In part 4 of the complete protein guide, we will discuss 5 things to consider before buying a protein supplement, good and bad ingredients, determining budget, protein absorption rate and more!
Table of Contents
- 1 How to start with protein supplements
- 2 5 things to consider before buying a protein supplement
How to start with protein supplements
Establish first if you need a protein supplement:
When it comes to protein supplementation, there are 2 kinds of people. Those who need the extra protein and those who don’t.
People who need a protein supplement
Here are a few people who need a protein supplement:
- People who want to fix their diet
- People who are unable to get their hands on good quality protein due to travel
- Busy people who have no time to cook (lack of time at work, hectic lifestyles etc)
- People with high activity levels (e.g. manual labor workers)
- People who workout and athletes
People who don’t need a protein supplement
And then we have people who think they need it but do not:
- People who do not know how to eat properly.
- People who think that professional bodybuilders (who spend half their lives in a gym plus take anabolic steroids) get so big on just protein.
- Young men and women who are still growing.
- Anyone enticed by the shiny and often fake world of fitness and health.
If you belong to the second category, you need to first cover your basics when it comes to nutrition and exercise. 95% of the time, the effect of these changes in your lifestyle will be reflected on your body composition after 1-2 months. And that is without the use of extra protein.
Once you have fixed your diet and you train long and hard for at least a year, then it is time to consider some extra protein.
Reasons for increased protein intake
I believe that this should be the first step into choosing a good protein.
Ask yourself once again, “what do I need this for?”
Unlike what you may think, not all proteins are the same and not all proteins can be used for the same goals.
- If you are a vegetarian/vegan and wish to supplement with protein because you don’t get enough from your diet, you may want to focus on a good quality plant source protein.
- If your goal is to build muscle or lose fat (or both), then you might want to consider a combination of a fast(whey) and slow(casein) protein after your workout.
- For the same goals, you might need a slow(casein) protein before bed and a fast(whey) protein immediately after waking up.
- If you wish to supplement a meal due to a hectic lifestyle, this will be determined by a lot of factors and cannot be covered in this paragraph. Yes, this is the case when we use protein shakes when we are on the go.
How to properly introduce protein supplements in your life
Protein supplements are not food!
The first thing you need to do is to understand that you will be taking the extra protein on top of your existing nutrition. This is why it is called a nutritional supplement and not food. There are however (advanced) exceptions to this rule as I mentioned earlier like busy professionals, athletes or a combination of both but this is not the scope of this article.
If you have never taken protein before, start with a small dose of 1-3 scoops per day depending on your body weight and activity demands.
The lower the dose, the higher the adaptation in your body. The higher the dose, the higher the risk of rejecting most of the stuff that you put in when you go to the toilet.
Time it right
Timing is an entire subject in itself but for beginners the best time to introduce your protein is before and/or immediately after your workout.
This is when your body will make the best use out of your extra protein and use it to build or in fact rebuild broken down muscle tissue (as scar tissue).
5 things to consider before buying a protein supplement
1) Determine your Budget and check prices
The first and most important factor in selecting a protein is the price and your budget. Even if you manage to find the best protein, what is the purpose if you can only take it for 1 week in the duration of a month?
This is why you need to think about your monthly allocated budget for supplements and specifically for protein.
As a generic rule of thumb, the higher the quality of protein, the higher the price gets. So if you are planning on buying a New Zealand organic whey protein, be prepared to invest 50-60$ per 1 kg of protein.
Compare that with your average whey protein that costs 20$ per 1 or 2 kgs of protein, and the difference in price is obvious.
However, the quality of New Zealand organic whey protein is unmatched when compared to the low quality whey proteins, often mixed with weird ingredients and artificial sweeteners. So yes, a higher quality protein is better for your long term health and for your body goals. Which brings me to our next point:
2) Always read the ingredients on the label!
Technically speaking, a whey protein should only contain whey protein but that is not always the truth. Just like in the case of weight gainers, a whey protein can contain one or several weird ingredients, (including artificial sweeteners) such as fructose, guar gum, salt, silicon dioxide and soy lecithin.
Now when I buy a protein powder, I want to get a protein powder, without any fructose, salt or anything else.
Also, salt (sodium) is not something you want to have in your protein shake as it will make you bloated and make your body retain water.
Soy lecithin, unfortunately, is pretty much everywhere so it’s not easy to control. However, some companies started using sunflower lecithin instead, which is superior, healthier and in most cases non-GMO.
The most dangerous ingredient is carrageenan. This comes from a sea plant and helps with liquids to stay consistent (homogenized) and is usually found in chocolate drinks. For me (and for a lot of people) carrageenan can cause a list of side effects such as bloating, diarrhea, skin rashes and more. The biggest danger comes from the fact that the body sees it as a foreign substance, it cannot digest it and as a result we have severe immune reactions and high levels of inflammation.
