What Are Protein Powders?
Protein powders come in various forms. The three common ones are whey, soy, and casein protein. “ Whey is the most commonly used, because it’s a water-soluble milk protein,” says Peter Horvath, PhD, associate professor in the department of exercise and nutrition sciences at the State University of New York at Buffalo. “It’s also a complete protein, so it’s got all those advantages.” (Complete proteins contain all nine of the amino acids necessary for human dietary needs.) People who are vegan may prefer soy protein, although Horvath notes that its taste is sometimes considered to be more unpleasant, and it doesn’t dissolve as well in water.
Milk contains two types of proteins — casein and whey. Casein is 80% of the milk protein, while whey is 20%.
Casein protein is digested slowly, while whey protein digested quickly. This is an important difference between these two popular dairy proteins.
Like other animal proteins, casein is a complete protein source. That means it provides all the essential amino acids your body needs for growth and repair. It also contains various bioactive compounds, some of which have health benefits.
Protein powders also come with widely varying price tags. “For the casual athlete who doesn’t have a specific need at a certain time of their training, the cost is not that important,” says Horvath.
In very specific circumstances, protein powders can be useful. “They’re an easy and convenient source of complete, high-quality protein,” says Carole Conn, PhD, associate professor of nutrition at the University of New Mexico.
So when might you want to use them?
- There are a few reasons why an ordinary athlete might want more protein in his or her diet, says Barbara Lewin , a dietitian and sports nutritionist who has worked with NFL, NBA, and NHL athletes and trained Ironman competitors:
- When you’re growing. A teenager needs more protein to fuel his workouts because his body is still growing and uses more protein in general.
- When you’re starting a program. If working out is new to you and you’re trying to build muscle, you’ll require more protein than you normally would.
- When you’re amping up your workouts. If you normally work out for half an hour a few times a week, but now you’ve decide to train for a half-marathon, your body will need more protein.
- When you’re recovering from an injury. Athletes with sports injuries frequently need more protein to help them heal.
- If you’re going vegan. People who pursue a vegan or vegetarian lifestyle eliminate a number of common protein sources from their diet, including meat, chicken, and fish, and sometimes dairy and eggs as well.
“All of those are valid reasons for trying to get more protein into your diet, and protein powders are one way to do that,” says Lewin.
Protein is important for young athletes too. Recommendations from the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics for teenagers are based on pounds of bodyweight rather than kilograms.
The average teen needs 0.4 to 0.5 grams of protein per pound of body weight each day. Teenage athletes, according to the Academy, need more — 0.5 to 0.8 grams per pound per day.
How to Use Protein Powders
If you calculate your protein intake and determine that you’re not getting enough for your athletic needs (some signs of too-low protein intake: you’re unusually fatigued, feel weak when lifting weights or doing other strenuous activity, or are recovering from injuries slowly)
So when should you use protein powders, if you’ve determined you need them to get more protein in your diet? Throughout the day as a snack or meal replacement, says Lewin, sometimes in the immediate time period surrounding your workouts.