Protein 101

Buying protein powder is confusing.  When I first started using protein I would read article after article, trying to sift through all the information regarding protein.  After all my research I’ve concluded that buying protein is more about looking beyond marketing and finding a protein that fits your goals.   

Where to Start?

First, and most importantly, you need to realize that protein is a supplement.  A supplement will not magically make you healthy or help you lose 20 lbs.  A supplement is just that – a supplement, a boost, something that completes or makes an addition to.  Protein powder does exactly what it says.  It will help you consume more protein.   The great thing about protein supplementation is that it helps you get extra protein in a convenient, tasty way.   

I like to breakdown protein marketing into two categories:

  1. Lifestyle

  2. Performance

Lifestyle proteins are meant to start or support a healthy lifestyle.  They will typically contain 10-18 grams of protein per serving but also typically include a range of vitamins and minerals.  They are marketed as meal replacements, typically aimed at individuals trying to lose weight.  Shakeology, Body by Vi, GNC Total Lean, etc. are, what I consider, lifestyle shakes. 

Performance protein supplements typically contain 25-30 grams of protein per serving.  Sometimes they include extra branch chain amino acids (BCAAs) or glutamine.  Performance protein is marketed as a boost to an active person’s diet in order to maintain muscle or support muscular development.  Performance protein includes MetRx, BSN, GNC Pro Performance, Dymatize, Optimum Nutrition, MTS etc… 

In addition to lifestyle vs. performance protein, protein comes from different sources.  These include (but aren’t limited to):

  • Whey concentrate – most basic form, medium absorption, great all-around protein

  • Casein – slow digesting, slow absorption, great before bed

  • Whey isolates – quicker absorption, great for pre- or post-workout

  • Soy – great vegetarian source

  • Hemp – great vegetarian source

What’s Right for Me?  

In order for you to choose a protein you need to ask yourself some questions:

Are you a vegetarian?  If you are a vegetarian I suggest a soy, pea, or hemp protein. sells a few vegetarian options.  For example, Body Nutrition Gardenia sells a pea, hemp, and quinoa protein mix with 20 grams of protein.  (Keep in mind, I'm not a vegetarian and I've never tried their product so I can't comment on the taste.)

Do you desire organic or GMO free products?  Food Babe highlights three products on her site that are free of pesticides, GMOs, and chemicals.  These include Health Force Nutritional’s Warrior Food Extreme, Tera’s Organic Whey, and Nutiva’s Hemp Protein.   These specific protein powders that Food Babe has researched would offer a great Organic, GMO-free boost of protein to any smoothie.  In addition, just because a product markets itself as a “non-GMO soy protein” doesn’t mean it is 100% GMO free.  If maltodextrin or other corn-based ingredients are on the label it’s probably not completely GMO free.

If you answered NO to the questions above I’m going to make your protein decision very easy.  If you are new to protein, no matter what your goals, buy whey protein with 25-30 grams of protein per serving with 120-150 calories per serving. 

Why whey?  Because whey protein will be efficiently absorbed and it will provide you with an adequate amount of protein with the least amount of calories.   If you are new to the protein game, whey protein is a great supplement for weight loss, weight maintenance, or weight/muscle gain. 

I personally feel lifestyle proteins don’t give you the greatest return for your investment.  They are not bad for you, but whey is a simple, affordable option that will serve all your needs, even for weight loss.  For example, if you want to lose weight you need to balance calories consumed with your activity level.  I personally feel, drinking two protein shakes a day isn’t going to be a long-term tool that maintains your weight.  In order to lose weight, a person needs to redefine their relationship with food.  Protein powder can be a part of that process, but it can’t be the magic solution.  If you need to increase your vitamins and minerals, simply take a multivitamin and add more fruits and veggies to your diet. 

More important that the type or brand of protein is timing of protein consumption.  You want to spread your protein consumption evenly throughout your day.    I typically eat 6 small, protein rich meals every day! 

You also want to eat enough protein for your needs.  An article on webMD states:

  • Recreational athletes need 0.5-0.75 grams of protein daily for every per pound of body weight

  • Competitive athletes need 0.6-0.9 grams per pound

  • Teenage athletes need 0.8-0.9 grams per pound

  • Athletes building muscle mass need 0.7-0.9 grams per pound

The maximum amount of protein that most adults can use per day is 0.9 grams per pound of body weight. 

So if you’re an adult athlete who wants to build muscle mass, and you weigh about 175 pounds, the most protein you would need per day is 157.5 grams. That sounds like a lot, but one 4-ounce hamburger contains 40 grams of protein, 6 ounces of tuna has 40 grams, and a single ounce of cheddar cheese has 7 grams.

While WebMD informs us that the body can only efficiently process 0.9 grams of protein per pound of bodyweight, in my personal opinion, (Remember these are opinions!  I have done vast research on this topic but I am not a certified nutritionist or dietician.  If you have special dietary needs you must contact a licensed professional) consuming a slightly higher protein ratio can facilitate the weight-loss process.  First, protein has the highest thermic effect of food.  Thermic effect of food is the amount of calories it takes your body to process and use a nutrient. At 20-35% of calories needed for digestion, protein enables your body to burn more calories simply through digestion.  In addition, a higher protein diet will keep insulin levels more stable, enabling you to feel satisfied longer, thus helping you reduce snacking. 

Nevertheless, states, if you have pre-existing kidney problems, then you definitely want to be a little more careful about adding protein to your diet plan.  But, provided you're an active person in good health, you can safely increase your protein intake.

To Sum Up

After you 1. decide if you want vegetarian, organic or whey protein, and 2. you have calculated and compared your protein needs to your current protein consumption, the next step is just figuring out what flavor and brand you like the most.  For example, I enjoy adding protein to my pancakes and smoothies.  My favorite protein is MTS Machine Whey because I love the taste and it has the best texture for baking and cooking.  In addition, Machine Whey already has BCAAs and glutamine added to their product, so you don't have to purchase them separately.  Feel free to click on my affiliate link to try some today!

I hope this info helped.  Cheers to your next protein shake!!!

If you want to include more protein in your diet STF can design a meal plan for you.

Sweet Potato Pancakes

1 scoop vanilla whey protein powder

4 oz. sweet potato (I use a food scale to measure)

1/3 cup egg whites (I buy a carton of liquid egg whites)

Mix ingredients together.   Heat pan on medium heat.   Pour batter into pan.   Serve with a sliced apple.       Bon Appetite!