Though proteins are best derived from whole foods, if your diet is solid and you’re simply trying to add a protein supplement between meals, protein powder can be a useful addition to your diet.
Most people eat about 10% of their protein at breakfast, about 20% at lunch and about 70% at dinner. However, protein intake should be spread out more evenly to increase protein synthesis, and protein powder can help you achieve that goal. What type of protein powder, you ask?
Whey is one of the richest sources of branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs), including leucine, isoleucine and valine. These three gems have been shown to be absolutely critical for muscle growth, and even energy during workouts.
Whey protein also provides antioxidant benefits, boosts immune function, and enhances muscle recovery and growth.
When you were a kid and read about Little Miss Muffet “eating her curds and whey,” she was actually eating cottage cheese, a great source of whey protein.
Yet, many athletes and exercisers ingest much of their whey in the form of protein powder. However, not all whey protein powders are created equally. Some are made from concentrates, which are high in lactose.
If you are lactose intolerant or can’t digest lactose properly (i.e., you get stomach cramps, gas and diarrhea), but you want a high-quality protein powder with excellent bioavailability, you might try a 100% whey protein isolate powder.
The amount of lactose in whey protein isolate is quite low. The processing of whey into 100% isolate removes the lactose, lessening your chance of feeling gassy and bloated.
What separates whey protein from other forms of protein is its digestion rate; whey digests very rapidly. In fewer than 30 minutes it can fast-track a good portion of its amino acids to your muscles, and that rapid delivery of aminos to muscle cells has been shown to be important for enhancing muscle growth.
To be considered a great, whey protein the product MUST list whey protein isolate or hydrolyzed whey protein isolate as the very first ingredient. That’s because whey protein isolates are the purest form of protein you can get, with some being more than 90% protein. And “hydrolyzed whey protein isolate” means that high-quality whey has been pre-digested into smaller protein fragments for even faster digestion than regular whey isolate.
Whey protein concentrate, on the other hand, goes through less filtering, which means fewer of the natural carbohydrates found in milk are removed. The result is a whey product that is much lower in protein content. Although most whey protein concentrates are somewhere between 70-80% protein, some can be less than 35% protein. This is why isolates and hydrolysates generally cost more.
In order to know if a whey protein powder is top notch, you’ll need to do some math. Take the grams of protein per serving listed on the supplement facts panel and divide it by the serving size (in grams). This will give you the percentage of protein in each serving. To be considered a great whey protein powder, the percent protein per serving (or scoop) should be 80% or greater.