Fitness, Health

Is Protein Powder Necessary?

March 9, 2015

I receive a lot of questions about protein powder; is it necessary, which type of protein powder should I buy and etc. I decided to create this post as a way to answer questions, past, present and future, to settle this issue once and for all (unless some groundbreaking new research comes out which changes everything lol).

Important Questions Regarding Protein Powder

I wanted to get the expertise and opinion of a variety of qualified people. I asked Ben Coomber, performance nutritionist and owner of Body Type Nutrition, Tracy Lockwood, a registered dietitian with a master’s degree in clinical nutrition and Ben Coffin, a personal trainer and a friend of mine. Here is what I asked them:

1. Do you agree with those who claim that protein powder is necessary to accelerate fat loss and/or muscle gain?
2. How does protein powder differ from animal or plant proteins? Is it broken down and used by the body in a similar manner?
3. How can consumers verify ingredients of a brand’s protein powder (since they are so loosely regulated by the FDA)?
4. Would you ever recommend protein powder to a client? If so, why and which type (whey, casein, etc)?
 

Ben Coomber, Performance Nutritionist

Ben Coomber

 1. Not at all, a protein shake is essentially a blended chicken breast, so really it should just be used as a convenience tool to add variety and ease to the diet. 

2. Protein is all used in the same way, the only issue with whey protein is that it may be of a poor quality as quality varies hugely. When choosing poor quality proteins you may as well choose a whole food source instead as you always want to know where your food has come from in your diet. 
 
3. Ask the company, be up front and ask the questions you need to to assess their purity and claims. Any honest company will soon tell you, and you will soon be able to tell when someone is lying. 
 
4. Yes I would, largely for convenience. I would recommend a blend of proteins that have whey concentrate in due to its immune boosting benefits. Whey protein, or alternative proteins, can be great for shakes, smoothies and variety, but it’s definitely not a must have or something that is needed in the diet. 
 
You can contact Ben by visiting his website, Ben Coomber

Tracy Lockwood, Registered Dietitian

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 1) No, there is not enough evidence to show that protein powders are absolutely necessary to accelerate fat loss and/or muscle gain. Food first!

2) Animal proteins offer a more “complete list” of amino acids and adequate amounts of the 9 essential amino acids than plant proteins. Animal proteins (casein, whey) are broken down and used more similarly in the way that we use protein vs plant proteins (soy, chia, hemp).

3) It’s tough to choose a protein powder or supplement because there are bogus and flashy marketing claims on labels instead of sound evidenced based research. Clients should make sure the protein powder contains an even proportion and complete list of amino acids and has the highest quality of protein known as milk proteins (casein and whey). Avoid the protein powders that are colorful as they suggest food dyes and artificial food coloring.

4) I would recommend protein powders to my training athletes or active clients if they can’t obtain an adequate amount of protein from diet alone or don’t have enough time to eat a protein rich meal or snack post work out. I recommend both whey and casein proteins, often flavorless to avoid added sugar. If my clients are looking to build muscles faster and can’t get their high quality protein through diet, I would suggest opting for whey as studies have shown that it contains a larger proportion of BCAA (the amino acids necessary for muscle building) than casein.

Contact Tracy by visiting her website, Tracy Lockwood Nutrition 

Ben Coffin, Personal Trainer

Ben Coffin

1) While I don’t think protein powders are necessary for fast fat loss, I do believe they can quicken the process if used properly. This is due to two reasons: the first is the thermogenic properties of the powders which is the speeding up of metabolism after digesting the mix. The second is how the protein powder helps to maintain and increase lean muscle mass which will quicken metabolism as well

2) The differences between different protein sources vary in the release speed of the protein and the amino acids found in the protein. In a well rounded diet, you should eat many different protein sources to ensure that all the essential amino acids are taken in, so which type of powder you take could relate to deficiencies in your diet (also intolerances such as lactose intolerant people should look more at egg protein and plant protein rather than milk based whey protein).

The intake speed of different protein sources would mostly refer to either isolates or miceller caesin. Isolates are fast releasing and so are a good muscle repair tool for after an intense workout whereas caesin is slow releasing and more suited for overnight muscle synthesis

3) As the regulations are fairly loose it is difficult to gain an accurate picture from the ingredient labels. Despite that most high quality protein producers will have isolates, caesin and protein concentrate in the labels whereas most cheaper brands will only state having protein concentrate. Its best to stick to well known brands such as BSN, USN and ON.

