Jan 24th, 2012
By Connie Moreno
Deciding which protein powder to use can be a very intimidating and confusing process. Last night, as I perused the protein powder selection at our local Whole Foods, I couldn’t help but feel a little overwhelmed by the sheer number of various brands and types of powders. I can see why a lot of people come to me with questions about which ones are best, when to use, what to look for, etc.
How to Incorporate Protein Powders Into Your Diet
In my opinion, powders should be used to supplement your already healthy diet. A high-quality protein powder can provide an additional boost of amino acids, vitamins, and essential fats but it’s not to replace eating REAL food. All protein powders are processed and are therefore somewhat denatured making them suboptimal sources of proteins and nutrients when compared to a whole foods like a steak and fish. I’m a huge advocate of eating real food, and whenever possible, I think it’s better to meet your protein needs by chowing down on some real, honest to goodness animal meat. Sorry, folks, you just can’t outsmart mother nature.
Who Should Use Them
If you’re already eating a healthy diet, then you probably don’t need to bother with protein powders. However, I have found them to be particularly helpful in the case of:
- individuals with compromised digestion
- individuals recovering from a serious illness
- individuals under tremendous amounts of stress
For athletes, the best time to use them is immediately following a workout–preferably within 10 min and certainly within 30 min of calling "time!" This brief window of time is when the body can better absorb the food you ingest, making it ideal for replenishing vital nutrients and energy stores. This is key in improving recovery time post workout and priming your body for your next trip to the gym.
Also, because too much stress (in any form) puts a huge strain on the body, a protein supplement may be incredibly helpful in speeding up recovery and supporting a healthy immune system, particularly for those with compromised health or poor digestion.
What to Avoid
As most of you know already, the list of ingredients on a food label are listed according to how much of that ingredient is in the food. In other words, the ingredient that makes up the majority of the food will be at the top of the list, and the one in the least amount is listed last. Therefore, if the first ingredient is sugar (a word ending in the suffix ose), then you know you are mostly getting a glass full of sugar. Sugar/carbs a great post workout but don’t waste your money on expensive protein powders when you could just as easily have some fresh OJ.
Next, avoid protein powders with a long list of ingredients. This is true for any food that you eat. You should also be on the look out for ingredients that you can’t pronounce or that you don’t recognize as food. I would also caution you on products containing "natural and artificial flavorings" which are chemical additives that are made in laboratories, and not necessarily safe or "natural."
Lastly, avoid powders with vegetable oils as these are likely to be genetically modified and/or trans fats. Again, ingredients should be easily identify as FOOD and don’t need to be "hydrolized, "hydrogenated" or undergo any other processing to make it edible.
What to Look For
High quality protein powders are going to be more expensive. There’s no way around it, if you want a good product without a lot of fillers, you have to be willing to shell out a little more money. As long as you can tolerate dairy, I’d say whey is the way to go (no pun intended). I like that it’s easily digestible and absorbable and has a plethora of health benefits. If you’re going to use whey, be sure that the milk is from grass-fed cows. Also, choose whey that is "undenatured" as this means that it is processed at very low temps, preventing the fragile fats and proteins from becoming damaged. Whey protein powders typically come in "concentrate" form or as "protein isolates" and there’s a lot of controversy over which one is better. The concentrates are not as processed, so I tend to prefer these over the isolates, even though these tend to be higher in protein. I don’t get any money from this company but I think "Designs for Health Whey Cool" is one of the best retail powders I’ve seen. It’s made using 100% grass-fed whey and has been very minimally processed.
This post is getting too long so I’m just going to list some of my favorites: rice, pea, and hempseed. Rice is kinda chalky, but has a milder flavor and tends for be the least problematic for people with food allergies or sensitivities.
Final Word Read More
Mix it up. You should rotate between a few powders so that you’re getting a nice variety of nutrients and so that you don’t develop an allergy. Also, whatever you’re using, it should go into the blender LAST and you should really only pulse it in a few times to keep all the good stuff intact.