We've all seen the guys in the gym throwing back a protein shake after their workout. So should you be doing the same?
Before you start, a word of warning. There is no magic powder or potion that will radically change your body composition on its own. My mantra is to eat a good-quality, balanced diet that includes plenty of lean protein, lots of fibrous veges, a little fruit and a few good low glycaemic index, high-fibre carbohydrates with some good fats. Then do the work.
To change your body shape you have to work out. If you are eating a balanced diet, drinking water, doing weights and cardio, then and only then, start to look at supplements.
How much protein do I need?
Protein powders are well researched and have the science to back them up.
An active woman needs 1.2-1.8g of protein per kilogram of body weight per day. So a 70kg woman wanting to change her body composition, that is lose body fat and gain lean muscle, needs 84-126g of protein per day. This sounds like a lot, but 150g of tuna has 40g of protein and 125g of baked chicken breast contains 36g.
When you need to replenish your muscles straight after a workout, a protein shake is easy and convenient.
A 30g scoop of protein powder will provide about 20-24g of quality protein, which can be easily used by the muscle. Protein also stimulates fat burning, keeps us feeling full and is great for the hair, skin, nails and our immune function.
Symptoms of not eating enough protein include tiredness and weakness when exercising, as well as frequent injuries that take a long time to heal. Conversely, too much protein is hard on the kidneys and liver, and can have a negative affect on bone density.
Our bodies can only utilise a certain amount of protein, so overdoing it just adds extra kilojoules to your diet, which will be converted into fat if not required.
Top tip: Nike Master Trainer Kirsty Godso suggests mixing magnesium powder into your protein powder to aid muscle recovery after training.
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Which protein is best?
Experts agree that whey protein is the most effective choice because it is easily assimilated by the body and contains all the essential amino acids. Whey protein comes as either a concentrate or isolate. Isolate has been further processed and has more available protein with less fat and carbohydrate. It is more expensive and may lose some of the health benefits of concentrate, but overall it is the best value. Avoid mass gainers and powders with added creatine and fat burners. Always look for 100 per cent whey protein.
If you are vegan or lactose intolerant, soy is a good substitute. It is quickly pulled into the muscle cells and contains all the essential amino acids. Studies have shown, however, that it is not as effective as whey and there has also been a link between some cancers and soy, so use it in moderation.
Pea protein is a complete protein and allergen-free, making it a good choice for people who can't digest whey. It may not be suitable for people who react to fodmaps (starches that some people are unable to break down properly).
While rice is mostly composed of carbohydrate, it contains a small amount of protein. However, it is not a complete protein, so it has to be balanced with other plant proteins. Brown rice protein is hypoallergenic and easily digested, making it an excellent alternative for anyone with a fodmap-sensitive stomach or allergies to soy or dairy.
Egg protein powder is an excellent source of protein. Egg protein powder is lactose-free and contains very minimal amounts of carbohydrate. Make sure it comes from free-range hens and is guaranteed to be salmonella-free.
And the best choice is...
The best choice is 100 per cent whey protein concentrate or isolate. If you are unable to tolerate this, there are lots of alternatives available. Go for a powder that is at least 80 per cent protein and that suits your budget and taste buds.
Remember, supplements are there to supplement a healthy, balanced lifestyle, so always make that your priority.