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How to use protein powder: Our guide to using whey, casein and plant proteins

Whether you’re looking to bulk, cut or preserve, we’ve got you covered on how to use protein powder to best suit your needs.

When going to the gym, the sight of someone vigorously shaking a protein drink is a common occurrence. You might find them measuring and mixing it with a precise amount of water like a school science experiment. If you’re starting a new fitness regime or have decided now is the time to implement protein intake alongside your workouts, we’ll guide you through how and when to use protein powder for the best results.

If you find yourself somewhat confused about protein powder, the best place to start is knowing your reasons for using it. This will allow you to determine portion sizes, type of protein powder and frequency of intake. Once you have this information you can begin to focus on when you need to take it in relation to exercise and how you want to consume it.

Here’s how to plan your protein intake and different ways you can do so.

What types of protein powder are there?

There are two main types of protein powders: casein and whey. They both achieve the same wider objective but do so in different ways. There’s also a selection of plant-based proteins available on the market.

Casein is a dairy-based protein containing all the essential amino acids. It’s absorbed into the body slowly, which makes it beneficial for use before you hit the hay. The muscles are drip-fed the key nutrients necessary for growth and repair overnight.

Whey protein is also dairy-based and contains all essential amino acids. It’s absorbed much faster than casein and is therefore better suited for consuming immediately after a workout. It comes in three forms: Isolate, concentrate and hydrolysed. Isolate contains a high level of protein – usually around 90%, in comparison to concentrate, which is normally in the region of 30 to 85%. Hydrolysed whey, however, is produced with water and like isolate, contains a high level of protein with a content of 90-94%. This makes it easier to digest and as a result is absorbed far quicker – although it tends to be the most expensive form of whey.

Soy is a plant-based protein that contains all the essential amino acids. It has an average protein content of 90% and has been linked to positive health benefits such as obesity control and cardiovascular status.

Pea protein has an average protein content of 80% and contains low levels of the non-essential amino acids such as cysteine and methionine. It’s also high in iron, arginine and branch-chain amino acids. It is easily digested and offers benefits such as improved muscle growth, feeling of fullness and cardiovascular health.

Rice protein contains low levels of the essential amino acid lysine, the acid which helps protect the body from too much sugar in the blood. It holds an average protein content of 80% and has shown the potential to help reduce blood pressure.

Hemp is the last of the plant-based proteins. It has an average protein content of 39-50% and contains high levels of fibre and essential omega-3 and omega-6 fats. The essential fatty acids help to improve cardiovascular health, brain function and maintain lean body mass. However, unlike rice protein, it is low in the essential amino acid lysine.

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Which one best suits my goals?

Understanding your desired outcome will align you with the right protein and approach. Here is a quick guide on what to look for:

Weight loss – Consuming casein or soy protein as part of your balanced diet has shown potential health benefits. Using either of the two as part of your fitness program will give your body the necessary nutrients for muscle repair, as well as improving body composition. Body composition is the percentage of fat, muscle, bone and water in the body. A good body composition would comprise of a low proportion of body fat and a higher level of fat-free mass, such as muscle.

Building muscle – To build muscle, you need to consume more protein than your body breaks down during exercise. Taking whey protein as part of your diet and fitness regime is the best option for this objective. It contains fat-digesting proteins, as well as helping to increase the production of new protein within the muscles. For best results, take the protein supplement within the anabolic window – 15 to 60 minutes after a work-out.

Preserving muscle – To preserve muscle loss, especially as you get older, it’s recommended you aim to consume 25 to 30g of protein over the course of the day. This doesn’t require a specific type of protein, so it can be chosen to suit personal preference, although hemp protein can help with maintaining lean body mass.

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How can I take protein supplements?

The standard and most common way is to measure your required amount with a scoop and mix the powder with either water or milk. This is a quick and convenient way to implement it into your diet while on the move or at the gym. There are, however, several other exciting ways you can utilise protein powder including:

  • Pancakes – Blend 2 tbsp of protein powder and 75g of oats into your pancake mix
  • Pudding, such as yoghurt – Simply add protein powder to the yoghurt and mix well
  • Protein energy bites with seeds, water and oats
  • Soup – Add your chosen protein powder to the stock
  • Hummus – Add two scoops of protein to the recipe
  • Pizza – Add up to 50g of unflavoured protein powder to the dough mix
  • Porridge – Add a scoop of protein powder to the milk and oats

You can create all of the above by adding your protein powder to the meal itself or incorporating it into the ingredients. This allows you to manage your diet and protein intake simultaneously as part of your fitness regime in a slightly more inventive way.

When push comes to shove, choosing the best protein powder for you all comes down to what you’re trying to achieve. Setting out a fitness routine and planning your diet alongside it will allow you to know exactly when and how you need to use the supplement. If you’re on the move or at the gym then a protein shake will do the job, if not, you can be adventurous and try some of the options above.

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