We need protein to help build and repair muscles in our body. But how much protein do we need and should we supplement with protein drinks? The answer depends on your diet and activity level. If you are not getting enough protein from your diet supplementation is beneficial.
Ultimately, choose your protein drinks based on your goals, dietary preferences, and food tolerances/intolerances. Read on to learn how to read the labels on protein drinks to learn what should, and shouldn’t be there.
What Is in Protein Drinks?
Before we start talking ingredients, lets first look at how much protein you need. If you consume more protein than your body can use, you are wasting money and putting unnecessary stress on your kidneys that have to work to get rid of the excess.
Below is a list of averages, based on activity level, all numbers are per kilogram of body weight per day. To calculate kilograms take your weight and divide by 2.2.
- The average adult needs 0.8 grams of protein.
- Recreational athletics needs 1.1 to 1.4 grams.
- Competitive athletes need 1.2 to 1.4 grams.
- Ultra-endurance sports may need up to 2.0 grams.
- Athletes building muscle mass need 1.5 to 2.0 grams.
Keep in mind there is a protein in the foods you eat, for example, a hamburger contains 30 grams of protein. So be sure to take your food consumption into account when you calculate your protein needs.
Beneficial Ingredients in Protein Drinks
Below are the common sources of protein in protein drinks. Look for them on the label of your drink.
Whey protein comes from milk. It is the liquid that separates from the curds during the cheesemaking process.
Whey digests quickly and is rich in branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs). Leucine, one of these BCAAs, plays a major role in promoting muscle growth.
Whey protein is quickly digested, providing a rapid rise in amino acids that may help increase muscle mass and strength. It may also reduce appetite and promote fat loss.
Caution because it comes from milk some lactose-intolerant people have issues with digestion.
Like whey, casein is a protein found in milk. However, casein is digested and absorbed much more slowly. The result is a gradual, steadier exposure of your muscles to amino acids, reducing the rate of muscle protein breakdown.
Eggs are an excellent source of high-quality protein.
Of all whole foods, eggs have the highest protein digestibility-corrected amino acid score (PDCAAS). Egg-white protein could be a good choice for people with dairy allergies who prefer a supplement based on animal protein.
Caution, egg-white protein is high in quality and easily digested — though it may not keep you feeling as full as other protein powders.
If you are a vegetarian or vegan you should look for products containing pea protein powder. You may also want to look for pea protein if you have egg allergies.
Pea protein powder comes from the yellow split pea. This legume has all but 1 amino acids in high concentrations but 1, methionine. Confirm that your protein drink is supplemented with this amino acid if pea protein is the primary ingredient. Here you can find the list of the best vegan protein powders.
Hemp protein powder is another plant-based supplement that is gaining popularity.
Although hemp is related to marijuana, it only contains trace amounts of the psychoactive component THC.
Hemp protein is high in omega-3s and seems to be easily digested. However, it is low in the essential amino acids lysine and leucine.
Here are some of the top protein powders for weight loss.
Ingredients to Avoid in Your Protein Drinks
It is important to be an educated consumer. There are many additives and fillers that are not beneficial to you that can be added to various products. Here is a shortlist of products to avoid.
Casein + WPC
WPC is whey protein concentrate and it is often combined with caseinate in protein powders. The challenge with these two proteins is two-fold. First, their lactose concentration is high, if you are sensitive to lactose this can lead to bloating, flatulence, and gastrointestinal distress.
Second, they are hard for the body to absorb this can also lead to some gastrointestinal distress as it passes through the body unused and also defeats the purpose of most protein drinks.
Gluten allergies are common today and if you have one, obviously, you should avoid it. Even if you are not gluten sensitive, too much gluten can cause a range of health problems including hormonal imbalances, skin conditions, fatigue, mood swings, and headaches.
These ingredients can raise the glycemic load, which may contribute to fat storage. Most are processed with GMO corn and they can also cause gastrointestinal distress in some people.
Common artificial sweeteners used are sucralose, Splenda, aspartame, equal, NutraSweet, or saccharin. It is best to avoid anything that is artificial.
Vegetable Oils and Fats
The trans fats in vegetable oil raise levels of bad cholesterol and lower levels of good cholesterol. There is no reason they should be in your protein shake.
Thickeners and Gums
Thickeners and gums, including xanthin gum, are manufactured from soy or corn and can cause bloating, constipation and gas. They are little like glue in my digestive system.
Fillers are often added to bulk up the protein and save money for the manufacturer.
Some fillers include ingredients such as coconut flour, psyllium, sugar, which can cause gastric distress such as bloating, constipation and reflux in people who are susceptible to digestive issues.
Now that you have an idea of what should, and shouldn’t be in your protein drink it is time to get started. Calculate the amount of protein you should consume and hit the gym. Don’t forget to balance your protein drink with a healthy well-rounded diet.
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