I’ve had a few clients ask me recently about protein powders. They seem to be an easy way to refuel after a workout, to repair and rebuild muscles, to boost energy or for a quick breakfast on the go. Many personal trainers, boot camp leaders and fitness consultants are recommending them as the perfect post workout recovery drink.
If you read my column regularly, it may not come as much of a surprise, that I’m not a fan of protein powders.
Here’s what I know about protein powders:
They are highly processed. I don’t consider products processed in manufacturing plants by scientists wearing masks and surgical caps to be real foods and try to avoid them.
The protein is altered. Whether it’s vegetable, rice, whey or animal protein, the protein source in these powders has been broken down, refined, altered and preserved so you are not getting the best quality. In some instances the protein, especially from plant sources, is not that well absorbed by our bodies.
Many contain undesirable additives and toxins. Studies and investigations have shown many popular protein powders to contain unsafe levels of heavy metals such as arsenic, cadmium, or lead. They’ve also been known to have preservatives, genetically modified organisms (GMOs), allergens like dairy and soy, and artificial flavours.
Many contain sugar or artificial sweeteners. To make these products taste good, many contain added sweeteners like saccharin, dextrose, fructose, glucose polymers, sucrose and maltodextrin. Some companies opt for artificial sweeteners and sugar substitutes like sucralose, xylitol, stevia and aspartame. I’m just not convinced that we have enough long term evidence to know if these synthetic ingredients are harmful or not.
They may produce side effects. Many people don’t tolerate the protein or additives found in these powders. Adverse symptoms can include heart burn, a bad after taste, indigestion, bloating, gas, stomach cramps, constipation or diarrhea.
Do what’s right for you
Before jumping on the protein powder bandwagon, I have a few questions to ask yourself to better understand what’s right for you. I’m a huge fan of bio-individuality, that there’s no one-sized-fits-all approach, and that you need to find the right nutrition plan for you.
To get more clear on your protein needs, ask yourself:
- Are you feeling weak, tired, low energy?
- Do you find yourself unable to get through a workout?
- What does your daily diet look like right now?
- How much whole food protein are you getting?
- Are you staying well hydrated with lots of water?
If you aren’t feeling like anything is off, then you are probably doing just fine. Use your own body and it’s signals to determine if you need extra supplementation through protein powders.
A safer, healthier option
I personally believe in making your own whole food smoothie with added protein from hemp and other nuts seeds. Add in some avocado for good fat, then some berries berries or other fruit for sweetness and top with some dark leafy greens. The coconut water as a base gives you an extra blast of carbs and electrolytes. This will give you a delicious, complete meal-in-a glass.
Michelle’s whole food power smoothie
1 cup frozen blueberries
2 handfuls spinach
2 tbsp chia seeds
2 tbsp hemp seeds
2 tbsp almonds
1 cup coconut water
1 cup water
Place all the ingredients in a blender. Blend on high until well combined and smooth. Add more water if the smoothie is too thick. Enjoy!