of four forms: concentrate, isolate, hydrolysate and/or native. All four types are abundant in BCAAs, the amino acids that are essential for rebuilding and repairing the muscular damage caused by working out.
Some whey products use one type of whey protein exclusively, typically a higher-quality protein source for a premium product while others use different protein types to make their protein.
Other products may contain not only different combinations of whey, but also other sources of protein, such as casein or soy, again depending on the product’s recommended use or to reduce manufacturing costs.
- Casein Protein Powder:
Casein is the main type of protein found in dairy, making up around 80% of the protein content of cow’s milk.
Whereas whey protein is rapidly absorbed by your body, making it the perfect post-workout protein source, casein is broken down and digested much more slowly, over many hours, to give a slow and sustained release of amino acids into your bloodstream and then to your muscles.
To fuel your muscles with the essential nutrients they need to repair and rebuild muscle tissue, supplement with a casein protein shake just before bed.
The slow-release digestion of casein makes it the perfect source of protein to release amino acids into your muscles at night while you sleep ensuring maximum muscle gains and better recovery from your workout.
- Egg Protein Powder:
This protein powder is made by separating egg whites form the yolk and then dehydrating the egg whites.
It is also a complete protein source, containing all the essential amino acids, as well as other health-boosting vitamins and minerals.
However, it’s not suitable for strict vegans. It can also trigger a reaction if you have an egg allergy, and is one of the more expensive options. Furthermore, flavors may be limited and not as tasty as whey and casein.
Plant Based Protein Powders
As is suggested by its name, plant based protein powders are protein powders extracted from plant sources.
Most sources of plant protein do not contain all the essential amino acids necessary for life. They have an advantage over the animal based protein based on their suitability for people with a vegan or vegetarian lifestyle.
The types of plant based protein powders include;
- Soy Protein Powder:
One of the few plant sources to contain all the essential amino acids, soy is hulled and dried into flour, then concentrated or isolated into powder form.
It is one of the few vegetarian sources of complete protein and also very wallet-friendly.
However, you should note that research suggests that soy can increase levels of the female sex hormone oestrogen (which encourages fat storage), and the plant is often genetically modified to boost crop yields.
- Hemp Protein Powder:
Derived from the seeds of the cannabis plant, hemp protein has gained popularity as a hypoallergenic protein source that’s also high in essential fatty acids.
It is a high-fiber vegan protein source that’s also ideal for those with common food allergies.
If you’re worried about THC, the psychoactive compound in cannabis, don’t be. The presence of THC in hemp protein is negligible and will cause no effects.
However, it is low on leucine, one of the most important amino acids for muscle growth.
- Pea Protein Powder:
Made from the golden, not garden, pea plant, this is a slow-release type of protein much like casein.
Pea protein powder is among the most hypoallergenic of all protein powders. It contains no gluten or dairy. It’s also very easy on the tummy and doesn’t cause us bloating, a common side effect of many other protein powders.
The good news is that pea protein is also great for you heart and kidney health. Also, another great reason to consider adding pea protein to your diet is that it contains about five more grams of protein per serving than whey protein.
Therefore, it really can be great for building muscle, burning fat and boosting heart health. And don’t worry, it comes unflavored.
- Rice Protein Powder:
Rice is known as a source of carbohydrates, but in its unprocessed form, brown rice contains around 8g of protein per 100g, which can be isolated and ground into powder.
It is Ideal for vegans and those with dairy, soy or gluten allergies. It is also a great source of B vitamins.
However, rice protein is not a complete protein source, so you’ll need other forms of protein to get all the essential amino acids.
Weight Gainer (High-Calorie Protein Powder)
If you’ve consistently struggled to add muscle mass despite following a challenging training program and a high-protein diet, you might need to consider a high-calorie protein powder that also includes a significant amount of carbohydrates.
Known as weight gainers, these products can include multiple forms of protein as well as quick- and slow-release carbs to dramatically increase your calorie consumption to help build more muscle mass.
Weight-gainer products are typically used by bodybuilders during a bulking phase when they want to add as much muscle mass as possible, even if that means storing some extra fat, or by serious athletes who burn a lot of calories through training and don’t want to be in a daily calorie deficit (burning more than they consume).
If you’re a “hard gainer” or ectomorph who has always struggled to add muscle mass despite training and eating right, you may benefit from the extra energy these products provide to ensure your body is always in a calorie surplus so it has the fuel it needs to grow muscle.
Apart from the types listed above, some companies have come up with several formulae and mixing ratios to provide what they believe is the best combination protein powder that meets all the needs of the individual.
Therefore, except you purchase 100% pure protein powder, it is likely that the supplement you get will contain a fraction of other compounds such as carnithine, enzymes, carbohydrates, fiber, etc.
What Else is in Protein Powder?
Many protein powders contain additional ingredients from the sports nutrition world designed to support or enhance performance and recovery. Here are some key compounds.
