Protein powder provides a convenient way to include more of this valuable macronutrient in your diet. Protein makes up the structure of all your cells and is critical to proper growth and development. If you have trouble getting enough protein in your diet from meat, poultry, fish, soy and eggs, consider a protein powder supplement that's best for your needs.
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Why Extra Protein
People who exercise intently may need extra protein to help muscle repair and growth; those suffering from illness use extra protein to help heal; and the overweight can use protein to squelch their appetite and lose weight. The recommended daily allowance for protein is 0.36 gram per pound of body weight daily, but this is the very minimum. The International Society for Sports Medicine and the National Academy of Sports Medicine both suggest you consume between 0.4 and 0.9 gram of protein daily; sedentary folk need protein that's on the low end of this range, while body builders should be on the high end.
Whey Concentrate and Isolate
Whey protein digests quickly and has been proved to help build muscle mass when included as part of a regular exercise program. A 2013 study in the British Journal of Nutrition, for example, found that whey protein powder does indeed help muscle growth after exercise and the powder as a whole is more effective than its constituent amino acids.
Whey is derived from milk and can be found in concentrate or isolate forms. Both are good options, depending on your needs. Concentrate is less refined and contains compounds that may help fight cancer, but it contains some carbohydrates and lactose from the milk. Isolate is more refined, which is helpful if you are lactose-intolerant, but is pricier and loses some of the valuable immune-building compounds during processing.
Casein, the other protein found in milk, digests more slowly than whey. You may not benefit from casein as much as whey protein when taking it immediately after a workout, but you can use it as supplemental protein to help maintain lean muscle mass, recover from delayed-onset muscle soreness and diminish appetite. For example, consume some just before bed to take advantage of the growth-hormone release and muscle-building that can occur as you sleep.
After a workout, a protein powder supplement that contains both whey and casein may be ideal as you benefit from the immediate release of amino acids from the whey and the long release from the casein. A study published in a 2006 issue of the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research found that consuming a combination of whey and casein protein after a workout promoted the greatest increases in muscle mass after 10 weeks of heavy resistance training.
Egg and Soy Powders
Egg white protein powder is another animal-based protein. Body builders concerned with muscle augmentation appreciate this complete protein that offers all of the essential amino acids in ideal ratios. Powder derived from egg can upset some people's stomachs, however.
People avoiding animal products may find soy protein powder, which also offers a complete array of amino acids, their best option. Soy protein may contain some compounds that protect against cardiovascular disease and can help women combat menopausal symptoms. Although strength and muscle size gains may not be as significant when you use soy protein after a workout, the difference is insignificant for the average exerciser.
If soy and its potential anti-nutrients, which are compounds that may interfere with absorption of important vitamins and minerals, are off-limits for you, alternative vegan options may do. Hemp protein, derived from seeds of the hemp plant, also offers all the essential amino acids -- but not quite in ideal ratios. Hemp does contain high amounts of health-promoting essential fatty acids that can aid in workout recovery.
Brown rice protein is derived from the grain, without the use of chemicals. Rice protein does not contain all the essential amino acids but is readily digestible and unlikely to cause the stomach upset possible with whey, casein, soy and egg proteins.
Pea protein is also not complete in terms of its amino acid profile, but it is free of cholesterol and saturated fat. Most people digest pea protein easily, and allergies to the protein are rare. Pea protein does offer significant amounts of the essential amino acids lysine and two nonessential ones -- arginine and glutamine. The nine essential amino acids are ones the body cannot create on its own and must be obtained in the diet.
Vegan blends work best for many people who can tolerate a variety of protein sources. These put together amino acids from a variety of plants, including cranberry, artichoke, hemp, pea and grain, to create a complete amino acid profile that doesn't contain animal products. Some people may find these powders unpalatable and hard to dissolve in water or juice, though.