A Pharmacist's Guide to Protein Powder
There are so many protein powders on the market. How do you know which is right for you or your patients?
Protein is one of 3 macronutrients, along with carbohydrates and fat. Protein is made of amino acids, and is often referred to in the context of muscle repair. There are 20 amino acids, and 9 of them are essential, meaning the body cannot produce it. It is also the building blocks of skin, hair, hormones, and neurotransmitters. We also obtain vitamins and minerals from protein, such as B vitamins that are essential for energy production. To ensure the supply of amino acids is steady, and readily available, we must consume protein daily.
The amount of protein needed varies based on age, exercise goals, stress, and body weight. For example, someone in metabolic stress may need more protein than a healthy individual. A 30 year old, 6’4” bodybuilder will need more protein than a 90 year old, 5’3”woman.
Protein powder is an easy way to increase protein intake, especially for those who you busy professionals, and have limited time to consume their food. There are many types of protein powder available on the market, and it can often be confusing to understand which to buy, let alone what ingredients to watch out for.
Here are the various types of protein powders:
Whey protein is dervied from cow’s milk. The liquid from milk is pasturized, spray dried, and filtered into a powder. Whey concentrate has around 70-85% protein, while isolate has even more protein (around 90-95%%), and less fat and carbohydrate. Whey protein is the least expensive of all of the protein powders, which makes it appealing to many people. You can also find different flavors of whey powder—chocolate, vanilla, birthday cake, and even cookies and cream are available. With whey protein, always choose a grass-fed option, as there are more fatty acids available in the product.
Whey protein is absorbed quickly into the bloodstream and used for muscle growth and recovery, and lean body composition. This is best used after a workout. It is naturally complete with all the essential amino acids. However, whey contains lactose and may cause gastrointestinal symptoms.
Like whey, this protein powder is also dairy-based. Casein is a long-acting protein powder, and is best consumed at bedtime. People who want to avoid muscle breakdown consume casein before bed.
Egg protein is a concentrated amount of the egg-white portion of the egg that is dehydrated, and formed into a powder. Egg protein is relatively easy to digest, and involves minimal processing.
Plant-based protein can contain pea protein, hemp, quinoa, soy, or rice. These plant-based powders are typically lower in protein potency, and often not a complete protein on its own. Remember that we need to obtain the 9 essential amino acids from our diet. For example, pea protein is lacking in methionine, which is normally found in oats, fish, and other animal meat. Ensuring you have a well-rounded diet will help to fill in these gaps.
Soy is estrogenic, meaning it mimics the structure of estrogen. Although the evidence is still unclear about whether or not a high soy diet can lead to breast cancer, you may still want to steer clear if you have a family history. Also, some soy contains GMO (genetically modified organisms) that can be harmful to cells. GMO’s chemical structure has been manipulated to create a cross-breed of a new organism. Many corn, and soy products on the market are made from GMO and are not yet mandated to be labeled as such.
What to look out for:
Always look at the ingredient list on the back of the package. Don't let savvy marketing, and advertising techniques fool you. You are doing this to ensure that there is no sugar in the product. If it ends in '-ose' or 'syrup' it is a sugar. Some examples would be lactose, sucrose, maltose, brown rice syrup, or maple syrup. Keep in mind some of the other things I've mentioned like 'non-GMO' or 'grass-fed' as good indicators that you are choosing the right product.
No matter your preference, budget or taste, there are many options to consider when selecting the appropriate protein powder to meet your needs.