Protein powders: the good, the bad and the ugly
Protein is key to muscle recovery, preventing fatigue and injury. It is often lacking at breakfast meals or those who don’t eat or are cutting back on animal protein. One of the easiest ways to get this extra protein in terms of digestion and absorption, but also practically, quick and easy is via protein powder, that can be added to smoothies, shakes, soups or homemade protein bars. However with all things there is a vast range of products out there, varying in content, price and quality.
Whey protein is the most commonly used and the one with the most research. It can be a very high quality complete protein and additionally it has highest concentration of amino acids to allow the body to make glutathione. Glutathione is one of the body’s most powerful anti-oxidants, protecting against oxidative stress and inflammation, aiding detoxification particularly in the gut, liver and muscles. It is what makes whey the best recovery protein. It is made from cow’s milk so if you have an intolerance or are vegan it is not suitable.
Whey products however come from many different sources and are processed in different ways drastically affecting the effect that it may have on your body. Many products come from poor quality non-organic base ingredients and then are heat processed, via cross-flow filtration, microfiltration, hydroxylation, ion exchange, that denature the original proteins. Destroying the beneficial amino acids and creating an acidic, rancid product that is then covered up with flavourings and sweeteners. To get the best out of your whey protein choose a product that is a cold-pressed concentrate (not isolate) made from organic grass-fed cows milk, without flavourings (you can add your own, e.g. whole fruit, vegetables, VITL Greens Superfood powder, raw chocolate etc.). Organic is best and there are also now sheep and goat’s whey concentrates on the market that you might prefer to a cow milk base.
If you feel any dairy products don’t work for you in your diet there is now an ever-wider range of vegan protein powder products. When choosing the same rules apply - organic, minimal cold processing and in their pure form without sweeteners and flavours. While they may not have the glutathione benefits of whey, they have benefits of their own including generally more fibre for a healthy digestion. Here are some of my favourites on the market;
Hemp protein is almost 50% protein, which is comparable to animal protein sources. Additionally it is a good source of magnesium and calcium, which support the normal functioning of muscles and omega 3 for healthy joints.
Sunflower seed and chia protein is 44% protein. Rich in phosphorus, magnesium and manganese and a good source of other minerals including zinc, iron and copper. It is also a high source of protein and vitamin K and a good source of favorable plant sterols.
Raw sprouted brown rice protein, is 80% protein and has a similar amino acid balance to whey so is a good protein bang for your buck option.
Spirulina, probably the most challenging from a flavour perspective to use in quantities high enough to be a protein powder (20g of protein per serve). However it is the least processed and one of nature’s most abundant forms of plant protein (60-70% pure protein). Blue-green microscopic plant that has existed on our planet for 3.6 billion years. It is rich in health benefiting antioxidants, magnesium, iron, calcium, B vitamins, all helpful in fitness performance and recovery. It is one of the main ingredients in VITL Greens powder, which has a natural vanilla taste to make it much tastier.
Along side quality vegan protein powders you may wish to also increase your glutathione production by adding a supplement that contains turmeric and green tea to boost.