Protein Powder: What It Does And What Is It Made From?

As it turns out, protein shakes are not only good for the bodybuilder/weightlifter, they can also be very useful if you’re trying to lose weight. There’s a reason why the most popular advertisements have “before-and-after” photo of a hopeful and pleased person holding the protein shake brand of choice. This article is intended to take you on a deeper dive into the the types of protein, how they work for your body, and to what extent you can benefit from them.

Not only are protein shakes very convenient for people for looking to gain muscle and/or lose weight, studies have shown that there are also actually effective – unlike some of those popular diets that don’t quite measure up when you try them. We don’t, however, want you to get into your mind that protein shakes are a cure-all for weight management; there’s a method optimizing the utility.

Let’s start at the beginning: defining protein shakes

All it takes is one quick Internet search, or visit to the local nutrition store, to become almost bewildered by the sheer plenitude of different kinds of protein shakes that are available.

You can find them being sold as protein powder in a container, premixed shakes in a shaker bottle or glass bottle, and fruit concoctions from protein companies. The flavors, types and formulations are virtually endless, and can leave you in a sort of analysis-paralysis if this is your first time actively searching for a dietary supplement of this type.

The weight-loss industry has really ramped things ever since protein shakes became an indelible part of that market. Now you can find me a replacement alternative that works especially well in weight management; the protein helps to dampen your appetite even as your body has more calories to digest. It is essentially a two-pronged attack on your fat cells.

The best way to use protein shakes, of course, is to pair them with an effective lifestyle change. It is not safe to drink exclusively protein shakes for a prolonged period, since your body functions best when it is getting all three macronutrients – protein, carbohydrates, and fat – in the appropriate percentages. When you combine protein shake consumption with calorie management and an adequate exercise regimen, it can be a part of a truly successful weight loss journey.

There are many types of protein available

With so many different types of protein powders available, it’s a veritable cakewalk to find one that’s optimized for use at different times of the day. For example, if you want a protein to use right after your workout, then whey protein is best because it works very quickly to start rebuilding muscle. On the other hand, if you want a protein to protect against nighttime catabolism, then slow-release casein protein is best.

Let’s dive right in and summarize the different kinds of protein:

Whey Protein

Out of all the proteins on this list, whey protein is the most well-known. One of the reasons for this is because it is highly-prized and preferred by bodybuilders because of its superior muscle-building properties. The body absorbs whey protein easily, and it is all natural-is separated from Cal-derived milk and, as a result, very inexpensive when compared to other kinds of proteins. Whey comes in 3 variants – concentrate, isolate and hydrolysate.

Pea Protein

More advanced users (bodybuilders and weightlifters, that is), pea protein is a staple in their diets because of its low-release properties. Even more so, you’ll find that this is the preferred protein by vegetarians and vegans since it doesn’t derive from dairy products.

It’s important, however, to know that although pea protein is one of the complete proteins, it has small amounts of methionine – which is an essential amino acid. As a result, many users will combine other sources of protein with their pea protein shake for purposes of balance and completion. Vegans will add not milk and/or nut butter.

Casein Protein

The chief “advantage” that casein protein has over whey protein is that the former takes considerably longer to digest. You may wonder whether or not this is a good thing; ask any serious weightlifter, and they’ll tell you a resounding yes! Your body can feast on its own muscles during the nighttime as you sleep; casein protein stifles this catabolic tendency.

Casein protein is also useful if you’re trying to lose weight – it has the distinct ability to make you feel full for a long period of time. This stems from slow digestion; although casein has more than whey, the difference is made up in the fact that you don’t need to eat as much. Keep in mind that casein is also derived from the milk of cows, which means that it’s not a viable source of protein for serious vegans and vegetarians.

Rice Protein

You’re probably aware that brown rice contains a lot more protein than white rice. It should come as no surprise then, that vegans heavily gravitate towards brown rice protein powders. Although rice protein is a complete protein, it doesn’t have very much of the essential amino acid lysine – therefore, you’ll probably need to supplement it with other proteins.

Egg Protein

Egg protein is as easily absorbed by the body as whey protein; however, since it comes from dairy products it probably isn’t a viable option for vegans. Additionally, only the egg whites are used in producing egg protein so they often require supplementation.

Hemp Protein

This is a good one for vegetarians and vegans: hemp protein comes completely from plant life, and it is rich in omega-3 fatty acid. It’s also one of the few complete proteins derived from plants – although it is low in the essential amino acid lysine.

Cricket Protein

This one is exactly what it sounds like – ground crickets, made into muscle-building protein powder. It may not be the most appealing protein on this list, but there’s no doubt that it works for muscle recovery and muscle building.

