In this blog, I will bring to light the true nature of protein powder pros and cons, weighing up the advantages and disadvantages that they bring to our diet and fitness culture.
Protein powders and protein supplements, especially vegan protein powders, just like meal replacements have long been the commodity that we all reach out for, without even thinking about it nowadays. Why? Well, sports culture has influenced us into intuitively making that decision, yet most of the time, many can hold their hands up and not actually know of the contributions that protein shakes bring to our daily nutrition.
The protein powders and sport supplements industry has escalated massively in revenue, with a 14% increase from 2010 onwards. Within a matter of years, sales surplused from £200 million to £4.9 billion, representing present day revenues. 
There is no avoiding the fact that the protein supplement industry is continuously evolving, and with that comes the claims of them being the ‘magical pill’ that everyone needs, to get you stronger, leaner and raise that metabolic rate of yours, that has long been your enemy to progress. The real question that we should ask here though is, to what extent are all these claims true, and what do they contribute nutritionally to our efforts?
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The types of protein powder
Before getting into breaking down the contributions of protein supplements to your everyday balanced diet, it is important to bring up what the main components of the protein industry actually are. Be it, there are quite the many products being pushed from many brands such as Myprotein, Protein World etc. the key protein supplements that claim to bring health benefits include the following:
- Whey protein powder
- Casein protein
- Plant based protein powder
- Weight gainer
1. Whey Protein Supplements
Whey protein or Whey powder is essentially the leftover milk that is collected and strained from the cheese production process. This sports supplement is one of the most popular nutritional additions that sports and fitness individuals consciously add to their everyday balanced diet regime. The reason why it has gained such popularity is down to the fact that it can be rapidly digested, and can get absorbed into the bloodstream rather quickly. Meaning your muscles can initiate the recovery and muscle building process that they need to heal and promote muscle growth.
Whey protein can come in the form of other alternatives such as Whey protein concentrate, isolate, hydrolysate etc. There are other essential amino acids that are abundant too such as BCAAs for example, and these are the essential amino acids needed to repair the muscular damage that can arise from working out i.e. muscle micro-tearing. Each protein powder or protein supplement can be made up of different concentrations, as well as combining with other sources such as Casein, soy etc. The ratio of Whey protein content to other derivatives of protein will distinguish the costs associated with the market. 
2. Casein Protein
Casein protein is another popular example turned to when looking to build muscle. Just like Whey protein sources, you find this during the dairy manufacturing process, and actually, it makes up to around 80% of the protein content within cow’s milk. The difference between Casein and Whey however, is the absorption process. The amino acids within Casein break down far more slowly, as it is not a fast digesting protein. It will take hours to get the source of amino acids to your bloodstream, making muscle protein synthesis a longer process overall. Often, those that take this form of protein will opt to take it right before bed, as it is the best route and solution for those that are wishing to sustain their muscle mass during sleep.  Sleep is a state of fasting, meaning your body will look to a source of energy to support biological functions-nobody wants their hard-earned lean muscle mass to be broken down and turned to as a source of energy. Yes, protein can be broken down into energy (or ATP as nutritionists call it), but that is another story for another day!
3. Plant Protein
Plant based proteins are there for those that chose veganism as a lifestyle, meaning Whey and Casein are obviously out of the question as protein sources. The most common sources of protein supplements include pea protein, brown rice protein, soy protein and hemp protein. Soy sources will be hulled and dried into a flower, and then isolated into a powder form. Pea protein on the other hand is sourced from the golden pea plant and subjected to the same processes to isolate the soy. In addition to this, brown rice protein contains 8g of protein in every 100g, and also has a great source of B vitamins. Again, it is grounded and isolated into a powder form. 
Hemp is often the one that people become sceptical about, due to it being sourced from the cannabis plant of course. However, it has recently gained much popularity, as a hypoallergenic source, in addition to some fatty acids too.
Plant protein is very useful to athletes who are finding it hard to meet their dietary requirements of protein, just from food sources. While plant based alternatives are increasingly common today, they used to be scarcer on the market and very difficult to supplement towards fitness lifestyles.
4. Weight Gain Supplements
The final common variation of the protein powders, is the weight gain supplements (or weight gainer). These are flocked towards by the individuals that find it extremely difficult to gain muscle mass. Often referred to as ectomorphs, they are distinguished by their speedy metabolisms and slim frames. The solution of course is to consume protein shakes and sources that are dense in protein and calories. These protein powders can range from fast digesting protein substituents, or slow release protein alternatives.
What makes them perfect as a weight gain option, is the high carbohydrate density within them, sometimes they can even exceed the nutritional contents of an average meal, making it perfect for those looking to gain fat, preserve muscle mass or for athletes who burn a lot of calories (more than they consume overall) during the day.
Muscle protein synthesis needs energy, and if you are burning more than you eat, that can equate to muscle loss, which is a nightmare to athletes! The solution? A weight gainer sports supplement.
Protein powder: benefits, what to look for and how to use it
Taking protein powders as a beginner to the sports supplement world can be confusing, especially when it comes to selecting the choice for you and the goals you strive to achieve. One thing you should be mindful of, is that protein shakes come with calories, as they are a nutrient source. Meaning, too much protein can make you put on weight too, there is no exception to the energy expenditure rule. Make sure to intuitively fit your protein shake selections in with your daily calorie intake, but also be mindful of your goals.
