How You Can Use The Best Protein Powders to Drop Those Pounds for Good
When we say ‘protein powder,’ it seems pretty obvious what it does. However, a quick look at the powder section of a store can make any beginner get lost in no time.
Just like any other product, this market is full of deceiving ads and harmful products wearing the mask of healthy ingredients. Furthermore, how much do we know about this domain anyway? How are powders made and what do their labels really tell us?
If you want to include this product into your daily routine, it’s time to embark on a one-destination journey: choosing the best protein powder for you.
Does protein help people lose weight?
As a basic building block for muscle repair and hormone balance, protein plays a major role in the weight loss process. Although protein gets to your stomach first, it first impacts your brain.
Our mind uses the hypothalamus area to decide when it’s time to eat and when you’ve had enough food. These decisions are based on your hormone levels – and that’s when protein steps in.
Whenever you consume protein-rich foods, your levels of appetite-reducing hormones increase dramatically. Meanwhile, ghrelin, the hormone that triggers hunger, is reduced. This shift in hormone production helps you maintain a healthy diet, avoid cravings and keep your meals well-proportioned. Simply said, you end up consuming fewer calories by eating! (1)
One of the most basic ways our bodies consume calories is through the digestion process itself. This process is known as the thermic effect of food (TEF).
How your body burns calories effectively
One study conducted by the Nutrition & Metabolism laboratory of London on male and female subjects examined the effects of different types of meals on the metabolic rate, as well as the TEF. As research proved, the diet-induced thermogenesis varies a lot depending on the type of nutrients subjects ate. (2)
Overall, protein has a much higher TEF (30%) in comparison with carbs (5%) and fat (0-3%). In other words, your body burns plenty of calories just by digesting protein, which is a notable help for weight loss.
Unfortunately, weight loss doesn’t mean just getting rid of useless fat; if that were the case, we’d all look toned just by skipping dessert! When we lose weight, we lose body fat and muscle mass almost equally. Protein helps us preserve (or grow) muscle mass, especially if you work out constantly too. (3)
Another secondary downside of weight loss is that it decreases your metabolic rate. Therefore, your body naturally burns fewer calories than it did before losing weight – an effect called the ‘starvation mode.’ Maintaining a high protein intake daily can keep your metabolic rate high to boost the fat burning process.
Does it prevent weight gain?
Naturally, the same process that helps you lose weight also increases the chances of maintaining that lean body on the long run. Consuming higher amounts of protein at the right time of the day prevents cravings; thus, you will naturally eat less and have a controlled diet. Of course, if you continue to work out constantly and keep a healthy lifestyle, your chances of gaining weight are close to none.
Are there any risks in overdosing protein?
As it happens with most things in life, too much protein comes with a range of health risks. It’s important to remember that a high-protein diet doesn’t mean you have to eat only protein every day; it’s more about eating just enough amino acids to support weight loss and muscle gain.
A study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine found that high protein consumption could affect kidney functions – especially when it comes to animal protein. However, the same study proved that the kidney functions are altered only for those who already suffer from some sort of kidney illnesses. (4)
Consuming too much protein may also be a source of digestion-related health problems such as constipation and diarrhea, particularly for lactose-intolerant people who consume animal-sourced protein. Furthermore, eating too much protein can also lead to long-term weight gain. These are just some of the main reasons why overdosing protein is never a good idea. As for how much protein is enough for you, we’ll get to that too in a minute.
Does protein control blood sugar levels?
Many people mistakenly see sugar as their enemy in the weight loss battle. However, keeping your blood sugar levels within normal limits is a key element to being healthy. As our primary source of energy, glucose is released whenever we eat carbohydrates. Whether it’s chocolate cake or quinoa, your body reacts by updating blood sugar levels.
However, it’s easy for glucose to go up and down depending on what we eat. That’s exactly why we need insulin. Whenever we eat sugar, the pancreas releases this hormone to keep our blood sugar levels normal. This process gives us energy throughout the day and prevents us from experiencing a sugar overdose.
But if insulin controls glucose, then what controls insulin?
Protein increases insulin production, much like glucose does. Therefore, when we eat protein-rich foods, we also regulate our glucose levels. In fact, a study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition examined what happens if we eat whey protein in a high-sugar meal. Results showed that participants with type-2 diabetes had lower blood sugar levels than if they didn’t consume any whey. (5)
Overall, consuming high-quality protein sources can help us regulate our glucose levels and, consequently, our energy levels too.
Is calorie management relevant for weight loss?
Most people think that counting calories is the key habit to losing weight. However, it doesn’t really work that way.
