Protein powder – everything you need to know
Most of us have a very specific image in mind when we hear the word “protein powder”: a bodybuilder. And indeed, this is one of the groups of people for whom supplementing with protein powder makes sense. But it’s not the only one. I, too, supplement with protein powder from time to time, and I am far from bodybuilding or being packed with muscles. I’ll tell you why I do this and which protein powder I personally recommend as a nutritionist.
What is protein powder?
Protein powder is – as the name suggests – a powder that is rich in protein. As I have already told you, proteins are essential for life. Our body needs the eight essential amino acids in order to function. Proteins can be found in legumes such as lentils, peas, beans, soybeans (tofu, tempeh), nuts or, in the case of a non-vegetarian diet, in meat, fish, eggs or curd cheese. Therefore, protein powders usually consist of whey (milk), soy, lentils, peas or hemp seeds.
Since our diet nowadays tends to contain too much fat and carbohydrates, protein intake often suffers as a result. The DGE (German Society of Nutrition) recommends at least 0.8 g per kilogram of body weight. For non-athletes, 1.0 – 1.5 g per kilogram of body weight is a good guideline. If you occasionally do sports, however, 1.2 – 1.8 g per kilogram of body weight is recommended. Athletes should aim for 1.8 – 2.3 g per kg body weight, depending on the type of sport. More than 3.0 g protein per kilogram of body weight is no longer advisable. More is no longer helpful. You should also make sure to drink enough to be able to metabolize it. However, drinking enough water is also important without using protein powder.
In reality, there are often extremes in protein intake: some people consume too little protein through their daily diet of pasta with pesto, sandwiches, fried rice, pizza, crisps, sweets, soft drinks, etc… On the other hand, many fitness enthusiasts often consume excessive amounts because they often overshoot the mark with their dietary supplements.
When is protein powder useful?
Normally, with a balanced, varied diet and lifestyle, we can ideally cover all our vital nutrients. However, this is often only the ideal case. There are numerous reasons to integrate a protein powder from time to time, without necessarily being a high-performance athlete.
Reasons for using protein powder
- Simplification of everyday life, as it enables uncomplicated protein coverage.
- Covering the increased protein requirements of athletes, especially strength and endurance athletes.
- Especially for athletes, it is a very easy way to quickly cover the protein supply directly after training.
- Easy to handle and to transport, it is also suitable for on the go/ at work.
- Increased feeling of satiety, especially during diets.
- Often better digestibility.
- Increased food-induced thermogenesis, as your body converts approx. 20 % of the ingested proteins into heat!
Who should take protein powder as a supplement?
A food supplement is always useful if your own diet does not cover all the nutrients. This can result from intolerances, allergies or a diet that is too one-sided. If you do not consciously eat protein-rich foods in your diet and do sports at the same time, it can make sense to supplement with a high-quality protein powder. A protein powder is especially recommended for weight training, as muscles can only be built up with the corresponding building material – proteins.
In addition, the absorption of nutrients is somewhat increased up to one hour after training and your cells are particularly receptive to proteins. If we take a 90 kg strength athlete as an example, he or she would have to eat quite a lot of protein-containing food to cover his or her needs, given a recommended daily protein intake of about 180 g per day. Since it is exhausting to plan every meal making sure to meet your protein intake, it makes sense to help out with a high-quality, organic protein powder.
Protein powder for muscle growth and dieting
Especially directly after a strenuous workout (POST-workout), your body is said to be “ready to receive” nutrients. This is also called the “anabolic window”. That means that your body can metabolise nutrients that it needs at that moment much more efficiently. This is at its maximum until about an hour after exercise. A guideline is about 0.5 g of protein per kg of body weight to repair muscular damage and/ or support muscle growth. In addition, about 1 g of carbohydrates per kg of body weight can help replenish your muscles’ energy stores (glycogen stores).
