Protein is required in your diet to support your overall health and aid with fat loss and muscle gain. “Protein plays a key role in transporting messages around the body, hormone production, cell structure and muscle growth to name a few of its roles,” nutritionist Jenna Hope told us.
If you’ve been working out a lot during lockdown (no judgement if not), it’s likely you’ve become more tuned-in to your body: how fit you feel and the foods you need if you want to perform to your best in your HIIT session. (Read: less wine; more veg and protein).
Ah, protein – the macronutrient we’re all so conscious of. It’s no secret that we need it, but until now, we’ve kind of been guessing why and how much. Anyone else?
According to the NHS and the British Nutrition Foundation, we should intake 0.75g of protein per kilogram of bodyweight a day (that’s around 50 to 60g ). That said, numerous new studies, including one Nutrients paper, suggest that those protein guidelines are too low. Especially if you’re really active. Jenna said: “Regular exercisers may require more protein than sedentary individuals in order to help replenish and repair the torn muscle fibres which occur naturally as a result of exercise. Those engaging in more than 150 minutes of exercise per week require around 1.2-1.5g of protein per kg of their body weight per day. Athletes requirements may vary depending on their sport and training regimes.”
Protein can be consumed through food sources such as meat, fish, eggs, beans, nuts, dairy and seeds – but it can be difficult to achieve protein targets through food alone. Particularly if you’re vegan. The solution? Protein powders – a much more convenient component to add to your diet. Ideal for busy individuals (they can be added to yoghurts, porridge, milk and water), they deliver high amounts of amino acids to your muscles – the building blocks for protein. Taking a protein supplement means you can boost your protein intake without having to binge on the chicken/chickpeas.
Things can get confusing when you start to shop. There are casein protein powders, whey protein powders, hemp powders and soy. So which is best? What should you take if you’re vegan? And what if you lift weights in the gym? Should you take a different protein powder after HIIT to the one you take post-yoga?! SO. MANY. QUESTIONS.
Panic not, ‘cos we’ve got the inside scoop (geddit?). Here, we round-up the main types of protein, what they’re good for and how to take them.
1. Whey Protein Powder
What is whey protein? Promise you won’t be put off if we tell you? Whey protein is actually the liquid bits scraped off of cheese. Yup, gross. But, according to the Journal of Applied Physiology, it’s the most effective protein for your body to use.
Who is it best for? Whey protein is the best protein for high intensity workouts and weight lifting. Jenna told us: “Whey protein is absorbed most quickly and is therefore recommended after a high intensity workout throughout the day.”
Why is it good? The concentration of protein in whey powder is so much higher than any other options – we’re talking 60-70% higher than vegan protein powders. It’s to be expected, since it’s an animal product, but there’s a lot more leucine in it (an amino acid which triggers muscle growth and repair).
When to take it: If you work out a lot, you should have 15g of whey protein before your workout and 15g after. This will get it working faster.
Top tips: If you have a dairy intolerance or you’re so not keen on much dairy, opt for Whey isolate which has had the dairy sugar removed.
Best products: My Protein’s Impact Whey Isolate is just £6.99 for 250 grams and comes in more flavours than we could ever consider beginning to type. It’s low in sugar, vegetarian and low in fat. My Protein also do a peach tea flavour whey isolate which is dairy free and perfect for juicier protein shakes. Bulk Powder has another great offering – their whey powder costs £7.79 and is available in chocolate and strawberry flavours.
2. Pea Protein Powder
What is pea protein? Pea protein is made by extracting the soluble protein from yellow split peas – a pea which is rich in fibre.
Who is it best for? Pea protein is a vegan protein powder, so take it if you prefer to steer clear of animal products. It’s also a good choice if you suffer from bloating.
Why is it good? It’s really high in leucine – the killer ingredient we mentioned above – and as far as protein powders go, this one is up there with the best. In fact, a a study in The Journal of Nutrition found it to be just as effective as whey protein in building muscle mass over a 12 week period.
When to take it: You should take pea protein powder post work-out.
Top tips: Since it’s a little lower in amino acids than its whey counterpart, consider boosting its effectiveness by pairing it with another natural protein. You could add it to oat bran to make a protein porridge.
Best products: There are lots of pea protein products on the market, but the best choices are the My Protein Pea Protein Isolate (£16.99 for 1kg and available in three flavours) – it’s vegan, vegetarian and gluten free – or the Super Pea Protein Isolate from Bulk Powders which comes in at just £6.74 for 500g. Bargain. There’s also the world’ first clear vegan protein blend from My Protein UK – it’s a pea protein, made with real fruits and enriched with vitamins which makes a juice-like lemon and lime protein shake.
3. Casein Protein Powder
What is casein protein? Casein protein is similar to whey in that it is derived from milk and contains all amino acids.
Who is it best for? It’s often favoured among body builders because of its fat-blasting properties and it’s ideal for anyone who wants to get lean.
Why is it good? It’s digested slowly, says Jenna. This means it keeps you feeling fuller for longer. It also stops muscles from breaking down, so you can lose weight without losing muscle.
When to take it: Jenna told us: “Casein is released slowly and is therefore recommended to consume in the evening.” This is supported by a study published in Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise which found that ingesting 40g of casein pre-sleep improved protein repair rates by 22%.
Best products: My Protein’s slow-release casein protein costs £19.99, is available in four flavours and is formulated to work while you sleep. You’ll wake up feeling energised and ready to work out.
4. Hemp Protein Powder
What is hemp protein? Hemp protein is a vegan superfood powder made from ground hemp seeds. Jenna said: “Pea, hemp and brown rice are all vegan sources and tend to contain less protein per 100g than milk-derived protein. None of the vegan sources contain all 9 essential amino acids and therefore it’s recommended to purchase a mixed vegan protein powder.”
Who is it best for? Vegans who are also looking to increase their omega -3 and -6 fatty acid intake.
Why is it good? It has 21 amino acids and quite a high fibre content, too – 8g per 30g scoop.
When to take it: This is down to personal preference and tolerance. Jenna recommends that Casein (keep scrolling for more information) is the only protein you *need* to take at night.
Top tips: There are a couple of downsides to hemp protein, so beware. It can cause bloating because of the high fibre content, and it also doesn’t have optimum amounts of protein in it (despite containing all 21 amino acids). You might want to consider pairing it with something like pea protein to increase your intake of leucine.
Best products: If you decide hemp protein is the powder for you, we recommend the 100% hemp protein powder from My Protein UK.
5. Soy Protein Powder
What is soy protein? Soy protein is a protein that is isolated from the soy bean – soy beans are dehulled and defatted and processed into three types of soy protein: soy flour, concentrates and isolates.
Who is it best for? The fitness fanatics among you. Read: anyone who works out a hell of a lot.
Why is it good? Alongside your protein hit, guzzling a soy protein shake at the end of the workout will give you a boost of vitamins B12 and B6 – which both help eradicate tiredness. Although the health benefits of soy products have been disputed since sales began to soar, recent research has also shown that it can increase bone strength in women, as well as counteracting the negative impacts the menopause has on bones.
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