Calories can come from a wide variety of sources. Although a calorie is still a calorie at its core, our body processes macronutrients very differently. After all, it’s one thing when you eat a muffin and another when you eat a fruit salad – although they may have the exact same number of calories. (6)
Furthermore, if calories were the only thing we took into account, we could spend every day eating only 2,000 calories-worth of pizza, right?
Every type of food we eat triggers a different response in terms of digestion and hormone production. That’s exactly why your priority should be what and when you eat, not how many calories it contains. Considering the major influence of protein on insulin and blood sugar levels, for instance, it might be smarter to check the content of your meal before calculating its calorie number.
Should I know my metabolic rate to manage my weight?
Even if we do keep track on the amount of calories we ingest, taking fitness trainers as an example might not be the smartest idea. Former body-builder Arnold Schwarzenegger, for example, was consuming 250 grams of pure protein every single day. Although he may be a model in terms of physical shape for many, a beginner would pretty much get sick from eating the same amount.
Each of us has unique physical needs, which means we all need a different number of calories. Calculating your basal metabolic rate is a great way of finding out how your body feels most comfortable in terms of daily calorie ingestion.
Your metabolic rate is basically how fast your body naturally burns calories. This number is different for every person and it can be a good indicator on how many calories you actually need (at least better than media suggestions!). This calculator is an acccurate way of finding out your metabolic rate right at home.
How to eat for a good insulin response control
As we discovered earlier, we can manage our insulin production and therefore control the way blood sugar is turned into energy. Protein has a major influence on this matter – but not all protein is the same.
There are three sources of protein available for us: meat, dairy and vegetable. Each of them triggers a different insulin response. Research shows that whey protein, which comes from milk, has the biggest impact on insulin production.
There are many factors that can increase or decrease the effect of protein
over our body – and the most important ones are time and dosage.
Depending on its source, protein powder can be digested slowly or quickly. For example, whey is a fast-acting protein that gives you an energy boost quickly; that’s why it’s best to consume it right before a workout.
Slow-digesting protein like casein, on the other hand, takes longer to be processed by the body. Each of these options impacts your insulin level – it just takes a different amount of time until it happens.
Regardless of what you choose, keep one thing in mind: protein overdose is not a good idea. But how can you tell when you’ve had enough… or not?
Protein dosage signs: too much or two low
Drinking a protein shake is a matter of minutes and preparing it is even faster. Knowing that it’s a quick way of being healthier, many people fall in the trap of consuming more than they really need.
Unless your schedule was established by a professional nutritionist, though, it’s hard to tell when you’ve had too much.
Here are a couple of signs to look out for:
Digestive discomfort. It might be the pasta you ate last night. However, if you’ve been experiencing bloating or constipation since you increased your protein dose, it might be time to cut down a bit or try a different protein source. Sometimes switching from milk-sourced protein to vegan sources such as hemp, pea or rice can make a difference.
Excessive thirst. The fact that you’re drinking more water than usual may make you happy. Being strangely thirsty, though, may also be a kidney response as your organs are struggling to clean up the excess protein you’re giving them.
Weight gain. Protein can equally be a friend or foe depending how you use it. If you’ve been struggling to lose those pounds but instead you’re gaining some, it might be because of excessive protein consumption.
Protein deficiency signs
But there’s the other side of the coin. There are many causes (such as fear of gaining weight or a scanty diet type) that can make people get too little protein in their system. If you’ve been experiencing these symptoms, amino acid deficiency may be the reason.
Muscle/Joint pain. They call them ‘essential amino acids’ for a reason: protein is the key to muscle and joint recovery. When your body doesn’t get enough, it will let you know in a not-so-pleasant way!
Sweets cravings. You think if you lacked protein, you’d crave eggs or meat. However, keep in mind that amino acids regulate blood sugar levels – so when it’s not there, your glucose is all over the place. That tricks your body into asking for even more sweet foods.
Getting sick often. Aside from insulin regulation, protein also helps you develop a strong immune system. If you feel you’re more sensitive than before, amino acid deficiency could be a reason.
Generally, if you maintain a balanced diet and use protein powder the right way, things shouldn’t go out of hand. Even so, managing your daily dose of amino acids isn’t all it takes to reach your weight loss goals.
It’s not just about being in the right place; it’s about being at the right time.
Protein intake timing
Because it helps us stay healthy in so many ways, consuming protein is always a good idea. However, when it comes to protein powder, there are a few factors to consider; let’s get into details.
Slow vs. fast digesting protein powders
Is the powder you chose slowly or quickly digested by the body? This criterium plays a major role in how your system reacts to the shake.
