So you have started making your gym trips more regular and are more focused on exercise and fitness in general.
You have heard about protein powder and you want to know if it is all that it’s cracked up to be and how it works.
It’s fairly simple really. Your body’s muscle cells, or muscle fibres, are predominantly made up of different protein filaments.
When you work out to strengthen and increase your muscle’s mass, you are putting stress on the fibres, which damages them and makes them tear.
Yes, with a balanced diet, you should be getting protein into your body anyway.
However, the protein you receive from whole foods is not absorbed into the body as quickly as the protein you receive from protein powder.
For someone who regularly exercises there is a need for extra protein in their diet. And there are certain times when a quick, extra kick of protein is just what the doctor ordered.
- 1 Where Can You Find Protein?
- 2 What Else Do You Need To See Those Gains?
- 3 Do You Need Protein Shakes?
- 4 What Types of Protein Powder Are There?
- 5 What Types of Whey Protein Are Available?
- 6 Which Type of Whey Protein Should You Buy?
- 7 Do You Need Extra Protein?
- 8 Increase Your Calorie Intake
- 9 Why Are Protein Powders So Popular?
- 10 What About Exercise?
- 11 In Conclusion
Where Can You Find Protein?
Protein is found in much of the food we consume in what would be considered an ‘ordinary person’ diet.
All dairy products, eggs, meat and fish, lentils, beans, nuts, even some vegetables, broccoli are a great example.
Protein supplements, taking the most common product type as an example, whey protein is derived from dairy. It is not grown or artificially manufactured in an underground lab as many a rumour will tell you.
Depending on the filtering process used and the addition of flavouring and such things. Whey Protein is a relatively clean and easily digested form of protein.
Protein ‘shakes’ or the powder used in the vast majority of protein supplements serves a simple primary purpose. To act as an easily accessible, low preparation and relatively cost-effective way to increase an individual’s daily protein intake.
Everyone, even the more sedentary among us, needs protein in their diet. The difference between athletes and bodybuilders vs the more sedentary (couch potatoes, there we said it!) among us, is that the more active you are.
Particularly in the case of bodybuilding in which you’re actively damaging muscle tissue for the purpose of causing hypertrophy. Your bodies protein demands are higher.
If you do not meet these protein demands vs your activity, you will take longer to heal, potentially become run down and ill. And worst of all for a bodybuilder, you won’t be able to grow new muscle tissue. So no gains for you!
What Else Do You Need To See Those Gains?
Yes, protein is absolutely essential for muscle growth as we’ve just stated, but a high protein intake on its own won’t result in excessive muscle development. This is dictated by your workouts and overall calorie intake.
What most don’t realise is that along with additional protein intake, the bodybuilders you see on the cover of magazines and posing on stage at Mr Olympia are likely consuming upwards of 8,000-10,000 calories per day . Four times the average person’s calorie needs and training with insanely heavy weights with a serious intensity almost every day.
Do You Need Protein Shakes?
Now let’s pause for a second and address a common question. Can you be a bodybuilder without using protein supplements? The simple answer would be yes. You can get your protein intake from ‘real food’ instead of using supplements.
On the flip side, however, if you’re looking to build serious size and muscle mass, doing so without supplements is possible yes but honestly, a little unrealistic. Here’s why.
Let’s assume we follow the popular premise that in order to grow new muscle as an active individual you need at least 2 grams of protein consumed daily, per kilo of bodyweight. So for a 90kg (roughly 15 stone) guy you’re talking 180grams of protein per day.
The average supermarket bought chicken breast contains around 20grams of protein. So if we take the very simple approach to this equation. That’s nine chicken breasts you would need to consume per day. 900grams of chicken breast.
Not to mention you need to cook all of this, store in your fridge etc.
Yes, it can be done, but who wants to eat nine chicken breasts a day every day? That’s 63 in total.
Protein supplements exist at a base level to provide the extra daily protein you need to function as an athlete and continue to grow.
That’s it, there is nothing sinister or unnatural about these products.
Next time someone gives you stick for downing your chocolate whey protein shake at work. Ask them to try drinking 1.5 blended chicken breasts and see how they like that as an alternative. We’ve done it guys, it’s not pretty and it tastes like ass. We don’t recommend it.
If you couldn’t grow muscles without protein shakes, then we would have been a scrawny race.
Sure, if you are working out then protein shakes will help you achieve those muscles you are working for. You can also get a substantial amount of protein through a planned and balanced diet.
So how do you bulk up without the use of protein shakes? I will tell you how, through dedication, hard work and a healthy, protein-rich diet.
What Types of Protein Powder Are There?
Protein powders come in many different forms and are derived from different sources. Essentially they are all refined to result in a form of concentrated protein.
