In a world of well marketed nutrition supplements, it can be tough to determine what is necessary and what will leave you with nothing more than a lighter wallet and expensive urine! Protein powders can be particularly hard to figure out, as there are so many different types. Firstly, let's look at them as a whole, and then discuss the different types.
Again, these powders are not “magic” and offer a great benefit to both men and women, children to the elderly and those performing at virtually all levels of activity. In fact, the past several decades of research have moved more away from how protein powders can benefit exercise/competition recovery, performance as well as an athlete’s body composition (as these are all well and truly backed with a great deal of “ehhh yes it can”) and are now more focused on; addressing and reducing sarcopenia (age related muscle loss), addressing third world malnutrition and improving weight loss results and sustainability.
Are they necessary?
The research shows that if a healthy adult is eating adequate protein from food, adding in a protein powder is unnecessary. The rule of thumb for protein target for an individual aiming to gain lean mass is 1.6-2g/kg bodyweight of protein per day. This means for a 80kg male, 160g protein per day is considered sufficient to maximise muscle recovery and growth. For some individuals, this amount of protein may be difficult (and expensive!) to consume. In this instance, protein powders can be added in as a supplement to reach this protein target.
Protein powders are more food stuff than supplement and, to this point, offer one of the best protein : kcal ratio. For example, if you're aiming to consume 30g of protein in a meal, this would typically be one average chicken breast, around 100 - 110g and approximately 210 - 240 kcals. Comparatively, a high quality protein powder, would only require a serving typically around 38 - 45g of actual powder and would be in around 110 - 120kcals. Protein powder is therefore a great alternative for those with restricted calorie intakes or simply looking to use the “saved” kcals elsewhere that day (going out for a meal, certain snacks etc).
There are a variety of forms of these powder, which can sometimes confuse and intimidate individuals needing to select the correct, yet reputable and reliable product/brand.
Whey is the most common form of protein powder and is found in three forms; concentrate, isolate and hydrolysed whey. Whey concentrate is the “original” protein powder, offering a complete protein, rich in leucine and the other BCAAs and typically falling into a ratio of 65 - 80% protein. Whey is