Updated: Nov 17, 2021
Muscle Milk, Quest, Protein Whey Isolate, etc… All manufactured protein products and all advertised for the good of our health! But do these products really make us “healthier?” Can humanity possibly manufacture a food that is better for us than the whole food God created in the beginning? While manufactured man-made foods are still gifts from God (shoutout to ice cream), do they top the nutritious whole foods that God ordained to grow from the earth that he created for us?
My food conviction is that foods, when in their naturally grown and whole form without any man-made additives or processing, are what God created and gave to us as the best nourishment for our bodies! However, I still believe God made humankind with creative, intellectual, and innovative capabilities to steward his creation, including the ability to produce millions of man-made products across the world.
My convictions from God tell me that while not all man-made food is bad, they are better in moderation and eaten within the context of a diet that is primarily composed of whole, natural foods if possible. While it is better to fuel ourselves with whole foods when we can, it is almost impossible in the world we currently live in, as most consumer grocery goods and produce have some sort of manufacturing, additives and chemicals or genetic modifications added to them. I’ve learned I can’t stress about every unknown chemical in my food, but I can do my best to eat the least processed foods I can while praying to God for my health and the health of those around me.
Anyways, back to the hot topic: Protein Powder! Stereotypically, protein powder is associated with these shakes drunk by men after intense workouts that fuel their bodies with an exorbitant amount of protein to build their muscles. #Swoll. But now more than ever, manufactured protein companies are aiming at women as their target marketing audience, and advertise a multitude of various products such as dessert-flavored protein bars, protein-enhanced oatmeal, protein powders with enhancing names such as “lean” or “tone it up,” all designed with very aesthetic packaging and with advertisement from beautiful social media-famous influencers who have a so-called “perfect” body. Look out for that. Seeing all of this, I asked myself, what am I believing from these protein powder advertisements and will these manufactured protein products really improve my health, performance or body image?
Let’s start with a quick fact check:
No protein powder, protein supplement or collagen peptide can provide nutrients that whole food cannot (or in the case of collagen, proteins that your body doesn’t naturally produce)
Even the most healthy, vegan, organic protein products are still processed and contain many chemicals and additives. For example, take Orgain’s Organic Protein Plant Based Protein Powder which is highly rated to be one of the healthiest protein powders. But even the most “healthy” vegan, organic protein powder still contains a multitude of processed additives as seen below in the nutrition facts of the vegan protein powder!
No matter how many nutrient extracts, proteins, fibers, etc. we extract from real food and implant into processed foods, they will never have the complex and divinely designed combination of nutrients in natural foods. I don’t believe humans will ever be able to mimic or improve upon the nutrition combinations already present in whole natural foods created by God. Thus, taking protein supplements will never be more nutritious than whole food protein supplements.
While that is our starting point for understanding how man-made processed foods ultimately stack up to natural food, I do still believe that processed foods are not inherently harmful when consumed in moderation and with the appropriate purpose. Which leads me to my next point: why processed protein can be used in moderation & the potential benefits based on my research.
Why Processed Protein Can be Used in Moderation:
To get sufficient protein in your diet. Protein is a macronutrient that is needed by our bodies. It’s not unheard of for women to eat lower protein diets, especially when compared to men. Sometimes women tend to not choose meals higher in protein as they may be perceived as “manly” meals. Also, more women are likely to be concerned about the health factors of eating lots of meat. For the women called or convicted by God to be a vegan, vegetarian, pescetarian or whatever-arian, that’s awesome! However, whatever the reason, sometimes women do not get the sufficient amount of protein needed in their diets (The Acceptable Macronutrient Distribution Range recommends protein to be 10-35% of your caloric diet). In these cases, it may be super helpful for women to use protein powders to get sufficient protein in their diets.