Whey protein powder selection
If you are looking to lose weight and build lean muscle mass, you must not over consume on your energy expenditure every day. Often dieters wonder how much protein is required to achieve a desired lean fat to muscle ratio frame. Isolate protein found in Whey, can be filtered to remove the excess fat and carbohydrates, leaving you with a 90% protein content. This makes it easier to meet your necessary macros daily (at least 2g of protein per kg of body mass), with the low fat and carbohydrate content. Isolate or diet Whey as it is often referred to, is perfect to meet your necessary protein intake without the large calories that can sometimes come attached. 
If however, you are looking for muscle growth, you will need to make sure you consume approximately 2 grams of protein per kg of body mass with added energy (carbohydrates) to boost your energy, when you are lifting weights on a heavier scale. Heavier weights mean larger microfiber tears in your muscles, giving the potential for larger muscular frames.
It’s not complicated, it is just a case of manipulating the macronutrients to achieve the goal you seek!
Protein powder pros and cons
Pro – Health benefits
The health benefits that you will find from consuming protein powder and protein shakes first and foremost include the high source of a main macronutrient: protein. Being that it is a highly concentrated source and fast absorbing, it makes it far easier to meet your daily requirements. Most protein powders have 20-30 grams of protein per serving, giving you a large fraction of what you need within your day to suffice protein synthesis efficiently.
There have been studies to support the idea of Whey protein having a lowering effect on blood pressure within the body. Within Whey proteins, the ACE-inhibitors (Lactokinins) are what are believed to support the lowering of blood pressure.  One study in particular highlighted the consistent supplementation of 54g per day of Whey in overweight test subjects. The result of the intervention provided a 4% lowered systolic blood pressure after the 12-week clinical trial.  Casein also mirrored such effects too. While there is a limited number of human studies to support this, animal studies thus far have also concluded such effects.
Pro – Helps you build muscle and achieve weight loss
Of course, the biggest benefit towards supplementing amino acids like Whey in your diet, is the fact that it helps promote muscle. Low muscle volume within the body can equate to easy fat gain, whereas when you have muscle; muscle burns more energy during metabolism within the body. Meaning when combining Whey or any other protein substitute, you can work on building a body weight that has a higher ratio of muscle to fat, and in turn actually lose weight and manage your body’s aesthetic in the long term. This comes providing you ensure to train regularly and exert that tension to push your muscles in tearing and repairing at a bigger volume!
Strength training and high intensity exercise combined with high protein sources such as Whey i.e. Myprotein impact Whey, can provide a great strategy towards muscle building goals. Often Whey protein concentrate will have percentages of Leucine in them, which is one of the rich nine essential amino acids for muscle synthesis.  Leucine is an anabolic amino acid, meaning it is the highest growth promoting amino acid out there. Therefore, Whey has been proved to be the most essential protein supplement that has aided muscle synthesis, in comparison to other alternatives such as Casein, soy and other plant variation. This is due to the higher amino acid content within it, and it being fast absorbing too. 
Pro – Appetite control
Another benefit of adding additional protein variations within your balanced diet, is the fact that it can leave you satiated for longer durations, which can contribute to managing a well-balanced diet regime far more easily. Hunger and overeating is often the one thing that can sabotage the results and definition that individuals seek. Of course, not all proteins can keep you fuller for long durations equally, as it depends on how fast they travel through the digestive system. 
A particular study in 2009, highlighted how Whey concentrate can contribute to longer periods of satiation, in comparison to vegan protein and Casein. This was all down to the response and affect each protein and the amino acids within them interacted with the appetite and hunger hormones. Whey decreased the appetite response with insulin, ghrelin and Glucagon peptide, over a 4 hour period. Casein and vegan proteins did not reach such prolonged time, due to not having enough protein essential amino acid concentrations within them. 
Is there a downside to protein powder?
Con – Health risks
There are associated health risks that have been reported with consuming protein supplement variations such as powders, protein bars etc. The main circulating issue is the risk of kidney failure, or the fact they worsen existing kidney problems in those that consume them. The reason being is the fact that protein must be broken down via the digestive system and therefore rid the body’s toxins and waste products via the kidneys. If your kidneys are already severely stressed and do not maintain regular function, protein metabolism of protein powders may lead to kidney disease. 
Con – The costs
Of course, this can be a huge issue, as not everyone has the financial means to supply all the extra protein supplements that are out there. While snacks such as protein bars, and the odd powder can be managed and be a great quick fix when you need it, powders can become really expensive. Especially, if you are looking for a particular niche such as a concentrate, an isolate or a weight gainer to supplement you every day differently (meaning you need more than one). Per serving they usually can cost around 70p to £1, which tallies up if you are taking more than one serving a day. That is why nutritionists propagate how the fitness industry can be led massively on false claims/exaggeration, and in fact meal replacement with shakes are not necessary. Most of the time individuals can get the same serving of protein from actual food sources such as chicken breast, peanut butter, almond butter and so on. A proper meal can do the job too!
Frequently Asked Questions
Is protein powder good for you UK?
Protein powders come in many forms. Each one has its benefits and ways to enhance performance and diet within your life. Whey alternatives are good sources to go for repairing muscles, immediately after your gym session, due to them being a fast digesting protein. Casein on the other-hand has lower amino acid content and is a slow release protein, making it perfect for sustaining muscle gains during sleep. Both variations amongst others have highlighted contributing towards many health benefits such as weight loss, appetite management and lower blood pressure.
Is it bad to take protein powder every day?
Protein shake variations are fine to take every day, just as long as it is integrated in balanced amounts every day. It is important not to rely on them more than actual meals, as it can put stress on your kidneys through protein metabolism, alongside causing digestive issues later on.
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