As aspiring bodybuilders, you’ll all no doubt almost certainly be well aware of just how beneficial the macronutrient protein actually is, but just in case, let’s recap. Protein is an essential macronutrient, one of three, the other two being fat and carbohydrates, that plays an essential role in so many different functions and processes within your body on a cellular level. It is essential for cellular health, repair, function, and regeneration, and it is vital for the growth and repair of muscle tissue. Put simply, without adequate amounts of protein, you simply won’t build as much muscle as you would have hoped.
Naturally many bodybuilders, as well as keen fitness enthusiasts as well, incorporate plenty of protein into their daily diets, consuming at least 1.5 grams per pound of bodyweight, though many of them go even higher at 2 grams per pound of bodyweight. Because of this, getting enough protein per day is actually far more difficult than you may have initially imagined. Although there are many vegan and vegetarian bodybuilders in the world, who get their protein from plant-based sources such as soya, most bodybuilders will get their protein from whole foods including meat, nuts, seeds, fish, seafood, and eggs. However, sometimes getting your protein from a whole food source isn’t enough, or is perhaps too expensive, or just not practical/possible at that present moment in time. In situations such as these, a protein powder supplement comes in very handy indeed. Protein powder supplements are like godsends for bodybuilders, yet they’re far more complex than you may have realised. Here we’ll be taking an in-depth look at protein powder supplements, to help make choosing, using, and benefitting from these supplements as simple and as straightforward for you as we possibly can.
What are the different types of popular protein powder?
Protein powder supplements are the most popular and best-selling supplements in the entire world, so naturally there is plenty to choose from. We won’t be listing them all as that would take forever, but we will now take a look at some examples of the most popular protein powder supplements.
Whey protein concentrate – Whey protein is a natural derivative of dairy, as it is formed when milk separates into cheese. As the milk separates, it forms curds (solids) and whey (liquid). The whey liquid is where whey protein powder comes from. It is then taken off, filtered, processed, and undergoes various treatments, until it becomes protein powder. Whey protein concentrate is around 85% pure protein, with the other 15% coming in the form of fats and carbohydrates. Whey protein concentrate is actually the most popular protein supplement currently available. This protein is a fast-digesting, fast absorbing protein, making it ideal for post-workout nutrition.
Whey protein isolate – Next up you have whey protein isolate, which is exactly the same as whey concentrate, except it is more heavily filtered and processed, so that more fats and carbohydrates are removed, leaving you with a much purer source of protein, which means more pure protein per serving. Whey protein isolate is around 95% pure protein, and because of this, it is more expensive, though many say it’s worth it.
Casein protein – Whereas whey protein is a fast digesting, fast absorbing protein, casein protein is slow digesting, slow absorbing protein which is still extremely popular. It too comes from dairy as it is derived from milk, though casein protein is derived from the solids rather than the liquids which form when milk is turned to cheese. Casein protein is best used directly before going to bed, because as it’s so slow to digest and breakdown, it releases a steady stream of protein and amino acids into the body whilst you sleep, keeping your body in an anabolic state and preventing muscle loss.
What to consider when buying a protein supplement
If you walk into any health or supplement store, or browse any online supplement store and simply look for ‘protein’ the amount of different options you’re faced with will make your head hurt because there is that much to choose from. This can be pretty daunting for people not too familiar with the supplement industry and so to help make things a little easier, take a look at these examples of what to consider when buying a protein supplement:
Taste – Although protein powders are designed to serve a purpose and help build muscle, there’s no law stating that we can’t still enjoy the taste as we drink them. In the early days, protein powders came in three flavours, which were typically: chocolate, strawberry, and vanilla. Nowadays however, things are very different as there are so many different flavours to choose from that listing them all would figuratively take an age. A few examples of what you can expect, are: Cookies and cream. Strawberry cheesecake, Bakewell tart, Mint Choc Chip, Chocolate fudge brownie, vanilla custard etc… Of course, the old favourites such as vanilla, strawberry, and chocolate are still available, and you can even opt for flavourless if you like. If you enjoy chocolate fudge for example, chocolate fudge brownie may be ideal. Just remember that different manufacturers use different flavourings, so one company’s chocolate protein may taste divine, whilst another’s chocolate protein may taste rancid. Find a taste that works for you, avoid flavours you don’t enjoy, and hey presto.
Look for high-grade protein – You’ve heard the expression, “if you pay peanuts, you can expect monkeys” and the same applies when buying. Of course you can find competitively priced protein, but if you find a cheap, low-grade protein, avoid it because it will be packed full of fillers and artificial nastiness, and truthfully it won’t be able to provide your body with what it requires. Look for protein from trusted companies, read the ingredients, and look for protein which is at least 85% pure.
Try before you buy – If you’re not sure whether or not you’ll like the taste of a protein, or indeed you’re not sure how it will affect your body, try sample packs if possible, or go for smaller serving sizes before you commit to large ones. It’s all well and good buying a 6lb tub of protein that was on sale, but if you find yourself hating the taste and feeling bloated and gassy after drinking it, that money would have been much better spent on a product that you enjoy drinking and that doesn’t make you feel bloated and gassy.
Don’t expect miracles – Some people new to protein supplements literally expect the world when they buy them and start using them for the first time. They’ll train well, eat well, and use the supplement as instructed, and will make a little progress and a few slight improvements to their physiques as a result. However, these changes will only be minor and will barely be noticeable and so people quickly write them off as a waste of money. Building muscle is tough, it takes months, even years, and if you think that using a protein powder for a few weeks is suddenly going to transform your body, you’re very much mistaken.
Mixing – Another common debate that people have is what to mix their protein powder with. The two most obvious answers are water or milk. Just be wary that mixing with milk will slow down the digestion/absorption rate of the protein, even whey, so avoid milk for post-workout shakes. Other than that, unless you’re training to be Mr Olympia, it really doesn’t matter too much, plus mixing with milk will make it richer, thicker, and tastier.
Using protein powders effectively
Now that you know what to consider before buying and have hopefully chosen your protein, let’s take a look at how you can use them effectively to get the best results, not to mention the best value for money.
Don’t rely on protein supplements – Remember, protein supplements are designed to be just that, a product used to SUPPLEMENT a healthy diet and nutritional plan. Because of this, you should not rely on them for your protein intake as whole food is always better than supplements. Aim for a maximum of shakes per day, with one of those coming immediately after you workout.
Use them at the right times – Not only is getting enough protein into your system important, getting enough protein into your system at the right time is just as important as well. For post-workout nutrition for example, drink a whey protein shake with water, immediately after your workout to help replenish glycogen levels and flood nutrients into your now empty muscle cells. To prevent muscle catabolism, (wastage) drink a slow-release casein protein shake right before bed.
Don’t exceed the stated dosage – One common mistake that people tend to make with protein supplements, is to add an extra scoop on top of the recommended serving size, to help increase the amount of protein they consume to help meet their daily macro targets quicker. The human body can only absorb around 35g of protein in one sitting, so adding an extra scoop and taking you up to around 50g of protein will basically mean you’re wasting protein because the body won’t be able to utilize it all in time. Not only that, but too much protein in one go can harm the internal organs, namely the kidneys and the liver.