The Rising Popularity of Protein Powders and How To Find Your Perfect Fit
Is it just me or are protein powders having a moment?
Blame it on the billion dollar wellness industry or the fact that when it comes to breakfast most women only have time for meals made in a NutriBullet, either way protein powders are a hot commodity. And since we figured out that it’s not just for guys, gym rats, or people who do CrossFit, we’ve realised that a protein powder can also serve as a multi-function wellness, beauty and longevity enhancer, as well as the building blocks of a damn good smoothie. Naturopath and nutritionist Twyla Watson agrees, “In my practice, the number one reason I would recommend a protein smoothie to someone is its ability to balance blood sugar. Foods like cereals or toast are very carbohydrate-dense, and with little else to balance that sugar out it can send you on a blood sugar rollercoaster. If you often feel hungry just an hour or two after breakfast, find it hard to focus, or maybe get the jitters, then it’s likely your blood sugar has taken a dive because your breakfast wasn’t adequate. In this instance, a smoothie would be perfect for achieving a balance of macronutrients (carbohydrates/fat/protein).”
Protein is vital for women. On average women aged between 19 and 70 need 0.84-1.07 grams per kilogram of body weight. So a 60kg woman needs roughly 50 to 64 grams of protein per day. Breastfeeding women need even more than this, roughly 1.1 grams per kilogram of body weight. Twyla says, “People commonly think of protein as being important for the structure of our muscles but they do so much more than that. Protein makes up the cells in our immune system, they’re part of the neurotransmitters and hormones that help us feel good and sleep well, and they are an important part of enzymes, which are necessary for everything from digestion to detoxification, to muscle and nerve function.”
But not all protein powders are created equal. In fact, everything from food intolerances to your health goals will influence whether whey, pea, hemp or collagen is right for you. Whey concentrate is a cows milk-derived powder which is around 65-70% protein (much higher than any plant-based option). It’s fast-acting, really filling and contains all the essential amino acids for muscle growth. This makes it a good option for those doing a lot of training and/or someone who uses smoothies as a meal replacement. However if you’re sensitive to lactose like I am, whey concentrate can upset stomachs by way of cramping and bloating. Interestingly, some lactose-intolerant people find that whey isolate (like Made Of Whey Protein Isolate which is one of the cleanest and most potent protein supplements on the market) is a much better option because the whey has gone through a more intense filtration process to have the milk sugar removed, meaning it has a lower lactose content.
And it’s not just whey that can cause stomach issues, any poor quality powder can lead to bloating, gas and even acne due to fillers, thickeners and artificial sweeteners. If you prefer a plant-based protein powder, Gwenyth Paltrow’s go-to physician Dr. Frank Lipman said it must be non-genetically-modified, “When you’re looking for a vegetable protein powder, look for ones that are pea or hemp-based, or ones with flax or rice protein (or a blend of the two).” The words “non GMO” are key here, and brands like Two Islands Co (pea) and Jeunora (hemp) are both really well-regarded for how clean they are. Generally speaking it’s best to steer clear of soy protein powders all together as most soy is genetically modified. At the moment, Twyla is a big fan of collagen or hemp protein powders, “Collagen powder is the form I most commonly recommend as it’s really well tolerated and has a fantastic amino acid profile. It’s great for skin, hair and nails and healing the gut mucosa. I recommend hydrolysed collagen from beef or fish. Hemp is a “complete protein”, meaning it contains all of the essential amino acids. It’s also less processed than other plant proteins and because it’s so close to its original form it still contains fibre and a range of micronutrients and phytonutrients, as well as a portion of the healthy fats usually present in hemp seeds. Choose a cold pressed hemp protein and keep it in the fridge to preserve it best.”
Whether we care to admit it, breakfast is a choice that sets the tone for our day. If we are kind to our bodies in the morning, move them with intention and then consume something healthy, we are more likely to carry that “self-kindness” throughout the rest of the day. A smoothie has always seemed like a pretty kind option to me. It’s liquid and therefore gentle on our digestive system when we’ve been horizontal and inactive for the past eight hours. I’ve always purchased protein powders that are *more* than just protein; I like something that aids digestion, works as a pre and probiotic, and accounts for some of my recommended daily intake of vitamins and minerals. Because of this, I regularly buy The Beauty Chef Inner Beauty Body Powder (alongside protein it’s also a bio-fermented wellness powder containing superfoods and matcha) and Welle Co Super Elixir Nourishing Plant Protein (an entirely organic blend of peas, dandelions, pomegranates, sprouted brown rice and pea protein). But as Twyla points out, it’s still important to remember our bio-individuality (the notion that what works for you and your physiology might not work for your neighbour), “As with everything in personalised medicine, there are a few groups of people for whom a smoothie won’t be the best breakfast option, but ensuring that your meal contains not just carbs, but fat and protein too, will help you have sustained energy levels and feel fuller for longer.”