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Protein Powders Explained

As I promised in my last blog, (http://heelstolaces.com/protein-questions-answered) below is a description of the most common types of protein powders on the market. Protein powders have grown in popularity and are no longer just for elite body builders. They are a way to ensure you are getting enough daily protein, serve as a quick meal substitute or provide a post-workout recovery. I like to add mine to smoothies, make a shake after a workout or add a scoop to my oatmeal or pancake batter for a protein filled breakfast. It’s important to remember, protein powders are supplements and are best used to supplement a healthy diet of nutritious whole foods.

The Basics First:

‘Concentrated’ or ‘Isolated’. In order to make the powder, the non-protein parts are removed from the food source. ‘Concentrated’ powders are about  70-85% pure protein (with the remaining 15-30% consisting mostly of carbohydrates and fat). Powders that are ‘isolated’ take the process one step further, and remove even more of the non-protein content resulting in a protein powder that is up to 95% pure.

Complete vs. Incomplete Protein: Amino acids that cannot be produced by the body are known as essential amino acids. Complete proteins contain all 10 essential amino acids, whereas incomplete proteins contain some, but not all, of the essential amino acids.

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WHEY PROTEIN

Whey is the most popular protein supplement on the market. It is the by-product in the process of turning milk into cheese and is a complete protein that is quickly absorbed into the body.  Whey has been shown to promote lean muscle growth and fat loss. It can also help repair and rebuild muscle especially when consumed within 60 minutes of a workout. Look for whey protein isolate—not concentrate—as it contains the highest protein concentration and very little fat.

Cautions: Because it is a by-product of milk (aka lactose), people with allergies to lactose may find it hard to digest. Additionally, be wary of the artificial sweeteners and chemicals added to many of the different flavors available. Be sure to read the label.

CASEIN PROTEIN

This protein is also derived from milk, but uses a separation process that isolates the milk protein from the carbs and fat. Because casein digests over a long period of time, it is a good choice for a meal replacement, as it helps you feel fuller longer. It is can also be taken right before bed to prevent muscle breakdown and promote muscle growth while you sleep.

Cautions: As a by-product of milk, casein can also be difficult to digest for those with lactose allergies. Look for “calcium caseinate” on the label to be sure that you are getting the purest form of this protein. And, again check for artificial ingredients, which are often used to improve the taste of casein as it doesn’t mix as easily with liquids. Lastly, expect casein to be more expensive than whey.

SOY PROTEIN

Soybeans are one of the few plant protein sources that are a complete protein. The protein is concentrated or isolated after the soybeans have been hulled and dried into soy flour. Soy can be a good option for vegetarians and those with milk intolerances. Soy has been shown to improve immune function and bone health.

Cautions: In recent years, soy has come under heavy scrutiny because it is often genetically modified to produce greater crop yields at a very low cost. Many foods are already full of soy and, depending on your current diet, it may not be wise to add yet another source of soy. Additionally, some studies have linked soy consumption to health concerns. If you do choose soy, consume it in moderation, and be sure to look for labels that read soy protein isolate, which contains more protein and isoflavones, and less cholesterol and fat as compared to soy protein concentrate.

EGG PROTEIN

Egg protein is just that – protein from eggs. It is a complete protein made by separating out the yolks and dehydrating the egg whites. These powders also contain valuable vitamins and minerals found in whole eggs.

Cautions: Egg protein is also one of the most expensive protein supplements available and can be a problem for anyone with egg allergies.

BROWN RICE PROTEIN

Yes, there is small amount of protein in rice! It is extracted from the rice to make the powder. Brown rice protein is hypo-allergic and easily digested, making it an excellent alternative for anyone with a sensitive stomach or allergies to soy or dairy.

Cautions: Brown rice protein is not a complete protein and is best when paired with other plant-based options like hemp or pea powder to ensure that you are getting all the essential amino acids.

PEA PROTEIN

This plant-based protein, derived from the yellow split pea, is highly digestible and has a fluffy texture (no mushy peas here!). Pea protein is high in glutamic acid, which helps convert carbs into energy so they won’t be stored as fat. It is considered a highly satiating protein, which may help promote weight loss. And if those reasons aren’t enough, it often has few additives or artificial ingredients, and is closest to its whole-food source.

Cautions: Isolated pea protein is often labeled as complete because it can contain many of the essential amino acids, but it is still deficient in certain amino acids. So, like rice protein, pair it with other vegan sources of protein, such as brown rice or hemp.

HEMP PROTEIN

Hemp protein is derived from the seeds of the cannabis plant. A complete plant-based protein, hemp also offers the inflammation-fighting power of omega-6 essential fatty acids and is high in fiber. It is hypoallergenic and excellent choice for those following a vegan diet. Some studies have also suggested hemp protein may be more helpful in weight loss than other protein powders, due to its high fiber content.

Cautions: Since hemp is only harvested in select countries due to its association with cannabis, it is often the most expensive protein powder available.

There are lots of choices out there to fit all different nutritional needs. Don’t be afraid to try different blends and options to see what works best for you. And lastly, be wary of very low cost powders as they often use inexpensive protein blends that are hard to digest and may contain many artificial ingredients.

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