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May 6

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Choosing a Protein Powder – 5 tips to help you decide

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Choosing a protein powder can be confusing. With hundreds of options available, it can be a little daunting trying to figure out which protein supplement to buy. Sports nutrition and supplement companies know protein supplements are big business. You'll find supplements available in most supermarkets and in a range of products: shakes, dairy items, fruit and nut bars, pancake mix and pasta.

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Here's a quick guide to help you choose which protein powder might be best for you.

Choose your protein supplement depending on your current nutrition goal

Your first consideration should be why you are using the supplement in the first place. Honing in on your goal will help guide you in what to look for.

Using protein powder while trying to lose weight:

Provided you're in a calorie deficit, supplemental protein can be a great way to stay full.

Sufficient protein intake promotes muscle mass growth and retention while decreasing fat mass. Meeting your body’s daily protein needs should be a priority while on reduced caloric intake.

Protein powders can assist weight loss during a calorie deficit

​Using protein powder to assist recovery after your workouts:

Taking a protein supplement after fasting, and half an hour before exercise increases energy expenditure post-exercise and can help with wieght loss.

Furthermore, branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs) may help boost energy during exercise. If you like, drink your protein shake with added BCAAs in it before your morning workouts.

Short workouts (under 60 minutes) aren't as tough on the body, but your muscles still need some repair and nutrition afterwards. Studies show consuming protein with carbohydrate after finishing intense exercise helps promote muscle growth. Additionally, the available carbohydrate replenishes glycogen stores (carbohydrates stored for fuel in your muscles) more efficiently.

Choosing a protein powder to assist with recovery after short duration workouts of less than an hour

​It makes sense that your glycogen stores will run down a lot more after longer workouts (1–4 hours). Therefore, you require more carbohydrates in your post-workout shake.

Choosing a protein powder with extra carbohydrates can help recovery after long workout sessions

​Protein powder to help assist with injury recovery:

Taking a protein supplement can help with healing and can be a great way to meet your body's protein needs without consuming too many extra calories.

If your injury is keeping you from exercising as regularly, your calorie demand might be lower however your body still needs adequate protein for repair and growth. You might want to consider a protein powder offering low carbohydrates since you won't need as much energy for longer workouts while injured.

Additionally, there are some available with added vitamins and minerals. These may support healing however it's wise to ensure your overall diet supplies ample nutrients in the first place.

Can a protein powder help improve sleep quality?

Casein is a type of protein which is absorbed slower than whey. Research shows that 30-40g of casein before sleep helps to support muscle growth through the night. There is also evidence that this protein may improve the quality of your sleep too.

You'll want to look for a protein powder offering 30g of casein without extra fat or carbohydrates.

Protein powder taste and what you do with it

Regardless of how much research is out there, there is one thing we know with absolute certainty.

No protein supplement on the market will have any effect if it's left in the cupboard and you don't actually use it.

Taste and texture can be a high priority for many people when choosing a suitable protein powder. How you are going to use the supplement is also an important consideration.

There are many flavours available on the market, with more coming out every week. The most common though across all brands and suppliers are vanilla and chocolate.

Vanilla protein powder

Widely available and tends to be a more neutral flavour. You might add it to your shakes and smoothies, as well as porridge, cakes, brownies and other baked goods. Vanilla tends to blend well with other flavours and is less likely to overwhelm or compete with other ingredients.

That being said, there are varying degrees of quality when it comes to an authentic vanilla taste. Choose one that you like without too much sweetness or chemical aftertaste.

Chocolate protein supplements

If you regularly combine your protein powder into your other food, chocolate can be an overpowering flavour. There are also varying degrees of 'chocolatey-ness' so again, find one that you like.

Assuming the sweetness level is sufficient, most people find chocolate-flavoured shakes palatable.

Other protein powder flavours

Manufacturers are constantly developing new tastes, flavours and recipes. If you fancy something different, try fruit flavours like banana, strawberry or raspberry. Maybe chai, mocha or mint might pique your interest? More adventurous combinations are available - birthday cake or pumpkin pie spice anyone?

Allergies and additives

The ingredients list will alert you to known allergens. You may need to look for information as to whether the product was produced in a facility containing other known allergens.

If you're involved in competitive sport then anti-doping regulations are a serious consideration. There are certifications and third-party testing available for supplements. Check with your regulator or sporting body as to brands that may include banned substances. Regardless of tests and certifications, remember it is every athlete's own responsibility for supplements they take.

Dietary preferences and restrictions

A decade ago, the situation was a lot different. Now though, the chances are there's a protein powder available no matter which dietary regimen you are following.

Protein powder supplement options for dietary restriction include soy-free, non-dairy and vegain-friendly choices

​Choosing protein powder based on packaging options and convenience

If you need to travel with your supplements, large 2kg tubs are not easy to lug around. If you have plenty of reusable bags and containers available then you may like to purchase large quantities. You can often secure a better price when buying in bulk.

Some brands offer their powders in pouches in smaller sizes - 500g or 1kg, which can be easier to pack and take with you.

If you prefer though, there are options available with manufacturers offering single-serve sachets and packets. No need to pre-portion out your bulk supplements any more. These sachets can also be a great way to try out new flavours and blends without having to commit to a large quantity. Expect to pay a little extra for the convenience of having pre-packed servings though.

About the author

Paul Stokes

Paul Stokes BSc (Hons) is a Certified Personal Trainer, Accredited Sports Nutritionist, qualified Exercise to Music Instructor, Precision Nutrition coach, Massage Therapist and teaches 8 of the Les Mills Group Exercise programs.

He currently works in the Oil & Gas industry as a Wellness Coach, imparting his vast knowledge and experience to improve the quality of life of several hundred offshore workers.

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