Eating for exercise is really confusing – particularly when there are so many conflicting and misleading ideas buzzing around Instagram, blogs and other social media. One of the biggest points of confusion for girls I find is protein powder.
If a friend starts a particular hobby or eating practice then it’s normal to think about trying it yourself, but when your entire Instagram feed is eating something or doing something there can easily develop a feeling that by not doing something you’re not participating in a lifestyle properly.
Protein shake, smoothies and treats definitely get glamourized in this regard and I was astonished to try protein powder for the first time and discover I was drinking something that tasted like liquid chalk. It was horrible but I hadn’t learned about different types, flavours and preparation methods.
I want to start by stating very clearly that I’m not a trained nutritionist at all, nor am I qualified in training, sports science or anything like that (if you want a qualified opinion on art history or anthropology on the other hand…). However, I do have my own experiences and opinions in trying out products and asking questions of people who do know. So, I thought I’d share my own views on protein powder in case anyone else was wondering the same thing.
Nobody needs protein powder
You do not need protein powder.
You do however need protein, particularly if you workout a lot generally or have increased the amount of exercise for the following reasons:
- Muscle is made from amino acids (what protein is made of) so it provides the body with the building blocks it needs to repair the muscles and helps in the repair of exercise-induced damage to muscle fibres – so reduces DOMS
- Creating new muscles and giving the ‘toned’ look by the synthesis of new proteins that are involved in energy production and/or force generation. Exercise tears muscle fibres – so just think of it as protein stitching them back together stronger – it isn’t going to bulk you, turn you into Hulk Hogan or the incredible Hulk, or in any way make you look masculine. Unless you’re including testosterone in your smoothie that would be impossible.
- Replenishes depleted energy stores – so stops post workout hanger
It offers convenience, not magic potion
It’s not going to turn you into the incredible hulk, but equally it isn’t going to transform you into a Victoria’s Secret Model. Protein is necessary for the above reasons but protein powder isn’t a magic solution to having the body of an athlete, but simply a convenient way to get protein into your diet at the right time.
Ideally, you should be able to get all your nutrients from food and this should always be the aim, but protein powder can be a really useful food supplement, especially if you go to the gym in the morning and go straight to your job without being in a position to access a kitchen or a more traditional protein-based breakfast like eggs.
I use protein powder because it offers convenience. I use it in smoothies or overnight oats to take with me so I can have a meal with the right amount of protein that is tasty, portable and simple to prepare.
It can taste good, but only if you like that flavour
I like to use protein powder because it can be tasty! I use it to keep on track mentally because I feel like I’ve indulged in a chocolate milkshake or similar. I wouldn’t use it when I hadn’t done exercise or as a free pass to eat all the brownies in the world because they say protein on, but it does mean you can hit a craving after a workout without the guilt.
You need to eat the protein anyway so you may as well get a bit more bang for your buck taste wise, especially if you a have a sweet tooth.
However, something that is important to consider is flavour. Only buy a flavour you’re going to like, because if you’re not mad about Mint Chocolate now then you’re definitely not going to like it as a protein powder. It transforms the flavour of anything to be of the powder, so if you love your green smoothies to taste green then consider going unflavoured.
I like vanilla or chocolate, but on the whole I buy vanilla and then use cacao to make a chocolate flavour so I’m not obliged to have chocolate everytime.
You can be a perfectly fit person without it
If you are an active person and feel like you’d benefit from and enjoy using protein powders then I would definitely suggest giving it a go. However, as I have said it isn’t magic and it is not more than the sum of its parts – if it is too expensive and you don’t like it then simply get your protein from another source.
If you don’t do much high intensity or strength building workouts then there is a less of a need for it, and equally if you can always access a kitchen or hate sweet flavours then you probably won’t like it.
You don’t have to use the one that social media recommends
When it comes to ingredients we all have different lifestyles, budgets and priorities. Obviously it’s better to use something that hasn’t been sweetened artificially, but just because your favourite blogger uses a vegan one doesn’t mean you have to – you have to use one that you enjoy the taste of and that your body doesn’t have a problem digesting.
My favourites are the following:
Sunwarrior – This is a vegan brown rice protein available from Amazon.
I buy the vanilla and use it in my oats and smoothies to create a delicious treat for after a workout. This is a very popular choice for vegans.
Neat Nutition – This is not vegan but it is still great for the health conscious and those who want to prioritise ‘clean’ eating – I love the chocolate.
Kinetica Thermo Whey – I came across this brand by chance but I’m so glad that I did. Nutritionally it’s good and there aren’t any big nasties in there, but taste wise it’s great. I like to blend the Smooth Chocolate with a banana and almond milk for a milkshake that is impossible to resist downing in one. It is also the least expensive of the three I use.