If you have ever visited a supplement shop or website then you will understand why some people find the experience of buying whey protein a little overwhelming.
Firstly you have to choose between the three different types of whey protein powder that you can buy:
However, even when you have got over this hurdle you then have to navigate your way through a maze of different brands. Each claiming that their particular product is superior.
The first thing you have to realize when deciding on which whey protein to buy is that no matter how fancy the label is. All whey protein is made with the exact same process.
That process is just four simple steps:
- Cows eat grass
- Cows produce Milk
- That milk is turned into cheese
- This process produces leftover whey, which is filtered and dried to obtain the whey protein
It’s that simple.
So the vast majority of marketing words that you see on protein packets like ‘hyper’, ‘super’ and ‘performance’ are just that, marketing.
However, that is not to say therefore that all protein powders are the same. Whilst the process to create the raw whey protein is always the same, the way it is refined and produced can have a great impact on the final result.
What Types of Whey Protein Are Available?
Let's look at the three major types of whey protein:
#1: Whey Protein Concentrate
This is the cheapest form of whey. It is whey protein that has been concentrated down to primarily protein, which is where the name comes from.
The concentration level of protein in whey protein concentrate can range from 29% up to 89%. However, most sold as supplements are in the range of 70 to 90%.
The higher the percentage of protein, the better.
Whey protein concentrate also tends to contain the highest levels of carbohydrates, which is part of the reason why it’s the cheapest form of whey protein.
#2: Whey Protein Isolate
This is more refined than concentrate, generally containing 90% or more protein.
During the additional refining process more of the fat and lactose is removed which results in much lower levels of fats and carbs as well.
#3: Whey Protein Hydrolysate
The next step up from whey protein isolate is whey protein hydrolysate, which is created through several additional steps in the refining process.
The benefit of whey protein isolate is that it saves your body from having to hydrolyze the proteins before it can absorb them. This aids the digestion process and allows your body to utilize the protein faster.
The second benefit of whey protein hydrolysate is that you get a much bigger boost of insulin compared to concentrate or isolate . This helps your body funnel more fuel into your muscles.
Other types of protein powder include those made from casein, soy and pea. Though all three of these protein powders have the benefits of extra protein. They also have slightly different benefits from each other.
#4: Casein Protein Powder
With the different forms of whey protein, the goal is to get the protein absorbed into the system as fast as possible. This makes whey protein an excellent post-workout shake as it means that you can immediately start muscle protein synthesis.
Casein which is also derived from milk is a slow-releasing protein that can take hours to breakdown in the body. It is for this reason that many people take Casein before they go to bed, as it can improve overnight recovery from exercise .
Casein is also high in Glutamine which can also help aid recovery from exercise .
Another benefit of Casein is that because it is slow digesting it can help keep you feeling fuller for longer. This means that Casein is a great protein choice for people who are trying to lose body fat by staying in a calorie deficit.
#5: Soy Protein Powder
Soy protein powder is a plant-based alternative to whey protein for those who do not consume milk or its derivatives.
Whilst it is similar to whey in its effect on muscle, Soy protein powder is looked at as a poor choice of powder due to its effect on Testosterone.
#6: Pea Protein Powder
Pea protein is another plant-based alternative to whey protein. While soy protein could lower your testosterone levels and as such is not popular with male lifters, pea protein has no such problem.
Pea protein is lactose, gluten, and cholesterol-free. It also contains a comparable amount of protein per serving.
It is perfect for vegans as there are no animal by-products in pea protein at all.
This is made by adding calcium, potassium and sodium to casein. Caseinate is very high in protein content and it is very easy to mix with milk or water.
#8: Micellar Casein
Micellar casein removes all of the casein by microfiltration.
This mechanism separates the casein from the whey and it also removes a lot of the lactose and fats.
It is more difficult to mix with water and it is the slowest absorbing of all of the casein proteins.
A suggestion is to consume it before bed time due to its slow release and absorption.
#9: Hydrolysed Casein
This type of protein is produced by hydrolysing the casein. This process breaks down the bonds between the amino acids.
Hydrolysed casein is the fastest absorbing casein protein and can be used in between meals and after you finish exercising.
#10: Goat’s Milk Protein
Some bodybuilders are allergic to cow’s milk. This has led to the manufacturers creating a whey and casein protein substitute.
Goat’s milk protein is made from goats that are grass-fed. This makes the protein far easier to absorb when compared to protein derived from cows.
However, it can taste a little bland and it has lower amounts of protein and higher fat and carb content when compared to cow’s milk protein.
#11: Egg Protein
Egg protein powder is the highest grade protein on the market and it can be rapidly absorbed by the skeletal muscle.
