There are loads of protein products on the market, each competing to be the best and there are many factors to take into account: cost effectiveness, amino acid profile and added ingredients to name but a few.
Here at Team Nutrition, we want to provide an objective guide to those of you looking for protein products, whether you are an athlete looking at muscle recovery, a gym-goer looking bulk up or someone looking to maintain or lose weight.
1. Protein per Serving
Perhaps the most important factor is amount of protein per serving, this means looking at the ingredients or the nutritional information of product.
If a product says 50 x 30g servings but each serving only contains 10g of protein, it will not be as effective as a similar serving size containing 25g of protein.
Furthermore, it is likely to contain ‘filler’ ingredients or extra bulking agents that make the product seem like value for money or give the powder a particular texture, but actually could not be as nutritionally beneficial.
2. Amino Acid Profile
This involves some more in-depth research or use of a calculator, depending on how the protein shake or powder is packaged. Many products display only the amount of branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs) in the shake, rather than a complete profile.
This is not necessarily a bad thing as the amount of BCAAs is often a good indicator for the quality of the product. Be wary of shops that do not display the BCAA profile as this is sometimes the indicator of poor quality amino acid proportions.
Ideally, a decent protein powder or shake should contain at least 13g BCAAs per 100g (4g per 30g serving, the average serving size in many products on the market). This would provide you with one to two-thirds of your daily amino acid intake and around 20-40% of your protein intake.
It also should contain all nine essential amino acids; otherwise it is not regarded as ‘complete’ and your body could be missing out!
If you know that you need a particular amino acid, find out if that protein powder or drink has enough.
3. The Type of Protein
Not all proteins are the same. Apart from having different amino acid profiles, they also might contain different allergens. For example, if you are lactose intolerant then milk, casein, and most whey proteins will be unsuitable for you.
Furthermore, different proteins have different absorption rates into the body. Whey and Soya proteins are absorbed by the body very quickly and can therefore be very useful to be taken before training.
Milk protein on the other hand is absorbed far slower and is more suitable to be taken before bed or as a meal replacement shake – there is no point loading up your body with protein if you are not going to use it straight away!
4. Your Goals
This brings us nicely onto the next important point about choosing the correct protein shake or powder – what you are going to use it for. As mentioned before, proteins are absorbed at different speeds into the body and have different properties, so if you are going to be at the gym or exercising heavily, take a fast-acting protein like whey or egg (or a mix).
If you are looking to slim down or maintain your current weight, soya is good as it has no lactose or cholesterol, as is casein or milk protein for the slower absorption rates, which provide a steadier release of protein after consumption.
If you are looking to maintain an active lifestyle, either playing sports or otherwise exercising, be sure to take on from 2-2.5g of protein per kg of body weight (140-175g for an 11 stone adult).
Otherwise you will not be feeding your muscles with enough to recover and rebuild and you could find yourself falling ill as your immune systems suffers from the increased stress!
5. Added Ingredients
Many protein shakes and powders on the market today contain added ingredients, which perform a variety of tasks, from increasing absorption to performing very specific nutritional roles, like making you feel fuller for longer.
As always, make sure you know what you’re buying (or what you are not buying), there is no point paying for a lot of fancy ingredients if a) you don’t know what you’re taking or b) you don’t need to take!
If you are looking to bulk up and gain muscle mass, look for relevant ingredients like creatine, which accelerates muscle creation by providing them with lots of energy.
If you are a long distance athlete or need to recover quickly, added ingredients like a pro-biotic (or even better a pre-biotic) with help your body fight against illness as it becomes weakened from intensive exercise.
If you are looking to stay slim or lose weight, there are some highly specialized ingredients that can help you but most importantly, buy a protein powder or shake with very low carbohydrates, fats and cholesterol.
6. Taste and Texture
Finally, you should consider how the protein powder or shake tastes. Don’t fall for the marketing line that says effectiveness comes at the price of taste – this is not true in many cases!
If you do not like the taste or texture of something, regardless of how healthy or beneficial it is, you will not want to continue taking it!
Experiment with added ingredients (bearing in mind this will change the nutritional content!) or carrying amounts of milk or water or simply try another brand or flavour and you look will forward to working out – a positive frame of mind is equally as important as any product you take!
© Team Nutrition 2013