Get the scoop on the pro­tein shake co­nun­drum

Women's Health (UK) - - CON­TENTS - ROISÍN DERVISH-O’KANE words COLIN BEA­GLEY dig­i­tal ma­nip­u­la­tion

You love a pro­tein shake. No? Then your best mate has a scoop’s worth sit­ting in her shaker, and the woman in the gym shower next to you is about to mix hers post­work­out. How can we be so sure? Be­cause the num­bers speak for them­selves. Just look at Hol­land & Bar­rett, for in­stance, where sales of pro­tein pow­der have in­creased 20% over the past five years, with 62% of pur­chases made by women; likely a re­sult of the fe­male ex­o­dus from the cross trainer to the squat rack over the past few years. ‘These days, I rarely meet a woman who lifts but hasn’t in­tro­duced pro­tein shakes into her diet,’ says PT and body trans­for­ma­tion coach Dan Wheeler*. And as a tub and scoop are now ev­ery­day es­sen­tials for women who work out, more and more ques­tions are be­ing asked about the body claims they make – so we’ve called in the ex­perts.


‘Pro­tein is a macronu­tri­ent that pro­vides amino acids, which join to­gether to cre­ate and main­tain mus­cle, bone, hor­mones and skin,’ says Dr Graeme Close, pro­fes­sor of hu­man phys­i­ol­ogy at Liv­er­pool John Moores Univer­sity, who ad­vises British ath­letes on nutri­tion. ‘Think of them like Lego blocks. When the mus­cles are dam­aged through ex­er­cise, the Lego builders are ready to re­build, but they can only get to work if you give them blocks,’ he says. Train mus­cles with­out ad­e­quate amino acids and you leave them with no op­tion but to break down. Back to the Lego builders. ‘They’re so de­ter­mined to build those mus­cu­lar walls that they’ll break down ex­ist­ing mus­cle in or­der to ac­cess the amino acids re­quired,’ Dr Close ex­plains. So fo­cus­ing on in­creas­ing your pro­tein in­take as you in­crease your body’s train­ing is a no-brainer. In an ideal world, you’d get this pro­tein from whole foods – meat, eggs, seafood, dairy, beans and pulses – but un­less you’re down with drop­ping half your salary in the lo­cal butcher’s and spend­ing your evenings boil­ing eggs and poach­ing chicken breasts, the ease and speed of pro­tein pow­der is its great­est sell­ing point. ‘Pro­tein pow­der isn’t some weird ar­ti­fi­cial sub­stance – it’s just an iso­lated part of the food,’ says sports nu­tri­tion­ist Drew Price. ‘And when it comes to mus­cle growth and re­pair, 30g of pro­tein from a shake is as good as the equiv­a­lent amount from a chicken breast.’


If you’re re­ally into strength train­ing, Dr Close rec­om­mends you con­sume 1.5g pro­tein per kilo­gram of body weight ev­ery day. So if you weigh in at 60kg, you’d be look­ing to put away 90g of pro­tein a day, ir­re­spec­tive of your body’s ex­ist­ing mus­cle­fat ra­tio. Car­dio fan? ‘Run­ners would need less, say, 1.2g pro­tein per kilo­gram of body mass,’ says Dr Close, be­cause car­dio doesn’t dam­age the mus­cle fi­bres as much as weight train­ing. Some ex­perts ar­gue that sup­ple­ment­ing with pro­tein is point­less, in­sist­ing women only need 10% of their calo­rie in­take from pro­tein (roughly 0.8g per kilo­gram of body weight). But Dr Close, who is also deputy chair of the Sports and Ex­er­cise Nutri­tion Regis­ter, dis­putes this. ‘Gen­eral rec­om­mended in­takes are based on seden­tary peo­ple,’ he ar­gues. ‘Women who train reg­u­larly and per­form at their op­ti­mum have dif­fer­ent needs.’ And it’s not just down to how much you’re con­sum­ing – when you have your pro­tein shake is just as im­por­tant. If you sink it straight af­ter a healthy, pro­tein­rich meal, Dr Close says you’re wast­ing your time – and money. ‘Your body will sim­ply take the pro­tein it needs from both – roughly 30g – and ex­crete the rest as urea,’ he ex­plains. ‘It’s best to sup­ply your mus­cles with a steady stream of amino acids.’ His ad­vice is to cal­cu­late the to­tal amount of daily pro­tein you need, di­vide by four, and aim to con­sume it in even amounts ev­ery three or four hours. But what of all the shoul­der­press pros down­ing their shakes post-ses­sion, ea­ger to make the most of that 30-minute win­dow when your body utilises pro­tein most ef­fi­ciently – and turn­ing the gym chang­ing room into the pro­tein shake equiv­a­lent of a cock­tail bar? Well, the the­ory be­hind that is still up for dis­cus­sion – or not, ac­cord­ing to some. ‘It’s non­sense,’ ar­gues Price. ‘We know the an­abolic re­sponse to train­ing – that is, the body’s abil­ity to in­crease mus­cle syn­the­sis – lasts for 24 hours.’ Dr Close agrees that the con­cept is a myth. ‘Hu­mans would never have evolved to cre­ate a mech­a­nism that meant by the time a hunter-gath­erer re­turned home with their prey, the nu­tri­ents were no longer use­ful or ad­e­quately metabolised by the body.’