On a side note, I reckon you should add in that regardless of what the goal is, protein for breakfast is massively important and protein powders are an easy way to achieve that. Several articles have stated that a sugary breakfast, like most cereals are, release a chemical from the brain which makes you crave high calorie foods throughout the day. On the flip side, a breakfast of slow releasing carbs with protein releases a separate chemical which will block your cravings for bad foods essentially killing two birds with one stone in terms of fixing an unhealthy diet.

4)  Yes, I always recommend protein powders to clients. In terms of which type, it depends entirely on the client’s goals. I would recommend whey protein and preferably the highest quality they can afford for clients looking for weight loss, the reason for that is the help it will give them in building lean muscle to increase resting metabolism.

For female clients, I usually recommend lean whey protein as the carbs and sugars are lower; it’ll give similar muscle building benefits but as the ideal image between a low fat and trained female compared to a low fat and trained male the clients will reach their ideal shape quicker.

The only type of protein I would not recommend is any hyperbolic or anabolic mass gainer protein. These types are always packed full of carbs and sugars to spike calories with the end goal being size gain. In order to gain size a client would be far better of eating the calories in a healthy clean diet rather than in shake of

Ben can be contacted at Ben.g.coffin@hotmail.com

What do you think?

Now that you have insight from three highly qualified individuals, I want to let you all sound off. Do you agree with what has been said above or do you disagree?

I hope you have all found this blog post helpful and educational. Protein powder is a complex and controversial topic which everyone seems to have an opinion on so I believe it is important you get the facts from qualified sources 🙂

Honestly yours,
Alice

Thank you for always supporting me! For more Honestly Fitness, check out my InstagramFacebookTwitter & Pinterest.

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  • emi March 9, 2015 at 4:02 pm

    you are such an expert! i always wonder about protein powder when i see the shakes at the gym … loved learning more here! thanks for your nice words about the new design, you made my day! 🙂 xoxooxo

    xo welltraveledwife.com

    • Honestly Fitness March 12, 2015 at 11:34 am

      You are too kind, Emi, and glad you got to learn more about protein powder here! You in turn made my day for visiting and taking the time to read this post 🙂 xxx

  • Cassie March 10, 2015 at 8:52 am

    Fantastic advice!

  • Mari Kristin March 10, 2015 at 3:01 pm

    Great post! I find this particularly interesting because of the current hype over protein, and how everything has added protein as it is seemingly a ‘universal good’. I worry about these kinds hypes, as there are few concrete (and by that I mean reliable and representative) studies on proteins’ long-term effect on the human body. Both positive and negative. When someone uncritically shoves protein powder into every meal for the sake of the non-agreed upon ‘positives’, I worry about the (also non-agreed upon) negatives…

    • Honestly Fitness March 12, 2015 at 11:33 am

      Thank you, Mari! There have been many studies over protein and its benefits to the human body, but as you said not on protein supplements such as protein powder. Unfortunately, the media has portrayed protein (in any form) as a ‘the more the better’ despite most men and women only needing around 80g-100g per day from a variety of sources such as beans, grains and meats.

  • Chelsea March 11, 2015 at 7:58 am

    To the poster above me (and anyone else who doesn’t know why we need enough protein every single day), I just wanted to pass this along:

    http://www.dummies.com/how-to/content/why-you-need-protein-in-your-diet.html

    While we don’t need protein “supplements”, I hope you understand that massive studies have proven that protein’s long-term effect = good health, cell production, and a plethora of other positives.

    • Honestly Fitness March 12, 2015 at 11:35 am

      Thank you for linking that article, Chelsea! Protein is definitely an essential macronutrient although I believe Mari was getting at the fact that so many people believe that the more protein (in any form) the better.

    • Mari March 16, 2015 at 2:22 pm

      Hi Chelsea,

      Alice did know what I meant. I agree that protein is important as we all know, but it is the ‘necessity’ of adding protein to everything we consume I worry about. Too much protein has recently been linked to cancer (http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S155041311400062X, with plant-derived protein being considered slightly ‘safer’) which is why I wish for more sobriety in the presentation of protein as a ‘the more the better’ argument 🙂

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