Linia Patel is a registered dietician and sports nutritionist, currently studying for her PhD.
I listened to a short podcast by Linia produced for FitPro (Fitness Professionals – the organisation of which I am a member and have my professional insurance with) on the subject of protein powders, and here is a summary of her views.
There is a vast array of protein powders in the shops today, with the source of protein varying from, for example, whey, soy, hemp or pea.
Do we need protein powders? There is very little point in taking a protein supplement if protein intake from your diet is good, however it can be useful as a concentrated source of protein which is easy to consume and is helpful if your energy requirements, training load and goals and appetite demand it. (Personally, I use it in my breakfast smoothie to help increase satiety, and to ensure I can last until lunchtime with no snacks). My 90 year old mum also takes a small portion in milk to help increase her daily calories, given that her appetite and overall intake is low.
There are three main types of protein supplement: Whey, Casein, and vegan / plant based options.
Whey – the most common protein powder which is from a dairy source. It can be hydrolyzed – broken down into smaller amino acids making it quicker to digest, or it can be an isolate – the purest form possible.
Casein – similar to whey, from cow’s milk. It is slower to digest than whey so optimal timing is to take before going to bed.
Plant based options:
Pea – lactose and gluten free. Deficient in cysteine so it is not a complete source. Most plant based proteins are incomplete so taking a combination is recommended.
Soy – comparable to whey but contains estrogens.
Brown rice protein – gluten and lactose free, but deficient in lysine and other amino acids.
Hemp – this is the only plant based option which is a complete protein, but apparently has a taste which takes a bit of getting used to.
The amount of protein per serving to look for is approximately 20 grams. The less ingredients listed the better.
There must be a lot to learn on the subject of protein intake and powders, and most of us non athletes may not need it, but I find it is helpful to have that additional 15 grams of protein with breakfast, which I otherwise wouldn’t have had unless I’m feeling like eggs, chicken or fish at 7:30 in the morning (not likely I’m afraid). Feeling of elegant sufficiency for the morning is important to me.