But it can also make a lot of sense to take protein powder when losing weight or during a diet. This way you can keep an eye on your nutrient supply without having to consume additional calories, for example through high-calorie fats. Especially during a diet, it is important to protect your muscles so that you don’t suffer a yo-yo effect. As a nutritionist, I am happy to help you with this.
You should also drink enough mineral-rich water to compensate for the loss of fluids through sweat. Don’t forget: Our muscles consist of about 70 % water! That’s why a protein shake with a carbohydrate content makes a lot of sense here, in order to be able to tick off all three points at the same time!
Food supplements are never a substitute for a balanced, varied diet, but only serve as a “supplement”!
Why are carbohydrates in protein powder useful?
The carbohydrates in protein powder cause your pancreas to secrete the hormone insulin. Insulin is an “anabolic” hormone. “Anabolic” means that it promotes the build-up of the body’s own tissue and ensures that the nutrients reach your cells and thus also the proteins contained to build muscle.
Especially during and after exercise, your body has an insulin sensitivity. This means that your body only needs very little insulin to efficiently transport important nutrients into the cells. A high insulin sensitivity means that the insulin level only rises very slightly and your pancreas is therefore spared.
What should you look for when buying protein powder?
In general, there are a few things you should look for when buying protein powder if you are a competitive athlete or a very ambitious recreational athlete, especially a strength athlete. Because there are big differences in quality here too! For example, protein powders that are processed to a particularly high standard are awarded the GMP seal (Good Manufacturing Practice). In addition, the Cologne List serves as a directory for tested food supplements, especially in competitive sports.
In addition, a protein powder should list the amino acids it contains. The amino acid profile should include at least 20 % BCAAs (Branched-Chain Amino Acids). BCAAs are the three essential amino acids leucine, isoleucine and valine, which are particularly useful in strength, high-speed strength and endurance sports and have a great influence on protein biosynthesis, i.e. on muscle building and maintenance. A good value for leucine would be about 10-11 g per 100 g. In addition, the amino acids glycine and taurine should not be elevated (less than 3 g glycine per 100 g). These two amino acids are often added to enable a high protein content (“protein spiking”).
My personal recommendation
I also take protein powder from time to time, as I do sports about 4-5 times a week and want to cover my protein needs in a safe and uncomplicated way. Moreover, it actually helps me to be satiated for longer – a great advantage also for those who are on a calorie-restricted diet. However, it is not primarily important to me exactly how much of which amino acids are contained. That is more interesting for competitive athletes and predominantly strength athletes. The following criteria are important to me:
- taste (!)
- a good ratio of proteins, carbohydrates and fats
- at best produced in Germany
In fact, I searched for half an eternity to find one that not only tastes good (absolute knock-out criterion) but also fits the nutritional values, ingredients and meets all other criteria. And suddenly, Go Superfood came along, a small Hamburg-based company that completely convinced me. The protein powder consists of a mixture of hemp, quinoa, pea, rice and soy protein and provides you with all essential amino acids. It’s also perfect for baking, as you’ve already read in one or two of my recipes!
It also contains lucuma and maca, two medicinal plants that have been used for thousands of years and are full of nutrients. For example, the maca root is said to increase your athletic performance and positively influence muscle building. Maca is also known as an aphrodisiac – it increases sexual desire, fertility and potency. If you don’t need any more argument now, you can get 15% off your order at Go Superfood with the code “rosa” (ad, because awesome! And no, I don’t have anything from it but love to recommend things I was searching for myself for such a long time!)
With this in mind, have fun testing and don’t forget to exercise! 🙂
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Sources and scientific evidence used for this blog post
Gorissen, S., Crombag, J., Senden, J., Waterval, W., Bierau, J., Verdijk, L. B., & van Loon, L. (2018). Protein content and amino acid composition of commercially available plant-based protein isolates. Amino acids, 50(12), 1685–1695.
Ribeiro, A. S., Nunes, J. P., & Schoenfeld, B. J. (2019). Should Competitive Bodybuilders Ingest More Protein than Current Evidence-Based Recommendations?. Sports medicine (Auckland, N.Z.), 49(10), 1481–1485.