Imagine if your car broke down on the side of the road, out of gas. What if you could break down the car door and use it to fuel the car? Ridiculous? Yes. Impossible? Not for your body! The secret ingredient is protein! While you may think of protein as the muscles that move you, protein does so much more- boosting your mood, building bones and joints, and providing a backup energy source. Without enough protein, you will feel pretty rough around the edges.
But what if your lifestyle doesn’t always allow for a 3 square meals a day meal plan with all the protein you need? Enter your blendable buddy: protein powder. This shelf-stable alternative to cooking protein foods can make your life more convenient. But is it safe? Effective? Delicious? What are the cleanest, safest sources? What kinds of protein powder are out there and how can they help you feel and look your best? Let’s dig in!
What is Protein Powder and How Can it Benefit Your Health?
Protein powder is pulverized protein (usually) built from all 21 amino acids, commonly sourced from mammals or fish (collagen protein), dairy (whey protein), and plants (rice, pea, and other proteins). While all three will provide amino acids, they also offer slightly different benefits.
Protein from any source is essential for virtually all cellular functions. Proteins give structure to cells and tissues, carry out chemical reactions, and serve as messengers to communicate across your body- including neurotransmitters that help you think, move, and feel. Protein is also a boon to your weight-loss efforts by helping to stabilize your blood sugar and energy. It also provides amino acids to help you detoxify, and supports your mood by reducing cravings for foods that don’t serve you.
Collagen protein is my go-to to get glowing! It is the most abundant protein in your body. You make collagen with the help of amino acids and vitamin C, but you make less as you age especially as your skin has more exposure to collagen-degrading sunlight. As the glue that connects tissues and holds your body together, hydrolyzed collagen found in protein powder has been shown to help:
- Build resilient bones, muscle, and tendons
- Support your inner and outer skin – from your face to your gut lining
- Reduce inflammation, improving the health of all tissues
- Reduce and prevent joint pain
- Build strong hair, skin, nails, and cartilage
- Prevent loss of bone density and stimulates bone-forming cells
- Improve calcium absorption
Your skin is a window to your inner health and a source of glowing pride in your self-care. Collagen makes skin more youthful, springy, and less wrinkly, letting others see your inner glow! Moreover, hydrolyzed collagen is super easy to digest. You may benefit from collagen protein if you are building muscle, aging, dealing with high sun exposure, or struggling with joint problems, bone density concerns, skin challenges, digestive problems, inflammation, or energy challenges.
Whey protein is sourced from dairy and while it is not a protein you actively make in your body like collagen, this protein has been shown scientifically to support muscle building. One way it does this is by stimulating insulin. If you are someone who is sensitive to spikes in insulin, be careful when choosing whey protein supplements because quality varies. Choose non-denatured whey protein – not Choose grass-fed protein to optimize nutrition and reduce toxic exposure from pesticide-laden grains. And if you check your blood sugar and notice a spike, choose a different protein option.
You may choose whey protein specifically to support muscle building and balance energy levels because whey is great at triggering muscle growth, highly digestible, and tastes delicious. Others choose whey because they cannot tolerate traditional dairy products that contain lactose and casein. Both absent from whey protein powder.
Rice/Pea protein are an excellent alternative for those who prefer a plant-based protein. Unlike their whole-food counterparts, protein extracted from these foods is quickly digested and used. Many women choose these proteins because they have many of the benefits of other protein powders – building tissues, supporting mood, and stabilizing appetite to support weight loss. You may also choose rice and pea protein because it is easy to digest and hypoallergenic for most.
Going PRO in the Kitchen
A high quality protein powder is certified organic, GMO-free, free of soy/corn/melamine/gluten, non-irradiated, pesticide-free, non-denatured, and heavy metal tested. Especially with whey protein, choosing a non-denatured source is important because it is easier to digest. In all protein powders, especially plant-based, watch out for heavy metals including arsenic, cadmium, lead, and mercury. My SimplyGOOD Collagen Protein offers grass-fed hydrolyzed bovine collagen, including 19 amino acids and all 9 essential amino acids.
You may also want an additional protein source if you often skip meals unwittingly, have trouble digesting protein from whole food sources, like to drink smoothies but find protein options lacking, enjoy low protein snacks often, or want to make a delicious bone-building dessert! Some choose protein shakes to eat during bouts of nausea or when appetite (or time!) are low. Because collagen protein does not gel and is generally tasteless, it can be used to prepare many food items with great ease. Here are some ways you can use protein powder to boost your health, manage your appetite and weight, and enhance (not take away) dense nutrition from your diet:
- Blend into hot beverages for a pick me up
- Blend with cocoa powder, coconut milk, cinnamon, and tea for an amazing desert
- Boost a protein-deficient yogurt or pudding (like coconut yogurt)
- Blend into smoothies with vegetable fiber, healthy fats, and powerhouse spices like cinnamon, turmeric, or ginger
- Add to soup broths to boost protein content, especially vegetable broths
Empowder Yourself – and Get Glowing!
Using meal options like those listed above can give you more flexibility on a higher fat diet and and help you stick to an intermittent fasting protocol with protein cycling (IFPC)! Some suggestions:
- Ease into your eating plan with a well-balanced smoothie to replace meals and ease digestion, but don’t forget to add healthy fiber from non-starchy vegetables and healthy fats and don’t load up on sugar.
- Use a high protein/fat/fiber smoothie as your breakfast on your high protein days to make it easy to stick to your IFPC plan, especially if your schedule does not allow time to cook or prepare a meal.
- Bring a protein shake with you to enjoy after a short but meaningful high intensity workout.
- Use protein powder as an easy-to-digest option while your digestive tract is healing if it has been compromised.
- Try a new twist on an old favorite: blend protein powder into a cup of hot tea for an afternoon boost!
As with All Things, Balance
Because protein powder is not a whole food, mixing it with water is not enough for complete nourishment. It only provides protein. Whole foods provide fats, vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients that you need to be well nourished and satisfied. Some words of caution:
- You must chew your food to maintain robust stomach acid and good digestion. Avoid more than one “liquid lunch” per day so you are forced to maintain this habit.
- Protein, fat, and fiber are required for a meal. If you make a smoothie, do not ignore any of these components and please add some green veggies, herbs, sprouts and good fats.
- Some people will be more tolerant of one protein powder over another regarding their gut. If you have trouble with all grains, start with collagen before trying rice or pea protein. If you have a history of dairy damage, start with collagen over whey.
- If possible, avoid replacing a whole-foods lunch with a protein shake because your digestion is the most robust midday. At this time you make more stomach acid and digestive enzymes more easily, so at lunchtime you will be the most likely to properly digest a normal meal. Use protein powder in the morning, late evening, and when you are excitable or stressed but have to eat anyway.
With all the skin-softening, bone-building joint-soothing, mood-managing benefits associated with a good quality protein powder, it’s certainly worth a try if it’s not already part of your health and wellness plan. Try my collagen powder and experience the difference that quality can make! It’s formulated to be a great choice for those following a keto lifestyle, as well as for those who just want to add some protein power to their diets. Enjoy!