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Here's What You Need To Know Before You Buy a Protein Powder

Written By: Aparna Gupta

Here's What You Need To Know Before You Buy a Protein Powder

Protein shakes are an easy way to add more protein to your diet, and have been shown to help with muscle growth. Here's what you should pick now.

Adding a protein powder to your daily routine is often considered a quick and easy way to up your intake and meet your needs of this essential macronutrient. However, it’s extremely important to be aware of what you’re putting into your body and what ingredients are lurking in the supplement you've been using every day. Here's what you need to know. 

Start with checking the ingredient list

Nutritionist Kripa Jalan, suggests having a thorough look at the label. “You’ll probably see some familiar ingredients, such as whey and casein (which are dairy-based proteins that contain all essential amino acids), soy (which contains isoflavones), hemp, rice and pea protein (which are plant-based alternatives). But as you skim through the list, you may also come across stuff that’s essentially manufactured in a lab and doesn’t fall into the real food category. For example, fillers, food thickeners, and artificial sweeteners are some of the most common ingredients you’ll find in a typical protein powder,” she explains. Her recommendation is to pick a product with the fewest ingredients possible and one that is free from artificial flavourings, vegetable oils, thickeners, additives, and fillers. 

Unsweetened works best but if you prefer a touch of sweetness, look for one with monk fruit or stevia, she says. When you're specifically looking to build muscle, pros suggest choosing a protein powder with a high biological value (which measures how well the body can absorb and utilise a protein). Find one with branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs), as they help promote muscle growth, and skip sugars and dextrins/maltodextrins, which are sweeteners made from starch. “Lastly, and most importantly look for products that have been third-party tested, to ensure safety and quality,” she adds

Do you really need protein powder in your diet?

“If you can meet your needs naturally, whether it’s through animal-based sources like eggs, meat, and seafood or from a diverse body of plant-based sources like lentils, beans, and tofu, you might not need to add a protein supplement. That being said, if you struggle to eat balanced meals, need convenient sources, or are looking for highly bioavailable sources of protein, you can consider adding a high-quality powder,” says Jalan.

Protein helps boost metabolism because a lot of energy is spent digesting and metabolising it in the body. It also helps you build muscle, which burns more calories than fat, making it a good addition to your diet when you have specific fitness goals you're trying to reach. “Anyone who is using their muscles for weight lifting or resistance workouts or doing regular moderate to strenuous exercise can benefit from a good quality protein supplement. Sedentary people can avoid and get their protein from their food,” advises integrative nutritionist and health coach Neha Ranglani. 

As a thumb rule, experts recommend that post-workout is the best time to consume protein powder, especially in the case of athletes who are looking for speedy recovery. Consuming enough protein after a workout gives your body the amino acids it needs to repair and rebuild these proteins. Since you're building new muscle tissue after a strenuous workout, protein helps to serve as a building-block. However, according to Jalan, the amount of protein they consume over the course of the day is far more important than the timing. When quizzed on the best way to integrate it with the diet, Ranglani suggests a protein shake that has whole foods such as fruits, vegetables greens, nuts and seeds. Plus, “some unflavoured plant-based protein powders could be mixed into dals or even soup," says Jalan. It is important to note that some might have digestive issues like bloating or cramps with whey or casein, thanks to their dairy content, in which case plant-based protein might be the best pick.

As featured in: Vogue India