Soy Protein

Soy protein is the only vegetarian-type of protein on this list that is not known in any of the essential amino acids. As a complete protein, it is especially favored by vegetarians who avoid animal proteins.

Especially as a male weightlifter/bodybuilder, there may be a reason to minimize soy protein: it possesses phytoestrogens, which are known to have dampening effect on testosterone – although it’s important to note that more research is needed on the extent to which this is true.

Collagen Protein

We use the word “protein” loosely, since collagen is definitely not a complete protein source; furthermore, it doesn’t mix well with other proteins to make a shape. However, many users attest to the fact that collagen protein can lend an unmistakable glow to their skin.

Protein shakes and science: What do the experts say?

Building Muscle

The science is blazingly clear on the beneficial effects that protein consumption has for building muscle. If you are regularly engaging in resistance training and supplementing your diet with whey protein in particular, then accelerated muscle growth is virtually guaranteed

Additionally, protein requires more energy from the body to digest than carbs; this means that eating protein revs up your fat-burning abilities, thereby dramatically increasing the number of calories you burn daily. Even more impressively, as you build muscle you will burn calories even when you’re resting because of the energy required to maintain those muscles.

Weight Loss

There are quite a few ways protein aids weight loss. First and foremost, it is known to boost metabolism (we will cover this specifically further down in this section); it’s more filling than most carbohydrates, and protein helps you build muscle automatically through fat-burning. Shortly, protein requires more calories to digest.

In order to take advantage of these wonderful properties for the purposes of weight loss or weight maintenance, you can replace one meal with a protein shake each day to start. If this goes well, you can even consider replacing two meals – but not more than that, as macronutrients such as fats and carbs are just as important for health management.

Appetite Control

One of the many things that protein does for the body is the management of the hunger hormone known as ghrelin. Additionally, protein digests slowly when compared to carbs, so you feel full longer – which of course means that you won’t feel the need to eat as much or as often.

Another big benefit is the ability to help control blood sugar. Low blood sugar is a feature of certain chronic diseases, and protein is known to regulate the levels and keep them from dipping too low or cresting too high – especially for the time period between meals.

Metabolic Rate

Because protein takes longer to digest than carbs, and it also requires more energy to do so, it is considered a “thermic” substance. Basically, it costs your body more calories to digest it – which leads, inexorably, to greater fat loss. Strengthening your diet with protein will result in more lost calories (a good thing) simply by eating.

There’s also the fact that protein leads to muscle growth, and muscle burns calories even while you’re resting.

How to get more protein in your diet

Given that you’ve got plenty of protein from which to choose, the first order of business in incorporating this macronutrient smoothly into your diet is to pick the type(s) you wish to use. If you abstain from animal products, then you are restricted to hemp protein, soy protein, pea protein and rice protein. If you are not vegetarian or vegan, however, then whey protein is probably the best place to start.

There are advantages to either making your own protein shakes, or buying them from brand name manufacturers. For obvious reasons, pre-made protein shakes will set you back a little bit more in the finances department; if you make your own, you save a little bit of money (although it will cost you more time and planning) and you can add more stuff to it to bolster vitamins, minerals, or other sources of protein.

How much protein do you need daily? There are plenty of web-based sources that you can use to pin this number down. The generally accepted number is about 25% of their daily calories should come from protein – translates to about half a gram of protein per pound of body weight. Therefore, if you wait 200 pounds then 100 g of protein per day will be more than enough for anyone except the bodybuilder. In the latter case, it’s recommended that you get anywhere from 1-2 g of protein per pound of body weight per day to really pack on the muscle.

Keep in mind that the above numbers can vary widely depending on your age, health and body composition. Additionally, having too much protein in your diet will not be beneficial if you have pre-existing kidney disease; furthermore, eating too much protein will cause your body to store what it cannot use as fat after it excretes the amino acids via bowel movement.

Even when it comes to weight management/weight loss, you have to be careful not to substitute too many meals with protein shakes. Simply put, protein does not have enough calories to sustain you if you’re replacing too many meals with it. If you’re going to do it with more than one, make sure that your second protein shake has ingredients such as avocado, frozen berries, peanut butter, etc.

Lastly you want to really super-charge your weight management goals, and in some resistance training to go with your intake of protein shakes. Even if you just push ups in front of the TV – it is most certainly a good start.

Before you begin any dramatically new diet or weight management program, seek out advice from a professional. A certified personal trainer will do; a registered dietitian will do even better. Good luck in your weight loss journey!


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