So before buying a protein, always read the ingredients and try to avoid the above ingredients.
3) How to increase protein Absorption rate
Then there is the matter of how you should take your protein powders for better absorption or results. This depends on your goals as well as other factors such as allergies and food intolerances.
If you are on a low carb diet, make sure to combine your protein with some good fats. This will also ensure a better protein absorption rate by your body,
A good combination would be protein with seed butters such as almond butter or sunflower seed butter. In this way, you will get a good dose of EFAs and your protein. (EFAs are a must for proper health as I explained in a previous article)
Some people like to add a bit of fish oil to the mix. While this is a good idea in terms of nutrients, the taste will be foul.
So instead, you could take 2-4 fish oil capsules along with your shake.
You can choose to replace the fat from seed butters with fish oils for achieving a better Omega 3 to Omega 6 ratio. (Read about the importance of maintaining a good ratio in my article here)
As a post workout shake, you can take your protein with high acting carbs such as dextrose or maltodextrin as discussed in the gainers section.
As a meal replacement, I would combine protein with oat flour or steel cut oats.
You can also make desserts with your protein powder by combining a scoop of protein with nut butters or protein with coconut milk for a healthy ice cream.
You can have a delicious breakfast by adding one scoop of protein to a bowl of oats and adding some berries. This makes sure you get the protein from the whey, the carbs from the oats and the antioxidants of the berries.
4) How much protein do you really need?
This is a very personal matter and depends on your body type, goals, personal preferences and how your body responds to different amounts of macronutrients. This can only be found through trial and error and a lot of experimentation.
The usual recommendation in the bodybuilding world is 1gr of protein per 1 kg of bodyweight (i.e. 2gr per 1lb). But take note that this is considered to be the basis and it is independent of people’s reaction to protein. Some people cannot handle high protein diets for multiple reasons. So the above recommendation might already be their maximum. Some experts mention that this dose is overkill for your body and that you should be getting around 75-100gr of protein per day maximum.
For me personally, I have found that I work better on a high protein, medium to low carb, medium to low fat diet. My body looks the best when I take about 150-200grs of protein daily (depending on my bodyweight).
In my case, I feel and look better and my performance is better in the gym.
There are people who do better on a high carb, med protein and fat, others who do better on high protein and fat and med to low carb. I remember Mike Mahler on the Live Life Aggressively podcast mentioning how he only needs 150grs of protein. What is even more interesting is the fact that Mike is actually a dedicated vegan and yet he is a very muscular guy! (i.e. yes, vegans can be big too).
How to find the right amount of protein for you
When you try finding your proper macronutrient ratio, start slowly.
You will not be able to see any reliable results if you jump from one diet to another every 1-2 weeks. Stay consistent.
Pick a macronutrient ratio and monitor your progress for a minimum of 2 to 3 weeks.
Then slowly make the shift from e.g. a high protein and fat diet to a mixed nutrient diet. This shift should take about a week. After that week you need to monitor again for 2 to 3 weeks.
By making hasty and immediate changes to your diet, you will not be able to properly monitor your progress and see what diet fits your body more.
5) Flavor, taste and sweeteners
Make sure you have selected a flavor that you like. There is nothing worse than having to drink a protein powder that tastes like mud for weeks or even months. If you like vanilla, go with vanilla. I really don’t understand why someone would buy chocolate mint if they don’t like chocolate and mint. And no, the ‘it was the only one left’ is never an excuse unless you are buying something really special or high quality. Only then such torture “might” make sense.
When it comes to flavor, there is another thing to consider: artificial sweeteners. I have written extensively about the dangers of artificial sweeteners and their destructive effects to our bodies. I think it only makes sense that you avoid them like the plague (because that’s what they are).
I personally like the unflavored kind best as it contains 0 sweeteners and if I have a sweet tooth and the timing is right for carbs, I can add a bit of maple syrup in my shake. If I want to improve the flavor, I will just add some pure organic cocoa powder or some freshly squeezed fruit juice or a greens powder (with berry or chocolate flavor).
If consuming unflavored protein is out of the question, as least buy a protein supplement that is sweetened with stevia. However, make sure to check the label. Some ‘innocent’ and ‘natural’ looking products often contain sucralose or sugar cleverly disguised as ‘natural cane sugar’.
There you have it. This concludes this guide on protein products and supplements. Follow the guidelines and you will be able to select a product that is right for your nutrition, supports your health and help you with your body goals as well as what to avoid!
If you have any questions or comments, let me know by leaving a comment below and I will get back to you as soon as possible. Also, if you liked this article, don’t forget to share it with your friends in order to support this website. Until next time, live strong, healthy and free!
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by Nick Sigma
CWC, EH, E-YRT200