- Creatine: This organic compound powers cells and has been shown to improve effort during high-intensity training like lifting weights. Read more about Creatine here.
- L-Carnitine: Often added to “diet” whey products, this amino acid mobilizes fatty acids from fat cells so it can be used to provide energy.
- Enzymes: Enzymes or probiotics help your stomach break down specific compounds for better digestion and nutrient absorption.
Apart from the aforementioned which are added to protein powders, some manufacturers still add preservatives, coloring, essence, carbohydrates, fiber, xanthan gum, etc.
All of these additives are usually written on the nutritional information section of the pack at the back of the packet.
When to Use Protein Powders
So when might you want to use them? There are a few reasons why an ordinary person might want more protein in his or her diet, says Barbara Lewin, a dietitian and sports nutritionist who has worked with the NFL, NBA, and NHL athletes and trained Iron man competitors.
Some of these reasons include;
A teenager needs more protein to fuel his workouts because his body is still growing and uses more protein in general than a fully grown person.
Recall that protein is the building block of tissues in the body. Growth of these tissues as is a part of puberty will increase your body’s demand for protein.
- New Workout Regimen:
If working out is new to you and you’re trying to build muscle, you’ll probably require more protein than you normally would.
This is so because new demands will be placed on your muscles and the rest of your body. Muscles fibers that breakdown will need protein for their repair.
- Performance Enhancement:
If you normally workout for half an hour a few times a week, but have now decided to train for a half-marathon or increase the intensity of your regimen, your body will need more protein.
Basically, the more stress placed on your body, the higher the protein needs of your body.
- Recovery from Injury:
People with sports injuries frequently need a little more protein than usual to help speed up healing.
In addition, people who suffer from injuries that cause muscle atrophy over the period of recovery will need a high protein diet while in recovery and undergoing physiotherapy.
- Adoption of Vegetarian or Vegan Lifestyle:
If you pursue a vegan or vegetarian lifestyle it is likely you will eliminate a number of common protein sources from your diet, including meat, chicken, and fish, and sometimes dairy and eggs as well.
As a result, there might be a need for you to monitor your protein intake closely and ensure that you consume enough protein.
If you calculate your protein intake and determine that you’re not getting enough for your needs and lifestyle, you can drink protein powders with water…
…mix it with flavored fluids such as milk or coconut water and blend it for a healthy fruit smoothie or protein shake, or even use it as an ingredient to cook with to boost your intake. After all, protein powder cookbooks are now big business.
How Much Protein Powder Should You Take?
Serving suggestions for most protein powders are typically around thirty grams, and with good reason.
Research suggests that this is around the ideal amount to repair the damage done by training and initiate muscle protein synthesis, the process through which new muscle tissue is added.
Research also shows that a high-protein diet can also help reduce body fat levels, so you’ll not only get bigger and stronger but leaner as well.
Benefits of Using Protein Powders
In your quest for a ripped body, it is important you never underestimate the benefits that consuming protein will bring. They include;
- Muscle Gains and Retention:
The more you work out and use protein supplements, the faster your muscles will grow. It is basic biology really.
The more you work out, the higher the stress that is placed on the muscle fibers. When they have reached their limit, muscle fibers may break down causing the need for uptake of several amino acids to repair the damage and rebuild the muscle.
In this fashion, the muscle will get bigger and stronger simply as a result of adequate protein consumption and exercise.
- Increased Muscle Strength:
Protein powder usage also causes an increase in muscle strength by the same mechanism that it uses to cause an increase in muscle mass.
Growth of the muscle causes the muscle to be able to bear more weight before breaking down. This is why body builders continue to strive to lift heavier.
The burn you feel when you lift heavier is a result of the rapid breakdown of muscles. When your muscles are rebuilt they are stronger and can accommodate lifting heavier.
This is why lifters will sometimes experience a plateau until they increase the stress placed on their muscles.
- Improved Endurance:
Some protein powders such as casein are released slowly while others such as whey are readily available once ingested.
Protein powders can help you last longer and provide energy for both explosive and endurance exercises. Protein as a general rule can supply as many calories as carbohydrates.
- Speedy Recovery:
Protein is the building block of tissue in the body. Therefore, it stands to reason that it is one of the major reasons why you heal and build muscles faster.
Protein powders can supply both the essential and non-essential amino acids for tissue repair and recovery.
- Reduced Soreness:
Due to the ability of protein powders to speed up muscle healing while also providing longer lasting energy, the muscles used while working out will usually experience minimal soreness and improved removal of lactic acid.
- Weight loss:
Due to the fact that protein powders are high in protein content, they can help to manage weight loss and gain.
Protein helps you stay full for longer and suppresses your appetite. At the same time, majority of the protein powders contain other vitamins, minerals and electrolytes which can help nourish your body.
Many persons in the field of sports and bodybuilding advocate high protein breakfasts (like pancakes made with protein powder) to jumpstart your body’s metabolism daily.