It has very high levels of amino acids and has no fat or carbs.
It can be used before or after your workouts and it is excellent for both protein synthesis and muscle repair.
Which Type of Whey Protein Should You Buy?
Well, whey protein hydrolysate will give you the best results, but unless you are a peak performance athlete pushing the boundaries on a daily basis it’s probably a bit overkill.
A good whey protein concentrate  or isolate will produce excellent results for the vast majority of people.
If you have the money, go for a whey protein isolate because they have higher protein levels and are lower in simple carbs.
If the budget is a bit tight this month though then there is nothing wrong with a good whey protein concentrate. Just look out for one with the highest protein content and lowest carbohydrate levels that you can find.
And remember, no matter how much you pay or how fancy the label is, all whey protein is made from the same stuff!
Do You Need Extra Protein?
When you are still young. Let’s say until the age of 24, your whole body is still developing and therefore needs more protein than normal anyway.
If you are exercising and working out during these periods there is even more need for protein to keep up with the bodies need to regenerate and build itself.
Also, if you have suffered from a sports injury. Then your body is also going to need an extra boost of protein to keep up with the demand so that your body can work harder and faster to heal itself.
Extra protein is also needed for someone who is new to exercise, or has recently bumped up their normal routine. This is because your body is going to require more protein than it normally does. And an easy way to incorporate that into your diet is through protein powder.
If you are a vegan, then it is incredibly important that you ensure that you are receiving enough protein in your diet. This is because most complete proteins are found in meats and dairy.
Fortunately, some protein powders are made from soy and are therefore vegan-friendly. So a good way to ensure that you are getting enough protein would be to use a soy based protein powder.
Increase Your Calorie Intake
In order to gain muscle mass, you need to be increasing your calorie intake, and those calories should come from a nutrient-rich diet.
Instead of eating 3 large meals, try eating 5 moderate meals, with healthy snacks in between.
The calories you are after aren't the ones you get from candy, chocolate and fries. You need to ensure your diet is rich in complex carbohydrates, good fats, vitamins, minerals and of course complete proteins.
Why Are Protein Powders So Popular?
The reason protein shakes are effective is that they provide us with a high level of protein, that is easily digestible and can be used by the body to build and repair muscle tissue. However, protein is found naturally in many food sources.
When choosing what foods to incorporate into your diet in order to make it protein rich, you need to consider if they are high in complete proteins or if it is a source of incomplete protein.
Complete proteins contain all of the 9 amino acids that are essential to your body’s growth and regeneration. Incomplete proteins only contain some of these 9 amino acids.
Foods that contain complete proteins include red meats, poultry, eggs, fish, cheese, yoghurt, milk and soy products. Foods that contain incomplete proteins include grains, legumes, nuts and seeds.
It is a good idea to have a balanced diet that contains foods with both complete and incomplete proteins. These different foods also have many other nutritional benefits that will aid in the muscle building process.
However, if you are a vegetarian and are relying on grains, legumes, nuts and seeds, then it is even more important that you combine these different food sources. This will ensure you are getting all 9 of the essential amino acids.
What About Exercise?
Growing muscles isn’t just about what you put into your body; it’s also about how you work your body and how you train.
You can’t expect to grow muscles without putting in the hard work that is required. Sure some people seem to just be naturally born with that muscular physique, but for the rest of us, we need to work at it.
Everyone has genetic muscle growth potential. Unfortunately, it is almost impossible to tell what yours is. However, if building muscles is a new goal for you, then you will definitely be able to achieve results.
When working out in order to gain muscle mass there are a few main pointers to be aware of.
Firstly, train at higher intensities, for shorter periods of time. This will ensure that you are really stressing the muscles .
Secondly, minimise your cardio. Cardio is still important, but try to curb it to 20 minutes a day.
This will keep your cardiovascular system nice and healthy, whilst minimising your use of calories that are needed to power you through your muscle building exercises, as well as fuelling the process of tissue repair.
Finally, make sure you give your body time to recover, as the building and repairing of muscle tissue happen when the body is resting .
You can do this by alternating the body parts you are working on for different days, and ensuring you get rest days as well.
Protein intake has been proven to be most effective when taken throughout the day, rather than skewed towards dinner (which is the case for most people).
So finding a protein powder that you can take before bed, or with breakfast is the most important thing.
Other than that, choose whatever protein powder you want it really comes down to personal preference.
A cheap whey protein concentrate could leave some people bloated and gassy. This doesn't mean that everyone would be affected by this. Also, in terms of protein content, it is identical to the other powders.
You don't take protein powders because they are perfect. You take them because they are more convenient than cooking a meal.