Some protein sources are being processed slower than others. During digestion, your body focuses the blood flow on the stomach area to support the extra effort going on in that area. If you take a slowly-digesting protein powder, taking it right before a workout isn’t the best idea.
But taking fast-digesting protein right after gym isn’t a good plan either. Some types of protein are so quickly processed, your muscles can only use a small part of it before it’s being completely digested.
Bottom line, it’s best to take quickly-digested shakes before working out and save slowly-digested protein powders for afterwards.
Protein powder sources
Another major factor of influence on protein intake is its origin. Here are the general guidelines on taking powder depending on the source:
Whey: This option gives your muscles a quick boost of energy, which makes it perfect as a pre-workout shake.
Casein: The ideal moment for this source is after working out, as it’s slowly digesting. Studies proved that it takes up to 48 hours for the muscle tissue to recover, which makes this protein type ideal.
Soy: Because of its high glutamine content, soy works great as a midday snack that keeps hunger at bay between the main meals of the day.
Egg: Due to its low cholesterol number, egg protein is often seen as a great option for any time of the day. It’s absorbed quicker than casein, but slower than whey.
Protein blends: Many powder options combine multiple sources for increased benefits over time. Choosing this option is great for post-workout shakes as it has everything your muscles need to recover. It’s ideal to drink this shake somewhere during 1 pm and 4 pm so the energy spreads throughout the entire day.
If you’re interested in more protein types and their benefits, we’ll get to that in a minute.
The Recommended Dietary Intake (RDI) of protein
As the Institute of Medicine found, the Recommended Dietary Allowance for protein is of 0.8 grams per kilogram of body weight every day. However, you shouldn’t take this as your diet goal for a number of reasons. (7)
First of all, this is the minimum amount normal adults need to stay healthy, so it’s best to keep your limits above 0.8 grams per day.
Secondly, this is only a general recommendation because every person’s needs are influenced by their weight, training style and weight loss goals. (8)
For example, someone who trains five times a week and weighs 250 pounds can use considerably more protein than a 5-foot person with a sedentary lifestyle.
The first step towards figuring out the right dosage is to take a look at your usual diet and workout level. If you’re a beginner, you can feel free to experiment a bit at first in terms of dosage and timing. However, make sure to avoid any exaggerations and keep a close eye on the possible overdose symptoms mentioned above.
Even so, there are some special instances where the protein dosage is different.
Specific situations that increase the RDI
One of the most important factors that makes the difference in protein usage is workout frequency.
According to PhD Moodi Dennaoui, “the more intense and frequent the training is, the more muscle mass an individual carries, the more protein that individual is required to consume in order to recover and progress. The more resistance-based the training is the higher the protein requirement becomes.”
Endurance athletes, for example, need up to 1.6 g per kg of body weight to support a more rapid muscle growth rate. Depending on the type of workout and other details, the recommended dose can reach even 2 g per kg of body weight on a daily basis.
Special instances that may require extra protein include:
- Recovering from an injury or medical procedure
- Changing to a vegan lifestyle
- Trying to gain weight
Matching a powder to your needs and goals
Truth be told, protein powder is not a must for everyone. “No one really needs protein powder. But if you’re not getting enough protein through food or you need protein sources that are portable, easy, and quick, then protein powder is a good option,” says Heather Mangieri, MS, NS, spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.
In other words, if you have specific goals regarding weight loss and/or muscle gain, getting all the amino acids you need is essential. As Ph.D. Mike Roussell admits, it’s almost impossible for an active person to get the protein required in a day without the help of a protein supplement (such as powder).
- Your diet type;
- Your workout level;
- Any intolerances or allergies you may have;
* Many consumers turn out to be lactose-intolerant,
which makes them avoid dairy-originated powders.
- Your lifestyle preferences;
* Vegans, for instance, will want to avoid
animal-originated powders such as whey.
Each of these aspects varies from one consumer to another. However, there’s one thing everyone should consider: do we want our powder to be complete or incomplete?
What are complete and incomplete protein powders?
Protein is made of 21 different amino acids, all of which matter to support our body functions and immune system. Of this total number, there are 9 essential amino acids. They are labeled as ‘essential’ because our body can’t produce them on its own – whereas we can naturally make and use the other ones.
Complete protein contains all the essential amino acids and incomplete protein lacks one or more of them. Regardless of your weight loss goals and lifestyle, giving your body every nutrient it needs is, just as the name suggests, essential.
Now, protein can come from a wide variety of sources and this determines whether the powder is complete or not. Many options combine two or more protein sources to maximize the benefits each of them offers.
Protein types and origins
With so many options available on the market, choosing the right product becomes increasingly challenging. One of the most significant ways to set a difference in powders is their origin.
