Protein Supplements: Many Choices for Many Needs

Posted on August 8th, 2012 by Helen | Posted in Newsletter Articles

We come in all shapes and sizes and with an enormous variety of nutritional needs. Some regularly buy protein powders, and others have never even considered such a purchase. Protein supplements come in a huge array of forms, flavors, consistencies, and quantities, and it’s a good idea to consider your nutritional needs—alongside your personal taste—when choosing which one(s) to purchase. The decision process can be a little overwhelming at first, but our friendly and knowledgeable staff members can assist as you.

But first, let us consider the obvious prefatory question: Don’t we get enough protein already from eating “real, actual food”—meats, eggs, nuts, tofu, cheeses, beans, etc? The answer: It depends— on factors like your diet, your overall health, how much and how strenuously you exercise. As it turns out, some of us need protein supplements.

OK—so people do use this stuff. But why? Here are just a few of the reasons: to add protein to a diet which is perceived to be lacking in protein; to help build and sustain muscle (a power-lifter and athletic trainer told me that she “just can’t eat that much meat and eggs” and uses protein powder to make up the difference); to gain weight (adding protein shakes in between meals); to lose weight (using protein shakes as a meal replacement).

It is common knowledge that protein drives athletic performance and recovery and increases lean body mass, and that its building blocks are amino acids. It is also important to remember that the more protein one consumes, the more protein one’s body burns as fuel, and then the more protein one’s body yet needs. Still, as much as we need protein, we also need carbohydrates (carbs) and fats before, during, and after exercise—and there is no magic formula for this. We feel best and function optimally when we consume the right amount of each of these three macronutrients for our individual bodies and health. As in all things, balance in our diet is important, so is the quality of the protein (and carbs and fats) we consume, much more so than the quantity.

One way we might visualize this healthful dietary balance could be the Zone Diet, one of the original high-protein diets developed by biochemist and former US Olympic Swim Team physician Dr. Barry Sears. This diet advocates consuming calories from protein, fat, and carbohydrates in a specific ratio: 30:30:40. That is 30 percent from protein, 30 percent from fat, and 40 percent of one’s calories from carbs, a fairly ideal ratio for many people.

As we consider the daily amount of food to consume in balance, we can start by piecing together the protein part of the puzzle and return to the question of how much protein does a person need? There are as many opinions about this topic as there are flavors of protein powder at LifeSource! One thing is for sure, though: we each need to find a middle ground for our own bodies. If we don’t consume enough protein, then we may not have enough amino acids to drive the metabolic process and we won’t have enough structural building blocks to build what our bodies need. Too much protein isn’t good, either, because the body can only deal with so much protein every day, and then stores it, not as protein but—most typically—as fat.

The over-consumption of protein is a common dietary mistake in America, One reason for this is that we don’t always realize that we’re getting protein in foods that we eat every day. We consume several grams of protein just by eating broccoli (nearly 4 grams in one cup, cooked), potatoes (4.6 grams in one medium-sized russet potato), a dish of yogurt (6-14 grams in an 8 oz. serving), and of course, our whole grains and beans. There is even protein in carrots. Common sense tells us that our best source of protein is still real foods.

Every meal we enjoy—and wouldn’t it be great if we could enjoy them all?—should ideally be in some measure of balance. It follows that even our protein supplementation can be balanced, too, by combining it with valuable carbs and fats. For example, you can place fruit or fruit juices in the blender with a powdered protein supplement and add some flax oil and voila: you have a nutritious, delicious, and balanced smoothie.

Let’s say you have decided to consume a supplemental amount of protein in the form of a protein powder. Now you have more decisions to make: what kind of protein supplement will you choose? There are many options on the market today, with variations in flavor, texture, and “blendability.” It is also important to be aware of the quality of the powder you choose. Our customers have many options from which to choose. Here is a quick overview:

  • Whey:Whey protein, derived from milk, is the most popular and is often considered the easiest to digest. We carry it in many versions, both flavored and unflavored, and as a more moderately-priced offering in our bulk department. Whey protein should always be processed at low temperatures so the amino acid profile remains intact. Certain whey proteins have growth hormone factors and particular benefits for your immune system, and some are lactose-free (great for folks who are lactose-intolerant).
  • Soy: Soy protein is considered less easy to digest than whey, although not all agree on this, and there are many different types of soy powders, including fermented soy. Those with isoflavones are of better quality and are therefore easier to digest.
  • Brown rice: Brown rice protein has increased in popularity not only because it is easier for the body to digest but also because improvements have been made to its flavor and texture since it began being marketed. In addition, brown rice protein has a higher NPU (net protein utilization) percentage than some other protein powders (milk, eggs and meat have the highest possible NPU scores among proteinrich foods).
  • Hemp, Pea, and Chia: These three varieties of protein powder are gaining popularity, although they are generally less tasty than the many available preparations of whey, soy, and brown rice proteins. However, taste is not necessarily the reason someone chooses a particular type of protein supplement. Hemp protein is, of course, made from one of the most sustainable crops on the earth. It also has the benefit of containing beneficial fatty acids more fiber than most protein powders. Pea and chia proteins are nutritious as well and are often found combined with other protein sources.

To add to the menu of possible choices, raw protein formulas are also available and gaining acclaim, and a great many varieties of protein are organic, vegan, gluten-free, and contain no added sugars. Furthermore, many protein powders are available as part of a meal replacement formula that may contain fats, carbs and fiber as well as protein, along with vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients from added herbs, fruit and vegetable extracts. This is why we have a lot of shelf space devoted to protein supplements!

I personally began using protein powders when I was pregnant with my first child. My natural childbirth class’s teacher exhorted each of us expectant mothers to consume 100 grams of protein each day, and there was no way I could get all that from my food. Later, when I took up weight-lifting, distance running, and cycling, I was advised by a trainer that I’d need to consume more protein to build and sustain the muscle I needed to keep working that hard (he was right!). I have found that consuming some protein before, during, and after periods of exercise—especially extended sessions such as half-marathons or longer runs, or cycling for hours at a time—has really helped my energy and endurance. I always consume it alongside sufficient carbohydrates, fats, and liquid. That’s my story; each of you will have your own set of circumstances.

I’ve always used unflavored whey proteins, simply shaken up with water and chugged as fast as I can manage. However, in preparation for writing this article, I sampled a number of the varieties we sell— raw and processed; whey, soy, brown rice, and pea; flavors such as blueberries and cream, double fudge crunch, raspberry royale, and the ubiquitous vanilla and chocolate. I tasted these protein products both mixed with water and blended with other foods such as fruit, milk, or yogurt.

My personal experience was that the fermented soy product is highly blendable and creamy, the whey and hemp products are not as creamy but still fairly gentle in texture, and the rice proteins tend to be a bit more on the grainy end of the texture spectrum. Some of the flavors tasted quite natural and delicious, while others seemed to be there more to mask the underlying, more pungent flavors of the protein blend’s key ingredients. My fellow LifeSource staffers have expressed a wide variety of preferences for particular types and flavors, citing all sorts of reasons for consuming and enjoying the ones that they use at home.

Whatever your own reasons and needs are for protein supplementation, you are warmly invited to stop in and gain some familiarity with the wide array of products we offer as part of your balanced, healthful, nutritious diet and way of life.