Protein powder is a powdered form of protein, which is a macronutrient that builds our muscles, tissues, and organs and helps fuel our body. The Mayo Health Clinic recommends that individuals who regularly exercise should consume 1.1-1.7 grams of protein per kilogram of bodyweight every day. In this blog, we’ll discuss when and why you should incorporate protein powder into your diet as well as the different types of powders. Then, we’ll share how you can get creative with your protein powder consumption, brand recommendations, and the role these products should play in your overall nutrition.
When/Why Should I Use Protein Powder?
Most protein powders are generally consumed within 60 minutes of exercising. After a workout, your body begins rebuilding and replenishing everything it just burned. It needs fuel to do this, which makes this an optimal time to consume most protein powders, as they are absorbed quicker than whole food sources of protein like meat or beans. However, there are also some slower-digesting proteins powders that are more beneficial to consume in the evening to support recovery while sleeping. Lastly, if your goal is to increase your total protein intake rather than optimize your recovery, you can consume protein powder at any time throughout the day.
Common Types of Protein Powder
The most common forms of dairy-based protein powders are whey and casein protein. Both come from milk and contain all 9 essential amino acids (which are some of the “building blocks” that make up protein). The main difference between the two is the speed at which they are absorbed by your body. Whey is absorbed quickly, making it a great post-workout option. Casein is digested much more slowly, which will keep you feeling fuller longer and is a better before-bed option. Casein also typically costs more per serving than whey.
If you decide whey protein is the best option for you, consider whether you want whey isolate or whey concentrate. Whey isolate is processed in a way that gives it more protein and less fat, carbs, and lactose per serving than whey concentrate. Because of this, it is more macro-friendly and lactose-intolerant-friendly than whey concentrate, but also more expensive.
For individuals who are lactose intolerant, vegan, or just looking to reduce dairy consumption, there are plenty of plant-based protein powders to choose from. Most are made from brown rice, pea, and/or soy proteins. Seed proteins are often used as well, such as those from pumpkin, sunflower, and/or hemp seeds. While many plant-based protein powders contain all 9 essential amino acids, not all do, so be sure to pick one that does to get maximum benefits!
Ways to Enjoy Protein Powder
You should aim to consume 15-30 grams of protein at a time, regardless of the source of protein. Anything beyond 30 grams at once is not effectively absorbed and therefore unnecessary, as discussed in this Nutrition Tip.
The protein shake is the classic way of consuming protein powder. Simply mix your powder with your liquid of choice. Most people use dairy milk, plant milk, or water. This will be digested the fastest and is great for replenishing protein stores immediately after working out.
The remainder of these suggestions incorporate protein powder into other foods, which will slow its digestion a bit. It will still be a great source of nutrients, but if you are looking for something that your body can access immediately, go for the shake!
Smoothies or Smoothie Bowls
Protein smoothies or smoothie bowls are excellent ways to get a tasty boost of fruits, veggies, and protein. Plus, they are super customizable. You can add any produce, seed or nut butters, plant or dairy milk, coconut water, etc.- the possibilities are endless! Blend everything together to make a smoothie or blend the powder with frozen fruit/veggies and liquid of choice to make the base for a bowl. Finish off your bowl with toppings like fresh fruits, granola, or chopped nuts.
Mix your protein powder into your cooked oatmeal for a protein-packed breakfast. Heads up- the powder will absorb some of the liquid from the oats. Therefore, you may need to add extra water or milk to achieve your optimal oatmeal consistency.
Protein Baked Goods
Protein powder can be added to baked goods to make delicious pastries more nutritious. Here is a great recipe from “The Clean Eating Couple” healthy banana protein muffins. They are gluten-free, full of good fats from coconut oil, and naturally sweetened from the bananas and honey. The recipe also includes instructions for making the muffins vegan, non-gluten-free, and/or lower fat to suit your dietary needs.
Look for a brand that has your desired protein source (dairy vs. plant), 15-30 grams of protein per serving, minimal sugar, and all 9 essential amino acids. Don’t forget to also consider which flavors sound appetizing to you and what fits within your budget. Here are a few highly recommended brands to try:*
Gold Standard 100% Whey Protein Powder is a great whey option for those looking for a gluten-free, mid-priced option. It is a mix of whey isolate and whey concentrate and comes in many flavors.
Ascent Casein Protein Powder is a highly rated choice for anyone interested in casein. This product is soy and gluten-free, contains no added sugars or artificial sweeteners, is mid-priced, and comes in three flavors.
Orgain Organic Vegan Protein Powder is one of the less expensive plant-based options. It is vegan, organic, gluten-free, and soy-free and comes in multiple flavors.
*We receive no benefits by promoting these brands. We just like sharing good products!
Just One Piece of the Puzzle
CrossFit LPF recommends using protein powder as an easy way to increase your protein intake and refuel post-workout. However, it is just one piece of the puzzle that is maintaining a balanced diet. You should be consuming protein from a variety of sources beyond powders, like lean meats, fish, tofu, and beans. Prioritize hitting your daily protein goals through whole foods and use protein powders to supplement. Furthermore, if you need guidance on how to eat to achieve your health, wellness, and performance goals, check out our Nutrition Program! You can never out-train a poor diet, so get creative with good protein sources to make sure that diet is helping you move and feel your best.