Like any other product, each protein type has its pros and cons. Let’s figure the most popular options out:
This is the most popular supplement on the market today. Originated from milk, the product comes in three options: concentrate, isolate and a hydrolyzed type. It’s a fast-acting protein, meaning it’s absorbed and used by the body quickly. Furthermore, it contains all the amino acids required for post-workout recovery. (9)
Pros: Studies already proved that whey boosts your cardiovascular health while supporting protein muscle synthesis. Due to its popularity, this powder can be found in many flavors and comes at a decent price depending on which type you choose.
Cons: Whey is originated from milk, so its least processed type – the concentrate – isn’t recommended to lactose-intolerant people. Furthermore, it may also cause digestive problems for more sensitive consumers.
Milk contains two types of protein: casein (80%) and whey (20%). Unlike whey, though, this option is slowly-digested, which makes it more recommendable as a post-workout shake.
Pros: Although it’s very similar to whey in terms of benefits, casein takes considerably longer to be digested. That’s exactly why many people use it as a meal replacement rather than a quick energy boost.
Cons: Just like the less-processed types of whey, casein will likely cause digestive problems ranging from bloating to constipation. Furthermore, many casein manufacturers introduce artificial ingredients to their powder, which makes finding the right choice harder.
Another complete protein source, egg is made by separating the yolk from the egg white; the latter is used to create powder. Although not as popular as whey, this option is also worth considering for its health benefits.
Pros: The major advantage of this option is its higher content of vitamins and minerals – both of which play a crucial part in muscle development.
Cons: It’s already been proved that a considerable amount of people suffers from egg allergies or intolerance. It’s best to test the product before consuming it regularly.
This powder is very special because it’s one of the few complete protein choices for vegans. After soy beans have been dried into flour, it’s processed to become the tasty powder supplement we consume. (10)
Pros: What makes this option different is that it boosts your bone health and keeps joints strong throughout every workout. As a plus, soy also improves the immune system, thus helping your body heal quicker.
Cons: To begin with, most soy powders are genetically modified – which is a big no-no for your health. Furthermore, consuming soy in excessive quantities can alter the natural production of hormones, thus modifying your body functions.
Another vegan-friendly choice, brown rice protein offers much more than plain protein. This option doesn’t contain all the amino acids required by the body. However, studies showed that it has a similar effect to whey.
Pros: This is a great source of complex carbohydrates, which give your body an extra energy boost. The powder also contains vitamin D and fiber. As a plus, this choice is hypoallergenic, so it’s fairly easily digestible.
Cons: Considering that it’s not a complete protein, rice shouldn’t be your only source of amino acids. As a plus, it may not be compatible with some low-carb diets.
Surprisingly enough, this type of protein has the same origin as marijuana – though they are hardly the same. According to the Ministry of Hemp, hemp has little to no THC at all (less than 0.3%) and it’s not psychoactive; unlike marijuana, this substance is commonly used in food, clothing, body care, construction and other domains. Tthe powder made from hemp protein contains omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids that help you burn fat. However, it’s not a complete protein.
Pros: Specialists often describe hemp as a ‘superfood’ due to the high content of essential fatty acids. It’s hypoallergenic and easily digestible.
Cons: Although it offers extremely valuable fatty acids, hemp protein still isn’t complete, so it’s advisable to mix it with other protein sources on the long run.
Originated from yellow split pea, this option contains every essential amino acid except for one: methionine. It’s a popular choice for vegans and vegetarians and it’s moderately absorbed (slower than whey, but faster than casein).
Pros: Pea protein is actually so good, that it requires very little modifications from manufacturers. Of all the protein types, it replicates its source the best; furthermore, this option is hypoallergenic.
Cons: Although it’s almost complete, this protein type is still low in some essential amino acids, which means you shouldn’t base your diet on this powder alone.
What to choose/avoid in protein powders
Right now, a large number of powder companies add plenty of ingredients to make their products more appealing. Although it may look like they’re better, a longer list doesn’t necessarily mean that the final result has a higher quality too.
Ideally, a protein powder shouldn’t contain dozens of ingredients because its name describes it best. Its main element is protein and that’s exactly what you want to consume, so why would you need all the extra additives?
Of course, I’m not saying that all additional ingredients are bad for your health; it’s all about knowing what the names listed on the label actually mean for your health.
Things to avoid in protein powders
Your personal goals and needs are the first factor that limit your product options. However, there are a couple of ingredients every consumer could avoid to maintain their health over time. Some of the worst are:
Artificial sweeteners. You will find these elements listed as sucralose, aspartamine or saccharin. Depending on their quantity per serving, they can cause migraines and gastric problems raging from acid reflux to bloating and weight gain.
