It can sometimes feel like everywhere you look, people are drinking protein smoothies or chowing down on protein pancakes. With so many different protein powder options out there, how are you supposed to know which one is right for you? Or if you even need it at all? Let’s take a closer look at the ever-popular protein powder.
Firstly, what is protein and why do we need it?
Protein is one of three macronutrients, with the other two being carbohydrates and fats. Protein plays a key role in our growth, digestion and tissue repair. Often associated with being the building block of muscle, protein is composed of 20 amino acids, of which 9 cannot be synthesised in the body and need to be consumed in your diet. When it comes to muscle building, there is one amino acid that stands out amongst the rest - leucine, which is responsible for the signalling of protein synthesis or the conversion of protein into muscle.
High-protein foods are essential when it comes to supporting your health and fitness goals. Our bodies need protein to function so it’s important to get enough of it! While our bodies need micronutrients like vitamins and minerals in smaller amounts, protein is something we need in larger quantities. Many protein-rich foods also contain other vital nutrients, such as B group vitamins, selenium, choline, phosphorus, zinc, copper, vitamin D, vitamin A, and vitamin E. Eating enough protein throughout your day ensures more satisfying food choices that will help you feel energised and stay fuller for longer—which may also help minimise between-meal grazing.
How much protein you need each day depends on your activity level. If you’re at the sedentary, less active end of the scale, you will require less protein due to less repair work needed. Whereas if you have a very active and intense lifestyle, a higher protein intake is recommended to repair body tissues and aid muscle growth. Typically, the sweet spot of daily intake is around 1.5-2.5g of protein per kilogram of total body weight. Adequate protein intake works hand in hand with a structured training program, giving your body the tools it needs to recover, progress and ultimately lead to those lean muscle gains you’re after.
Did you know you can determine your macros using our FREE Macro Calculator? Our macro calculator uses our tried and tested formulas to determine custom macros relevant to your activity level and lifestyle. Taking your personal preferences, fitness level, and abilities into consideration, the calculator is an accurate means of finding out the perfect calorie and macronutrient breakdown for you and your goals.
Do I need protein powder daily?
If you are eating a whole foods diet with plenty of veggies, fruit, whole grains, lean meats and fish, legumes, nuts and seeds - and you are eating enough! - it is most likely that you're hitting your protein requirements. Therefore, no, protein powders are definitely not a requirement.
However, there are a few reasons why you might be inclined to add protein powder into your diet:
- You struggle to eat enough calories or hit your protein target. Adding protein powder into recipes or chucking into a smoothie can be a great way to add in extra energy without having to increase the volume of what you're eating.
- You have a high training volume. This means you will have a high energy, and also protein, requirement.
- You need a quick and easy source of protein. Protein powder is easy to take on the go, quick to prepare, and is versatile so you can easily add it to a range of recipes.
- You love the taste. Protein powder makes smoothies super creamy, satisfying and filling, as well as adding a different flavour. Protein powder can also be great to add extra flavour to other snacks for on the go.
How do I choose a protein powder?
The most important thing to look at when choosing a protein powder is the quality of the powder. Your first question should be ‘What’s in it?’. Look out for any added sugars, fillers and thickeners and artificial ingredients, such as flavours, sweeteners and preservatives. Instead, choose protein powders with all natural, wholesome ingredients. These days, most will also include a few 'superfoods' or all-natural flavouring ingredients, such as stevia, vanilla bean powder, cinnamon, cacao powder, maca powder, etc. Our personal preference when it comes to protein powders? Our coaches choose Happy Way protein, not only for their variety of flavours, but also because of their natural and high-quality ingredients.
Protein powders can be derived from dairy, eggs, rice, soybeans or peas. When it comes to choosing protein powders, it all comes down to your preference, allergies or intolerances, and diet. Whey protein is the most common type of protein powder and is derived from dairy products. Protein powders suitable for a plant-based diet include soy protein powder, pea protein powder, rice protein powder and hemp protein powder.
When should I have protein powder?
Studies show that it is much more beneficial for muscle growth and maintenance to spread out protein intake throughout the day (roughly 20g every few hours), rather than having a large hit in one go by loading up on protein powder, and then not having much protein the rest of the day.
Ideally, post-workout is the best time to refuel with carbs and protein. We recommend adding a serve of a good quality protein powder to your daily post-workout smoothie, oats or snack.
Remember not to overdo it with your protein intake. Having too much isn't good for you. The extra protein that isn't used by the body just gets excreted and places strain on the kidneys to eliminate the breakdown products. Determine your ideal daily protein needs using our Macro Calculator.
While protein powder isn’t essential to your diet, especially if you are eating a whole food diet and eating enough, it can be beneficial if you are struggling to hit your daily protein intake and/or want an added protein boost in your smoothies or foods.
Here are some of our favourite recipes featuring protein powder:
- Happy Hormones Protein Balls
- Chocolate Protein Mousse
- Pink Protein Pancakes
- Mint Chocolate Smoothie
- Strawberry Nicecream
- Green Smoothie Bowl
Do you use protein powder? If so, what’s your favourite protein powder recipe? Share with us in the comments below!