Walk into any health food store, and you’ll see them. Tub after tub of protein powder, lined up and ready for you to add into your shake, your smoothie or even your muffins and cookies and pancakes.
Back in the early fitness days, protein powder was something that was reserved for the big, burly, weight-lifting men in the gym. But now, women are cottoning on to the benefits of adding protein to their workout routine. Namely, using it to build and repair muscle, as well as making themselves feel fuller and more satisfied.
The result? Women are starting to buy up big on protein, and companies are scrambling to keep up with the demand. Many have released women-specific products just to appeal to the fitness market – even Michelle Bridges just released her own protein powder, aimed specifically at women.
Recently, a survey of over 2000 gym-goers found that the great majority of female gym users use supplements, and that the most popular of the supplements are whey-protein products – the type of protein which comes from dairy products and contains amino acids that can be used by the body for building muscle.
These women have been dubbed “Protein Princesses”.
According to the Daily Mail, they’re usually in their 20s, and work out four to five times a week in order to burn fat and get their bodies toned and lean.
But is protein powder really necessary when you’re doing a workout? After all, I’ve never bothered with it (I’ve already got enough to think about with the gym, I can’t add a protein drinky thingy into the mix) and I seem to be doing okay.
But as I see more and more women leaving the gym with those giveaway plastic tumblers in their hands, I started to wonder whether I was missing out by skipping past the tubs of powdery goodness on the shelves of the health food stores.
I asked two different experts to give me their opinions.
Here’s what Nicole Senior, an Accredited Practising Dietitian and Nutritionist, had to say:
Protein shakes after training help muscles to recover better in serious athletes, but for most women working out for health and fitness, a balanced diet with a variety of foods will provide all the protein required for muscle repair. The usual healthy snacks at the usual times are also fine, such as fruit, milk, yoghurt, nuts and wholegrain bread.
In my experience, protein shakes are used more widely by women who don’t really need the extra protein but see them as a weight loss tool, or believe it will help them get a better workout.
In fact, protein shakes can be high in kilojoules which doesn’t help meet weight loss goals. For weight loss, there may be some benefit in including protein containing foods at each meal and snack but this does not require protein shakes because many foods naturally contain protein.
Many ‘high protein’ products such as bars, muffins and cookies are also highly processed and high in kilojoules. Protein has become another marketing gimmick and used to make unhealthy and unnecessary products more appealing. If extra protein is needed, it’s easy to add extra skim milk powder to a smoothie (and it costs way less).
And here’s the opinion of health and wellness expert Kirsty Welsh:
I think it’s difficult for active women to get enough protein in their day without consuming too much fat. Amino acids are the building blocks of protein, which is needed to build and regenerate our bodies and muscles. Exercise and strength training essentially breaks our muscles down, so the rest and repair phase is so important for us to stay healthy.
Protein shakes can be a convenient alternative on the go. So long as intake is moderated (so you are not relying on it as a breakfast shake, post-training shake and as part of a sweet snack) then adding powder into smoothies and snacks can be a great way to keep satiated during the day.
But before you shoot out to buy yourself the latest and tastiest protein supplement, it’s so important to do your research first – the most important point being the source of protein. Is it made from whey concentrate, whey isolate, soy protein, pea protein, rice protein or hemp protein?
Whey is the most common, but more often than not it is combined with toxic ingredients that make it taste appealing but are indigestible and ultimately doing more bad than good. Whatever you choose, just make sure that it is nourishing your body, and be careful of clever marketing. If it is cookie-dough-flavoured, it should probably not enter your digestive system. You’ll know a poor quality protein from good quality by the presence and stinkiness of flatulence afterward (sorry to be straight forward but it’s true!).
If you do decide to have a protein shake, the best time is during the 30-60 minute window after exercising. If we don’t get adequate nutrition into our body soon after training, we stay in a catabolic state, meaning we keep breaking our muscles down in order to release needed nutrients into our blood stream for use.
Are you a protein fan?