Understanding supplements: protein powder

Updated: Mar 1, 2019

Nowadays, there are literally hundreds and hundreds of different supplements out there, making it really hard to know what they are and what are they used for. So, in order to throw some light on the topic, I’ve decided to start this mini-series that I’ve called ‘Understanding supplements’. The idea behind it is to do a basic introduction of the most commonly used supplements of the market, explaining what they are and their uses/benefits.

So, in this first part of ‘Understanding supplements’ we will talk about the king of them all, the most basic, used and sold of the market: protein powder.

First things first, and to understand its own existence, you need to know what protein is. Protein is one of the three macronutrients that you can found in food and that your body needs for different reasons and for different functions.

It is essential for growth, for repairing various body tissues (muscle tissue is one of them) and it is the primarily structural component of cells, tissues, muscles, and organs. Also, protein is needed to be able to produce metabolic and digestive enzymes and is the fundamental component of different hormones like thyroxine and insulin.

The 10 % of our brain’s cells is protein, and it makes up the 20% of our red globes. In general terms, the 15% of our body is compounded of protein. And just as a curiosity, the two filaments responsible of every muscle contraction, actin and myosin, are based in protein.

If carbohydrates and fats (the other two macronutrients) doesn’t provide you with enough energy (which is a consequence of a bad diet) your body starts using protein as an energy source, which means it will have less protein for growth, cellular regeneration and all the other processes in your body that require protein. What does it mean? In simple words, your body will not function correctly.

This is extremely important in kids, since they need an extra dose of protein in order to, in one hand, cover their daily protein requirements, and, on the other hand, to stimulate growth.

Where do we find protein? There are two main types of protein: animal protein, which can be found in meat, fish, eggs and dairy products; and vegetal protein, which can be found in legumes, seeds and tofu, for example.

Now that we know what protein is and why we need it, we can get into the nub of the issue: protein powder. There are a lot of different protein powders (depending on where they come from and how fast they're absorbed) but in this article we are going focus on whey protein, just because it is the most famous and the most common on the market.

Whey protein is a protein source with a high biological value that comes from milk; it is extracted during the transformation process of milk into cheese. Milk has primarily two kinds of protein: casein (80%) and whey (20). It is extracted from the residual whey that is obtained during the elaboration process of cheese, using different types of special filters to separate the whey from other components like lactose or casein. In fact, you could elaborate your own whey protein at home; you just need milk and a lemon.

It is a complete protein that contains all the essential amino-acids, and it is one of the richest sources of BCAAs or Branched Chain Amino-Acids: leucine, isoleucine and valine (more about BCAAs here).

Our body by itself is not capable of building all the essential amino-acids and the only way to get them is by eating foods with high quality protein like eggs or whey protein.

This protein is commonly recommended to fitness athletes and bodybuilders, due to its fast absorption and because of the ‘receptive’ state of our bodies after our training. However, protein powder can bring many benefits to any person that exercises and to any professional athlete. In fact, it can be consumed by anyone, for the only reason that it is just another protein source that you can add to your diet.

As a protein source, it just contributes to hit your daily protein requirements (just as eggs, meat or fish do) and helps you to consume and synthesize all the essential amino-acids. Why do people consume it post workout? To provide your body with the protein it needs to start regenerating the muscle fibers you just damaged during your workout. Do you NEED to consume it post workout? Absolutely NOT. Its post-workout consumption it’s so generalized because of its convenience, it’s just a fast digesting protein, so a whey protein shake is an excellent way to quickly provide your body with the protein it needs after working out. But you could just skip it, get back home and prepare yourself a full real meal, and the effect would be the same.

Again, you do not need it to have a “fit body”. For that you only need to eat right, train properly, rest enough and give yourself enough time.

Well, I think with this we can finish this basic introduction to what protein powder is. Hopefully I’ve made you lose your fear to protein powder and opened the eyes for those of you who might think protein powder is a steroid or something like that. If you already knew all of this, well… a reminder here and there never hurts I guess right?!

If you have any doubt, question, suggestion, constructive critic or are not agree with something you read, please do not hesitate to let me know in the comments section or let me know by using my social media. And if you know anyone that needs to read this please share it with him/her!!

See you in the next one :)