No supplement is more widely consumed than protein powders. You know the drill. You sign up to the gym, you walk through the front door and there you are faced with that over-sized plastic tub of 'energetic' goodness that is being sold (almost always 20% off!! Buy now!! Must sell!!) as the most essential factor to your gym and fitness experience. According to these tubs of heaven, you will get bigger muscles, lose weight faster, feel fuller and receive proper nutrition. But what's actually in them? And why did we start obsessing on consuming synthetic powders for health support? Plants and animals provide so many proper and nutritive sources of protein that are recognisable by the human body, because we have the enzymes and cells to utilise them. Yet we are still using white powders after our workouts to maximise the experience. We know we need to stick to whole foods. We know that fast food, processed foods and refined sugars are bad for our health. Why is it that we believe synthetic protein powders are any different?
Not all protein powders are the same. There are quite a few companies that make raw, food based protein powders that are free from preservatives and nasty chemicals. But even still, do you really need them? In my opinion, these are the only reasons you should be requiring a protein powder:
Convenience: That is, if you do not have the time to cook and prepare whole food protein sources and the lack of a protein powder would actually result in a protein insufficiency. Take note though that a protein deficiency is quite rare and mostly seen in developing countries. Even our westernised diet provides adequate protein.
Restricted diets: Vegan diets for instance, which requires you to food combine and closely track your food intake per day to ensure macronutrient and amino acid requirements are being met, could find use in protein powders. They can be great additions to the vegan diet as they have often been formulated with all the amino acids required by the body in one day, putting someone at ease that their needs are being met. Even still though, if a vegan is consuming adequate amounts of whole foods, they should be meeting their protein requirements. And if they're not, it can certainly be done through food.
Recovery after injury or illness: Amino acids are wound healing - they are directly involved in our repair mechanisms in the human body. After surgery, musculoskeletal injuries or any skin related disorders proteins are vital to rebuild the structures lost during the trauma.
Specific exercise regimes
There are also certain medical conditions or stages of life whereby a health practitioner may prescribe a high quality protein powder due to malnourishment or risk of deficiency.
If you love the taste of protein powder, you feel healthier and the ingredients are great then by all means, continue taking your protein powder. Just make sure you flip the bottle to the nutrition panel and make sure you're ok with the choice of ingredients entering your body.
Meeting protein requirements through food is MUCH easier than what is most commonly believed. Both women and men can reach their daily recommended intake quite easily through common and accessible foods such as brown rice, eggs, beans, nuts and hommus.
But let’s get back to the tubs of heaven that are promising weight loss and muscles. These are some of the most commonly found ingredients that a lot of your synthetic protein powders sold in gyms and supermarkets contain:
Table salt: This is a manufactured form of salt. Table salt has been heat treated to the point of complete denaturation and has none of its minerals left that a sea or rock salt would.
Canola oil: A toxic solvent called hexane is used to extract this oil from the canola seeds. Trace amounts of hexane are found in the oil, which produces a toxic smell. The oil is then deodorised to mask this effect. Canola oil also contains trans fat, which is incredibly harmful and associated with many serious diseases.
Maltodextrin: This is one of your most common and highly processed food additives. Its glycemic index is higher than pure white table sugar. This means it induces stressful blood sugar spikes on your body.
Sucralose: An artificial, synthetic sweetener.
Saccharin: Another highly processed, synthetic artificial sweetener. This was found to have a possible link to causing cancer in laboratory animals.
Many protein powders are highly processed, loaded with toxins and being sold by your trusty personal trainer at the gym as the be all and end all of nutrition. Not only that, but protein powders have generally been so heat treated to the point where the actual protein is denatured. This means it is not serving the purpose the front label says it is.
I am not dismissing the nutritional density of all protein powders, there are quite a few companies that are creating superior products. My pet peeve is not with these, but with cheap protein powders that someone is taking for no reason, merely because they believe it's healthy. READ YOUR PROTEIN POWDER LABELS. If it does not contain REAL FOOD that you would find in your cupboard, then make sure it doesn’t end up in there. Just remember, whole foods provide all the protein we need. Powders will never do what real food will do. Try and stick to protein powders with minimal ingredients - that is, the source of protein and perhaps a small amount of a safe sweetener. Read all labels, not just protein powder labels, but this is definitely a good start.