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Protein Powder 101: So You Don’t Have To Get Ripped Off In A Nutrition Store

May 17, 2017 07:55AM ● By Kait Taylor
Weight loss is always a big part of what I do as personal trainer and health coach, but with only a month left before summer begins, most of my clients are looking to step up their efforts to feel good in their shorts, tanks and bathing suits this year. And if that weren’t enough motivation, Tewksbury Sports Club is in full swing with its Biggest Winner competition. There’s a lot on the line to lose!

It’s the time of year I meet some new faces, and it’s also the time of year that my veteran ass-kickers start taking my nutrition coaching seriously. And my approach for both of them is to first eliminate processed foods as much as possible, bring in more veggies and increase protein.

Most body transformation programs, especially weight loss, are going to advise to prioritize protein in your meals. It’s the building block of lean tissue. It takes longer to digest than carbohydrates so it will keep you satiated longer, and it cannot be stored as fat (as long as you don’t eat over your daily calories). So whether you’re an athlete or weight loss layman looking to lose a few for summer, it’s important to get enough of this nutrient.

So I’m getting a lot of questions lately on nutrition, and I’m not too surprised most of it is about protein.

“Do I need protein powder?”

“Can you recommend a protein bar?”

“What do I eat?!”

Real food is always better.

Real food is always better than powders!

According to Precision Nutrition, one of the leading training courses for top nutrition coaches (including myself), the BEST source of nutrition is always from whole foods: sweet potatoes and fruit are better than a processed oat bar, real vegetables are always better than greens powder, and chicken, eggs, Greek yogurt, steak and pork (and plants like legumes, nuts and seeds when paired together) are better sources of protein than a powder.

This is probably something you already know: it takes time and effort to have quality meals. When coaches say, “If you want it, you have to work for it,” we don’t just mean you’ll have to train hard. It’s work to make a meal plan, shop for it and cook it, pack it, and make the right choices when you crave something off-plan. You must put in that effort.

HOWEVER – life isn’t perfect and neither is nutrition. When you are running around doing errands, driving your kids around or it’s a hectic day at work, a scoop of protein powder can be super clutch. When you miss the sweet stuff like ice cream, want to make baked goods healthier  or love the idea of a tasty smoothie, protein powder is there for you. And for people that have to get in 150+ grams of protein, a shake can be a help.

So let’s talk protein powder – because NO ONE deserves to be taken advantage of by a GNC salesperson.

You don’t have to go to a special health food store, you just need to read the label.

GNC, Vitamin Shoppe, Whole Foods, CVS and even supermarkets like Market Basket all carry oodles of protein powders, but instead of staring at the shelves in indecisive horror, you will know exactly what you need if you follow these parameters. 

FIRST: Whey or vegan ?

Whey protein powders are made from dairy, while vegan powders could be any one of or a combination of plant powders like brown rice protein, pea protein, cranberry seed, hemp hearts and ever spirulina. 

For most people, the only real question you need to ask yourself is, does dairy bother my stomach? This isn’t just limited to the lactose intolerant – I know countless people who don’t like the way they feel (gassy, bloated, etc.) when they drink whey. Which is why it’s great to have another option.

However, whey does provide a benefit if you want to take advantage of the post-workout window. Whey is a faster-digested protein, and therefore taken in the 30-60 minutes after a workout, it will help your muscles recover and give them the fuel they need once you’re done working them.

SECOND: choose a powder with minimal ingredients

If there is much more than the listed protein, a flavoring like chocolate or vanilla, or a natural sweetener like stevia, you could do better. Avoid sugar alcohols like sucralose or xylitol, and don’t put anything in your body if you don’t know what it is (cellulose gum? Yum…?).

Whether using whey or vegan, consider HOW it was made. Is the whey from grass-fed cows that were not treated with antibiotics? Are the plants in the vegan brand organic? If it’s important to you, research the company you are buying from.

THIRD: The fun part – WHAT’S YO’ FLAVAH?

Chocolate, vanilla, cookies and cream, snickerdoodle, cafe latte – there are tons of flavors out there, it’s no wonder why so many people have and buy several different tubs of protein at one time. What I would advise is for you to think about HOW you’ll be using your protein. Will you mix it with water or almond milk? Will you put a scoop in your oatmeal or add it to your coffee? Are you making protein pancakes or do you want something that will play down the kale in your smoothie?

What about me?

I personally use chocolate for everything, mostly because I believe CHOCOLATE is everything. I  do all of the above with my protein powder (I try not to do more than one scoop a day), using chocolate as a neutral. I switch back and forth between vegan and dairy, depending on when and what I’m using it for. Lately, I don’t use it post-workout, so I’m using the Essentials line of the plant brand Vega. Last month, I was using SFH Pure Protein, a grass-fed, organic whey protein brand because I was using it as my first meal of the day after a fasted workout.

This shake actually doesn’t have any powders at all – just blended, natural whole foods. And it was DELICIOUS.

Protein powder is no longer just an accessory for the meathead bros or bodybuilders. Like a multivitamin, it can be a great tool for anyone who is struggling to get proper nutrition. But it is a supplement, not to be used constantly to replace your meals. Eat real food, get real results!

Comment below if you’d like to hear more about my thoughts on protein bars!

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