Should I Be Taking Protein Powder?

Protein is everywhere at the moment. What with the popularity of Bounce Balls and other raw snack bars, and the increasing number of high-end gyms and juice shops selling their own (typically overpriced) protein shakes, the humble little organic compounds are officially "cool".

And don't forget the #eatclean brigade who are constantly hashtagging their protein snacks left, right and centre. One could even argue we've hit peak protein.

The NHS recommends an average-sized woman doing an average amount of physical activity consumes 50g of protein daily as part of a healthy balanced diet. While the recommended daily allowance is higher for men, they (particularly the more health-conscious variety) tend to consume enough through their higher (on average) meat intake.

Many women, by contrast, often fail to meet their daily quota.

It's easier to boost our protein intake through food these days than it used to be. It's now socially acceptable to eat hard-boiled eggs in public and “protein pots” containing meat, fish, beans and egg, are widely available at lunch places and even many supermarkets. High-protein foods like quinoa, beans, nuts and seeds (had anyone heard the word "chia" five years ago?), are also used in every purportedly "clean" recipe on the internet.

But these aren’t always convenient, especially if you’ve ravenous and strapped for time after a gruelling workout, which makes protein supplements an attractive option for gym bunnies and sports fans. Brands such as protein subscription service P-Fit even recommend users a personalised blend based on their lifestyle and goals.

In aid of Women In Sport Week, which aims to raise the profile of women's sport in the UK and get more of us active at every level, we decided to get the lowdown on protein powder. Your protein intake is a crucial factor to consider when intensifying your exercise routine or starting a regime for the first time.

We spoke to Leo Savage, a personal trainer at Third Space gym in London, about why protein is important and the factors women should consider before they start making protein shakes or adding it to their morning smoothies.

Why is protein important?
Protein is important for everyone because proteins are the building blocks of muscle. When you work out, especially resistance training (weights), you're creating micro tears in the muscle. To repair them, you have to consume protein which is broken down to rebuild the muscle.
What are the signs that a woman should be eating more protein?
If you're carrying out strenuous exercise in the form of weights or circuits, you need to be upping your protein intake. You may experience excess hunger when not eating enough of the right foods, which shouldn't be the case. Eating more protein can aid with the release of hunger suppressing hormones.

Also, if you don't think you're building enough muscles or getting more "toned" as a result of your exercise, you probably aren't eating enough protein. The amount is dependant on the individual.

Who should consider taking protein powder?

You don't need to be taking protein powder if you don't exercise or do very little exercise, such as walks or light jogs. They're called supplements for a reason, because they're meant to supplement your normal daily diet. They shouldn't be considered a meal replacement.

When you train with weights or carry out HIIT (high intensity interval training) sessions regularly, protein shakes are ideal to aid recovery post workout.

What are the different types of protein powder available?
There are different sources of protein powder available, including:

Whey protein, which is derived from milk and quickly absorbed by the body.

Vegan protein, which is also quickly absorbed and derived from hemp and pea proteins. It's ideal for those with allergies and intolerances, such as lactose or gluten intolerance.

Casein protein, which is also derived from milk. It's a slowly-absorbed protein that's ideal to have in a shake before bed to release protein throughout your night's sleep.

How should women decide which protein powder is right for them?
Your dietary requirements and allergies are a big indicator when deciding between whey and vegan protein. Then it depends on whether you need a quickly-absorbed protein for straight after exercise (vegan or whey), or a slowly-released protein for before bed (casein).

Are there any risks to consuming too much protein?
Your body only needs a certain amount of protein – 20 to 30g – in one meal to trigger protein synthesis (muscle growth). Anything in excess of this can be used by your body to build enzymes, hormones and fulfil other functions.

Which brands of protein powder should women consider?
You want to stick to well-known brands when it comes to protein powders as there can be unknown substances in lesser-known brands. Neat Nutrition makes a very good vegan and whey range of protein, and Optimum Nutrition is known for its high-quality whey and casein protein range.

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