Muscle Building Benefits. Post-workout, protein is a recommended macronutrient (Ace Fitness recommends a ratio of 3:1 carb to proteins grams for a post-workout meal or snack) but sometimes it’s difficult to cook or ingest a large piece of chicken or 6 eggs to get sufficient protein post-workout (plus those natural proteins can come with a lot of added calories from fat). Sometimes, we just don’t have the time to do that meal prep or cooking post-workout either. Protein bars and shakes provide a quick and easy way to get sufficient protein in a post-workout meal. Protein powders (consumed in a liquid fashion) are also a faster way to ingest amino acids to support your muscle repair and growth because they are broken down faster in the digestive tract (Enu Nutrition) than whole foods (solid food digestion takes 3-4 hours). The anabolic window (a period of time following exercise in which nutrients such as protein and carbs can be eaten to maximize muscle growth and glycogen replenishment) is approximately 30 min to 2 hours post workout, so your complete digestion of solid or whole proteins may not happen until after your anabolic window closes. A quick protein shake can get your body the nutrients it needs for recovery within that timeframe of your anabolic window.
Taste. Sometimes manufactured protein products can actually taste good! Cookie dough or other sweet flavored protein bars may taste good and curb a sweet tooth desire (less likely for my taste buds but these guys sell). I do love the occasional chocolate protein shake, blended with banana and PB after a good workout, topped with some cereal! Almost like an acai bowl, right?
And - my last point - if you decide supplemental protein powder could be of benefit to you, how do you choose the right one out of the hundreds of products??
How do I choose protein powder?
1. Protein Grams Serving Size: Personally, I start narrowing down my options with protein powders that contain a sufficient amount of protein recommended for my daily intake that if ingested in a meal or post-workout snack, will meet my needs.
There are a broad range of recommendations for the percentage of protein for a diet but in general, the International Society of Sports Nutrition (ISSN) recommends a daily protein intake of 1.4 to 2.0 grams/kilograms of body weight to build and maintain muscle tissue for most exercisers. In addition, protein uptake and absorption is most effective when distributed evenly throughout the day, approximately every 3 to 4 hours, instead of trying to cram a massive amount of protein into your body immediately post-workout.
As an example, let’s say I’m about 50kg in weight. That means I’m recommended to take 70-100 grams of protein per day. So, depending on whether I’m using a protein shake as a meal replacement or post-workout snack, I’m likely to look for a protein powder with a serving size of approx. 20-30g of protein.
A funny side note. My husband’s protein powder contains 60 g of protein per serving!! That’s a lot!! It’s definitely more than he may need in one serving because he doesn’t weigh 100 kg so it’s likely his body won’t even be able to absorb all that protein in one serving. I pointed this out to him and he said, well my body will still get the max protein it can. Lol. Point taken. Boys.
2. Taste: Protein powder can be just gross or make my stomach hurt. So if I’m going to sub tasty real food for a supplement, in my mind, it better taste good! My favorite protein powders I’ve tried are Alani Nu Peanut Butter Brownie or Ghost Cereal Milk (both whey protein). I typically spice my protein powder up in a shake with some carbs or make a cereal bowl (recipe coming soon). Both these proteins have an appropriate serving size of protein for my recommended daily needs and goals and taste pretty dang good!
You may need to try out samples of different options or types of protein to see what works for you. Sometimes whey protein can make my stomach hurt depending on how I consume it. Quest Bars just do not do it for me. But everyone’s different and has different preferences and taste buds!
3. Nutrition: I know it seems odd that I’m placing this third on my list, but at the end of the day, any processed protein you buy is going to be processed, maybe some a little less than others. You just have to accept that you will be consuming something processed. I choose whey proteins because they contain all 9 essential amino acids, but this wouldn’t be the move for all the vegans out there.
4. Price per serving: There is a huge range but very much a personal choice.
Case-in-Point Summary: Protein powders are never more nutritious than consuming whole, natural protein sources and aren’t necessary to your diet. However, depending on your protein needs and training goals, they may be a supportive supplement and can be a good alternative if you don’t have time to cook or want an easier way to quickly get sufficient protein in your diet!
*Depending on your gender, age, level of activity and type of regular exercise, your recommended protein intake will vary