If you want to build muscle and burn fat to transform your body, there’s no getting around it: you need to eat more protein. Not only is it required to repair and rebuild your damaged muscles from training, but it’ll also keep you feeling fuller for longer so you stay away from sweet snacks. But eating half a cow or an entire day’s egg output of a brood of chickens to get your protein isn’t practical — as well as being expensive, it’s also mind-bogglingly boring. That’s why a protein shake can make a big difference in helping you hit your daily protein target in the most time-efficient, cost-effective and tasty way. But with more options now available than ever before, finding the right product for the right situation can be confusing. Here you’ll find out whether you need a protein powder as well as all you need to know about the options available, allowing you to make the right decision to get the results you want with minimum time, effort and expense.

Do I need  a protein powder?

If you follow any sort of exercise program, whether it’s based around weights, cardio or endurance training, then you need more protein than the Dietitians Association of Australia current recommendation  of 50g per day. Powdered protein offers a quick and easy way to increase your daily intake. A fast-digesting protein such as whey is especially useful after training when you might not feel like sitting down to a proper meal. Casein, a slow-release protein, is a great option before bed because it drip-feeds muscle-building amino acids (see box below) into your bloodstream overnight to rebuild muscle tissue as  you sleep. It’s always important to remember the clue is in the name “supplement” — they are designed to fill in the nutritional gaps of a complete and varied diet. Getting most of your daily dietary protein from red and white meat and fish is the best way, because you’ll also consume more of the essential vitamins, minerals and other nutrients vital to health.

How much protein powder do I take?

Serving suggestions for most protein powders are typically around  30g, and with good reason. Research suggests that this is around the ideal amount to repair the damage done by training and initiate muscle protein synthesis, the process through which new muscle tissue is laid down. Research also shows that a diet high in protein can also help reduce body fat levels, so you’ll not only get bigger and stronger but leaner as well.

When do I take it?

After a workout is the most obvious time to consume a protein powder because that’s when your muscles need it most. Drinking a shake of whey protein mixed with cold water or milk within 30 minutes
of finishing your training session will initiate recovery by flooding your bloodstream with amino acids, which are quickly shuttled into your muscle cells to become new muscle tissue.Protein powder can also be taken at other times. Blend a scoop of your favourite flavour with an egg and a banana then cook in a pan to make some high-protein breakfast or dessert pancakes.  And it’s especially useful to have to hand to make a shake when you’re out and about all day and don’t have time to eat a proper meal. Turn the page for our guide to the options.

TYPES of Protein Powder

WHEY

Whey is a liquid left over from milk once it has been curdled and strained and is a by-product of the cheese-making process. Whey protein powder is one of the most popular sports nutrition products in the
world because of its availability, cost and effectiveness.  Once consumed whey is rapidly digested, then absorbed by your digestive system so it gets into your bloodstream and your muscles very quickly, initiating the recovery and rebuilding process.

WHEY TO GO

Whey protein powder comes in one of four forms: concentrate, isolate, hydrolysate and native (see box below). All four types are abundant in BCAAs, the amino acids that are essential for rebuilding and repairing the muscular damage caused by working out. Some whey products use one type of protein exclusively, typically a higher-quality protein source for a premium product, or an inferior type to keep the cost down. Other products contain different combinations of whey, as well as other sources of protein, such as casein or soy, again depending on the product’s recommended  use or to reduce manufacturing costs.

CASEIN

Casein is the main type of protein found in dairy, making up around 80% of the protein content of cow’s milk. Whereas whey protein is rapidly absorbed by your body, making
it the perfect post-workout protein source, you break down and digest casein much more slowly, over many hours, to give a slow and sustained release of amino acids into your bloodstream and then to your muscles.

If you’ve consistently struggled to add muscular size despite following a challenging training program and a high-protein diet, you might need to consider a high-calorie protein powder that also includes a significant amount of carbohydrates.


A CASEIN POINT

To fuel your muscles with the essential nutrients they need to repair and rebuild muscle tissue, supplement with a casein protein shake just before bed. The slow-release digestion of casein makes it the perfect source of protein to drip-feed amino acids in to your muscles during the night to build new lean muscle mass during sleep while your body recovers from training.

WEIGHT GAINER

If you’ve consistently struggled to add muscular size despite following a challenging training program and a high-protein diet, you might need to consider a high-calorie protein powder that also includes a significant amount of carbohydrates. Known as weight gainers, these products can include multiple forms of protein as well as quick- and slower-release carbs to dramatically increase your calorie consumption to help build a lot more muscular size.

GET BULKED UP

Weight-gainer products are typically used by bodybuilders during a bulking phase when they want to add as much muscle mass as possible, even if that means storing some extra fat, or by serious athletes who burn
a lot of calories through training and don’t want to be in a daily calorie deficit (burning more than they consume). If you’re a “hard gainer” who has always struggled to add muscle mass despite training and eating right, you may benefit from the extra energy these products provide to ensure your body is always in a calorie  surplus so it has the fuel it needs to grow muscle. 
And don’t worry about any pockets of extra fat; you will burn those off the more muscle you put on.

TYPES OF WHEY

  • Concentrate whey protein is typically lower in fat than other forms and has higher amounts of carbs from lactose, the type of sugar found in milk products, and bioactive compounds. Protein content by weight can be anywhere between 30% and 90%.
  • Isolate whey protein is processed to remove fat and lactose, but it’s also lower in health-boosting bioactive compounds. Protein by weight content is 90% and higher.
  • Hydrolysate whey protein is pre-digested and partially hydrolysed, which means water is added during the production process to break down the constituent compounds. This makes them easier for your body to digest but also increases the cost.
  • Native whey protein is the purest form because it is extracted from skimmed milk rather than being a by-product of cheese production like concentrate and isolate. It is very low in fat, lactose and bioactive compounds, while
    its protein content by weight is typically 95% and higher.

AMINO WHAT?

Amino acids are chains of organic compounds primarily made from the elements carbon, nitrogen, hydrogen and oxygen. More than 500 amino acids are currently known and classified, but only 23 are involved in the process of building proteins. This group is known as the proteinogenic amino acids, which combine into peptide chains (polypeptides) to form the building blocks of a vast array of proteins.

Branch out

Nine of the 23 proteinogenic group are known as “essential” because, unlike the other 14, your body cannot create them from other compounds. This means you need to consume these amino acids — phenylalanine, valine, threonine, tryptophan, methionine, leucine, isoleucine, lysine, and histidine — through your diet. Of these, valine, leucine and isoleucine are grouped together and known as branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs). A “complete” protein source is a food or supplement that contains all nine of the essential amino acids, while an incomplete protein source contains some, but not all, of the nine.