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Protein powder

Once thought to be the staple for fitness fanatics and body builders, protein powders are now becoming increasingly popular. But are they any good for you?

What do they do?

A good protein powder can be a great way to up your protein in a meal or snack that would otherwise be protein deficient, to ensure it balances your blood sugars and keeps you fuller for longer. They're particularly good for people who are juggling a regular exercise routine with a busy job.

Protein is necessary for a healthy immune system and required for organs like your heart, brain and skin to function properly. The nutrient also helps enhance muscle growth and can help get your metabolism working faster.

Taking protein powders after a workout will initiate recovery by flooding your bloodstream with amino acids, which are quickly shuttled into your muscle cells to become new muscle tissue.

How much protein you need in a day typically depends on your exercise routine (the more exercise you do, the more protein your body requires), age, and health. And whether to supplement protein intake with a protein powder has become a common query.

The easiest and most common way to use them is in smoothies. Smoothies are a great addition to your diet; they are easy to make, easy to digest and you can pack them full of nutrients. But if you like to load up the fruit, you're also loading up the sugar which naturally occurs in the fruits and therefore adding protein will help balance your blood sugar levels. Eating protein with every meal and snack is important if you're trying to be healthy and avoid energy slumps and carb cravings. You can also buy protein snacks or put protein powder in your porridge or pancakes.

Our top tips
  • The main source of your protein throughout the day should be whole foods. Protein powders make a nice addition to a smoothie but you can't replace the nutritional value of whole food. The best sources are fish, eggs, chicken and beef. If you’re plant based, you can find it in things like tofu, pulses, oats, nuts and seeds.

  • Go organic if you can and look for a one that's primarily just made up of protein.

  • Read the label - if you can't understand the ingredient list, don't buy it. It should be short and sweet, with simple comprehensible terms that you know are safe.

  • Remember that the suggested serving amount is a universal suggestion, so adapt for your needs.

  • Avoid those that use artificial sweeteners or excessive sugar (if you're adding to a fruit smoothie, try one that isn't sweetened at all). Stick to natural sweeteners like stevia or coconut sugar, and research on line if you aren't sure.

  • Have more than one type of powder in stock. We need a variety of protein in the same way we need a variety of fruit as they all have different nutritional benefits and it helps maintain a healthy gut. There's lots of different types available, so if you use them in your daily smoothie, then mix it up. We like whey (isolate if you can), rice, hemp, pea and collagen (great for skin and gut health too). Many of the decent plant based options use a mixture of proteins to diversify the amino acid content which is a healthy plus.

  • They have to taste good and mix well. There's no point soldiering on with one you have to choke down every time you use it. Check out the online reviews of the product you want to try before you buy to help you decide.

When to take protein powder

The views are quite conflicting on this, but ultimately, it's best to have it whenever is most convenient for you.

Many studies show that post-workout is when your muscles are able to absorb the most amount of protein. This can be anywhere from 15 to 120 mins after exercise according to recent research from the International Society of Sports Nutrition. So if you are using it as a post workout smoothie, then this is the best time to drink it.

Some of the brands we love

There are lots of great brands out there, you just need to make sure you have a proper look at the ingredients (and just as importantly, the reviews on how they taste!) before you buy. Plant protein is less expensive than good quality whey or collagen. A decent whey protein powder isn't cheap, so you might be better off sticking to whole food sources if your budget doesn't stretch far enough to buy a good one.

Pulsin our favourite for plant based proteins that won't break the bank.

Garden of Life use real organic ingredients and mix up their plant proteins to produce some excellent well reviewed protein powders.

The Organic Protein Co use top quality ingredients to produce Whey based powders from grass fed cattle, who aren't given hormones to increase production (a top tip for any dairy you eat!). The way they extract the protein means its fresher than most traditional methods too. We particularly like their Madagascan Vanilla Organic Whey Protein powder but if you like a really fruity smoothy, perhaps just stick to their Pure Unflavoured Whey powder and avoid the extra sugar.

Chuckling Goat aren't the faint-hearted price wise, but their Pure Fish Collagen powder has some real health benefits and we love it in a fruit based smoothie; you won't taste it, there's no added sugar and it contains a whooping 20 vital amino acids. Your gut will thank you.


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