- Other Uses of Protein Powders:
There are several other uses of protein powders outside the world of fitness. These uses of protein powder include;
- Alternatives for people who wish to eat high protein meals
- Meal Replacement Therapies
Protein Powders to Improve Performance
A lot of the information found on the web tells us to use protein before, during and after working out. This is not entirely true.
What your body needs to work out properly is carbohydrate usually in the form of glucose present in your bloodstream. This is what your body needs majorly for fuel and what your muscles need to work.
Protein is important for recovery after a workout but research shows that the body needs fuel in a carbohydrate to protein ratio of about 4:1
As majority of protein powders contain about twenty to thirty grams of protein per scoop, you will need an accompanying eighty to one hundred and twenty grams of carbohydrates to create a balance.
For an even better recovery drink, fruit and milk just might be the way to go after a workout.
You should ideally use protein powders throughout the day as a snack or meal replacement, says Lewin, but not in the immediate time period surrounding your workouts.
Signs You Need Protein Supplementation
Your body is an amazing machine. If only you take time to listen to it, you will understand what signs in your day to day life and body are telling you that your protein levels need a boost.
Some of the symptoms of poor protein levels in your body are:
Edema is the retention of fluid by the body. It can occur as a result of low protein levels and may cause swelling of especially the hands, feet and joints. This swelling is often very uncomfortable and can sometimes be painful.
- Muscle Soreness and Weakness of muscles:
Protein is the building block of the muscles and tissues in the body. If protein levels are low, it can lead to deterioration of muscles, muscle soreness, weakness and fatigue.
Protein is also essential for other body activities and deficiency may lead to loss of tissue mass.
- Cramping of muscles:
This is also as a result of the deterioration of the muscles and the accompanying loss of muscle mass. Your muscles will be compromised by a lack of protein.
Other symptoms of low protein levels in the body include fatigue, irritability and insomnia. Protein deficiency is quite common especially in lower income earners.
Though symptoms may not always appear, it is best to have your protein levels checked regularly as variances in protein can help in early detection of some diseases.
Possible Side Effects of Using Protein Powders
For the majority of individuals, using protein powders will come with no side effects.
However, some people who use protein powders may experience one or more of the following symptoms;
- Diarrhea, Bloating and Gas:
One of the more common side effects of using protein powders is diarrhea, bloating and gas. Usually, the cause of these effects is milk based protein and excessive fiber.
If you are afflicted by this, it may be best to switch up the type of protein powder you use to a plant based or egg based type.
- Allergic reactions:
Some people who are allergic to milk might find that they are allergic the types of protein powder that are milk based. If you have milk allergies, it is better to use plant based protein powder.
In addition to this, milk based protein powder is likely not the right choice for you if you suffer from lactose intolerance.
- Kidney damage:
There have been some anecdotal reports about consumption of protein powder leading to or exacerbating kidney damage. However, most of these reports are unverified.
As was already stated above, you should not use protein powder if you suffer from any kidney or liver disease. Also, you should consult your doctor before starting any new supplements.
In the same vein, ensuring that you take no more than the prescribed dosage when you do use protein powder is another means of preventing damage to the kidneys.
In a bid to use protein, our bodies use extra water and also need extra water to remove the excess and byproducts. In addition to this, exercising causes your body to lose water.
These losses of water can lead to dehydration and cause headache, light-headedness and nausea.
- Loss of Bone Mass:
Furthermore, excessive consumption of protein can cause our bodies to produce acid. As a result of this, our bodies draw calcium from our bones to counteract the acid effect.
This can lead to the loss of bone mass. Women are at an even higher risk of bone loss due to calcium usage during pregnancy.
- Increased bowel movements:
Increases in protein can lead to increase in the number of bowel movements that protein powder users experience daily.
- Nausea and Headache:
Some people may experience headaches and nausea when they begin a course of protein powder. This may also be as a result of dehydration.
Usually, this is the body’s way of adjusting and it should go away within a few weeks. Make sure you check that the dosage of protein powder you use is correct and drink more water to compensate for that lost in protein metabolism.
In cases like this, it is recommended that you reduce the dosage of protein powder you use or change the type of protein powder to avoid the substances causing these reactions.
Drug Interactions and Warnings
The use of protein powders may interfere with your body’s ability to absorb and use certain medication. They include;
- Certain antibiotics such as ciprofloxacin, norfloxacin, etc.
It is important you consult your doctor before starting any new supplement regime.
There are several classes of people who should not attempt to use protein powders namely;
- Pregnant or Nursing Women
- People with Kidney Problems
- People with Liver Disease
- Diabetes patients
- People with family histories of these problems
In conclusion, protein powders are amazing supplements for gaining muscle, burning fat and ensuring you get the best results from your workouts.
However, it is up to you to make sure you buy the right brand to get the best results.
Protein powder is popular because of its ability to take the body back to an anabolic state after the catabolism caused by engaging in strenuous exercise. Building muscle and achieving a toned physique is the aim after all.