Thickeners and gums. These ingredients come from soy or corn, which doesn’t sound bad at all. However, the manufacturing process turns them into harmful substances that can cause constipation and gas. If you see words like ‘guar gum’ or ‘inulin’ on the label, it’s best to keep looking.
Fillers. To some degree, most powders on the market contain fillers. Although they’re not as damaging as other items, a larger quantity can cause gastric distress for sensitive people. Many manufacturers add fillers to save money and use less protein instead. Fillers are mostly labeled as ‘psyllium,’ ‘coconut flour’ or ‘sugar.’
What to look for instead
Now that we’re done with the ugly side of the powder industry, we should focus on the bright side. Let’s have a look at some healthy ingredients and their benefits:
Natural flavors. Needless to say, artificial taste enhancers are definitely to be avoided in any product. However, natural flavors such as cocoa are a good way to create a more pleasant experience.
Branched-chain Amino Acids (BCAAs). Three of the essential amino acids play a particularly important role in muscle protein synthesis: leucine, isoleucine and valine. Some protein powders contain extra BCAAs to put your metabolism into action, which can be a good thing.
Omega-3 and Omega-6 Fatty Acids. Originated from fish, these elements offer major health benefits ranging from regulating blood pressure to reducing high cholesterol and digestive problems. If you find a high-quality powder that contains them, it might be worth it!
Easily blendable. Regardless of how you’re going to prepare your shake, you want the powder to be blended quickly in any medium. Although this information can’t be found on the product label, a quick look at consumer reviews will let you know how it is. (11)
Choosing the right powder depending on gender
Now we know that protein is a powerful ally in our weight loss battle. Aside from our weight, training program and other aspects that make us different, gender also has a major influence.
Men’s bodies are more prone to gaining muscle, whereas women assimilate amino acids at a different rate. To get a better insight at how our bodies work, I recommend these detailed posts on the best protein powder for men or women.
Best vegan choices in terms of powder
With whey being so popular worldwide right now, vegan consumers may think they don’t have that many choices left. Thankfully, there are plenty of amino acid sources and combinations between them that give you the healthy boost your body requires throughout each day. If you’re vegan or simply lactose-intolerant, this in-depth article can help you choose the best products on the market.
Finding the healthiest organic powder
However, one of the biggest challenges isn’t finding the right protein source. It’s finding a natural, organic product that benefits your health in many ways. You can have a look at this post to find out the main techniques on choosing the best items, as well as the top five organic powder recommended.
Discover the best meal replacements for weight loss
Assuming that you want to lose weight, you need to take a good look at your diet first. Depending on how they are metabolized by the system, some powders work best when used as meal replacements. If you’re curious about which they are and how they work, this article offers plenty of information. As a plus, you can also check out a series of high-quality products along with their benefits.
But what’s the best tasting protein powder?
Regardless of your goals and preferences, consuming protein powder shouldn’t be a messy struggle. This experience is worth enjoying every day – and drinking a chocolate-flavored shake definitely comes in handy when you’re on a diet. This post helps you spot the healthiest products on the market and what makes them truly, naturally tasty.
The top whey protein powders for weight loss
Last, but not least, you may simply want to stick to the basics. Although getting a whey product seems easy at first, there are so many ways to process this ingredient, the story can get complicated. I highly recommend this article to everyone looking for the right whey products for weight loss, as it includes plenty of information and item recommendations.
Real examples from real people
Regardless if you want to lose weight, gain muscle or improve your physical performance, protein can be a great ally.
Many people end up using protein powders the wrong way simply because they don’t understand how amino acids can help you and how they change your body functions. From growth hormones to the digestion process, this video provides a very interesting insight on what protein really does to us once we start consuming it.
As we discussed earlier, though, whey is just one of the many options available on the market. Depending on its source, each protein type provides a different impact on our body. But are there really any bad options? If you want to hear the opinion of a specialist who actually did try out each option, this is what he had to say about it.
So we know we need protein and why: but how does it really work once we eat it? Understanding what really happens in our body is the key to giving it what it needs for a proper growth and recovery process. This video helped me figure out how our complicated system works in a very simple manner – that’s why I highly recommend it to everyone I know.
Even so, turning your weight loss goals into reality is far more than eating the right foods and working out. Above anything else, reaching a goal means discipline. It means constant work, dedication and ambition to pursue your dream. In this video, celebrities explain what it really took to get to their amazing physical shape from one movie to another – both mentally and physically.
I think it’s important to remember that behind every person who reached a certain goal is plenty of work and passion. These are the building blocks of a high-quality, healthy lifestyle.