Time to choose your fuel. If you’re lift­ing weights, whey re­mains the ex­perts’ first choice. With good rea­son: 2016 re­search in the jour­nal Nutri­tion And Metabolism found whey to be the eas­i­est pro­tein sup­ple­ment source for your body to utilise. ‘It con­tains 13% leucine, an amino acid that trig­gers the process of mus­cle pro­tein syn­the­sis,’ says Price. ‘It ba­si­cally has the power to flick the “on” switch to build new mus­cle tis­sue.’ Whey pro­tein is com­monly avail­able in three dif­fer­ent forms, all with vary­ing de­grees of ef­fi­cacy. Whey con­cen­trate of­fers the low­est pro­tein con­tent and is there­fore the cheap­est op­tion; whey iso­late has 99% of the lac­tose re­moved so it tends to be a bet­ter choice for those with in­tol­er­ances; and then there’s hy­drox­y­late, made up of 95% pre-di­gested pro­tein – it’s the most easily ab­sorbed, but has the price tag to go with it. With those cre­den­tials, why aren’t we all down­ing whey? Well, for ve­g­ans and those who pre­fer to fol­low a pri­mar­ily plant-based diet, whey won’t do. There’s also the fact that some peo­ple who don’t re­port dairy or lac­tose in­tol­er­ance nev­er­the­less suf­fer painful bloat­ing af­ter con­sum­ing whey pro­tein. ‘It’s likely that, even for peo­ple who can nor­mally tol­er­ate milk, the quan­tity of whey pro­tein in ev­ery scoop is too much to easily di­gest,’ says Price. ‘You’d never eat the amount of Greek yo­ghurt nec­es­sary to con­sume 30g of dairy pro­tein in one sit­ting.’of the plant-based al­ter­na­tives – most com­monly hemp, rice or pea – is there a top pick? Ex­perts say you’re best off try­ing a few and mak­ing your choice based on pro­tein con­tent and taste. ‘Ve­gan pro­teins don’t have a com­plete es­sen­tial amino acid pro­file,’ says Price. ‘Hemp, for ex­am­ple, con­tains half the



amount of leucine as whey. And even pea pro­tein, which is higher in leucine than other plant op­tions, lacks amino acids like glu­tamine, which main­tains the body’s acid bal­ance, and argi­nine, needed for tis­sue re­pair,’ he adds. So if you’re lift­ing heavy and would pre­fer a ve­gan op­tion, you might need to up your pro­tein-rich whole foods or sup­ple­ment some of these amino acids to reap the op­ti­mum ben­e­fit. Hap­pily, as de­mand soars, brands are look­ing to blend plant pro­teins to cre­ate pow­ders with a more rounded amino acid pro­file, which will aid mus­cle build­ing as ef­fec­tively as whey. But isn’t chop­ping and chang­ing while you try to find the right pro­tein for you go­ing to mess with your body? Well, no. Quite the op­po­site, in fact. ‘Al­ter­nat­ing be­tween two or three types lessens the risk of over­load­ing your sys­tem and de­vel­op­ing a sen­si­tiv­ity,’ says Price. But if there’s one new pro­tein on the block to swerve, it seems to be col­la­gen pow­der. It sounds ap­peal­ing – promis­ing to boost tresses and com­plex­ion along with mus­cle re­pair, but Dr Close chal­lenges the lat­ter claim. ‘While it may ben­e­fit skin and bone health, it’s im­pact on mus­cle will be neg­li­gi­ble.’


Once you’ve cho­sen your pro­tein source, it pays to look out for any nu­tri­tional deal-break­ers on the la­bel. The most ob­vi­ous, and im­por­tant, is the ac­tual pro­tein con­tent. ‘The pow­der should be at least 70% pro­tein,’ says Price. Whey tends to be on or above this mark, but ve­gan op­tions, con­tain­ing more added fat and carbs, of­ten linger be­low. Lengthy, im­pos­si­ble-topro­nounce in­gre­di­ents lists are a no-go. ‘Go un­flavoured and you’ll find prod­ucts with just the pro­tein source and an emul­si­fier,’ says Price. Ex­perts are di­vided on whether ar­ti­fi­cial sweet­en­ers should be ve­toed, but if you want to play it safe, choose a blend nat­u­rally sweet­ened with ste­via or katemfe fruit ex­tract. What about those art­fully pack­aged pouches boosted with in­gre­di­ents like macca and green tea? ‘They’re gen­er­ally the same thing, plus some un­proven “su­per­food” ex­tras,’ says Dr Close. It’s also best to hold back on those pow­ders that are sold as meal re­place­ments. ‘When you con­sume pro­tein pow­der, you’re not get­ting any of the fat-sol­u­ble vi­ta­mins or healthy fats you’d find in, say, eggs or salmon,’ ex­plains Price. Dr Close agrees. ‘First, see where you can hit that quota from food, and if there are any gaps – or times when it’s just not re­al­is­tic to do so – that’s when you add a pro­tein shake or bar.’ Got it? Good.

The Lord’s whey

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