Protein powder is an incredibly versatile supplement. It can be used pre-workout, post-workout, as a meal replacement, or simply a way to increase your protein intake if you find you’re struggling to get enough. Since most people who workout will use a protein supplement at some point, it’s important to look at the various uses for it, guidelines, and what to look for in a product if you are considering taking it.
protein as a recovery aGent
Without a doubt the most popular use of protein, it is very good for helping recover from workouts. Protein is made up of amino acids, which are the building blocks of the cells in our bodies. When we need to rebuild, whether it be hair, skin, or muscle tissue, we need adequate amino acids available. Protein supplements provide these amino acids that are used for recovery.
The trick is knowing exactly when to take it. Just about all of the protein advertisements out there will tell you that you should be taking it immediately after your workout, during that post-workout window of opportunity. Companies claim that you need to get your protein within 30-60 minutes of finishing a workout, and since protein powders are quickly absorbed, they are the best choice.
However, newer research has shown that this window is actually not that important - ultimately what matters is the total amount of protein consumed in a day. This doesn’t mean there is no benefit to a post-workout shake, only that it’s not as urgent as companies would have you believe.
how much and when
To be safe, here are some basic guidelines for post-workout protein. If you’ve eaten a protein and carbohydrate meal within an hour or two of beginning your session, most of that will still be in your body, so there is no rush. Just eat again within an hour or so.
However, if you haven’t had protein in a while, or you train fasted, it’s probably a good idea to have a shake with 30-50g protein within an hour or so of finishing your workout. Just know that either way, you won’t lose your gains if you skip the shake.
Protein as a food source
While technically a supplement, many consider protein just another food source. After all, it is derived from food, and it contains calories and macronutrients, something most other supplements don’t have.
When using protein as a meal replacement, or to fulfill your macro needs, you have several options. Your first option is to simply mix it with water and drink. This works, sure, and is great if you don’t want to be full, such as when bulking. If staying full is a priority, like when dieting, this may not be your best bet.
If you want the satiating, hunger-fighting effects of protein, you’ll want to turn this into something more substantial than powder and water. The first option would be to blend into a thick shake. You can add water, milk, ice, fruit, peanut butter - the options are endless. This is generally more filling than a plain shake.
Adding it to your meals
You can also add it to food. Flavored proteins go great when mixed with yogurt or oatmeal. There are also many recipes that involve baking with powder - protein pancakes, protein cookies, protein cake, and many more delicious options. This is a great way to add protein to your favorite snacks, if you don’t enjoy plain shakes.
Things to consider when buying
When buying protein, there are a few things to look at on the label. The first is the protein type. Whey protein in it’s various forms will be thin, and quick to digest. This is ideal for baking, and post-workout.
Casein protein, or any sort of blend, will generally be a bit thicker. This can still be turned into a shake, but as it will be slower-digesting, it works best as a meal replacement, or when added to something else to thicken it up.
Lastly, you should be aware of a bad trend in the industry known as amino spiking. While the exposure of this practice, and following lawsuits, has slowed amino spiking down, it is still a problem. When protein nutrition labels are created, the lab tests for nitrogen levels to determine protein content; all good and well.
However, some companies have figured out that by adding amino acids individually, which are not complete protein sources, they can trick the test into thinking the protein content is higher than it really is.
As a consumer, if you pay for 25g of protein per serving, you want 25g of complete protein - you don’t want 10g, with 15g of some random amino acid thrown in. While it’s impossible to tell without a lab test, there are good indicators. Your best bet is to read the ingredients label. You should see proteins listed, some flavors, sweeteners, and preservatives.
If you see any other amino-acids added, that end in “-ine” - taurine, glycine, and creatine are common examples, chances are your protein is spiked. You should also be aware of any labels with “proprietary blend.” Proprietary blend means they don’t have to disclose exact amounts, so if you have a proprietary blend of 4 ingredients, you can bet you’re getting at least 95% of the cheapest one, with just tiny portions of the other ingredients. Always buy labels that are honest.
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