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Ask the experts: Do we really need protein powders?

Protein powders were once the fuel of ‘big buff’ gym guys, but these days they are popular with men and women of all ages. But do we really need them in our diets? HFG nutritionist Claire Turnbull investigates.

What are protein powders?

There are several types of protein powders based on one or a mix of these ingredients:

Whey protein

This is made from milk. You might see it listed as whey protein concentrate, isolate or hydrolysate. This simply refers to how the protein powder has been processed.

Soy protein

Soybeans can be processed to make protein powders and will commonly be referred to on labels as soy protein concentrate or isolate.

Pea protein

It’s possible to make protein powders from peas, but not the common garden green variety — this powder is made from golden peas that are part of the legume family.

Egg protein

This is simply dried egg whites.

While plain protein powder is available (the base ingredient with nothing else added), most powders contain extras such as flavourings and sweeteners to make them more palatable, along with added vitamins, minerals and other ingredients.

How much protein do I need each day?

Healthy Food Guide recommends that 20-25 per cent of your total energy each day comes from protein. Based on an average adult whose daily energy needs are around 8700kJ, this is around 100-130g a day. The menu plans in each issue of Healthy Food Guide deliver this.

For most people, it’s possible to get all the protein you need by eating everyday foods including meat, poultry, seafood, eggs, yoghurt, cheese and milk as well as tofu, tempeh, nuts, seeds, legumes and grains. Each of these pack a protein punch, as a snack or added to your meal.

Who needs protein powder and why?

Protein is essential to help muscles recover and repair after exercise. It also provides the building blocks that form enzymes and hormones to ensure your body functions at an optimal level. So, if you are doing regular and intense exercise, powders are a convenient and easily absorbed source of protein that can speed up recovery, often in combination with carbohydrate and fluid. If weight gain isn’t your goal, it’s important to balance the energy content of the powder with whatever else you’re eating.

Protein helps us to feel full and some people boost their smoothie with a scoop of protein powder or add it to water or milk to make it more filling.

While this is a more healthy option than a chocolate bar or muffin, you could just add more milk or yoghurt instead, or try added protein milks such as Meadow Fresh Protein Boost or Anchor Protein +. Remember, you can’t beat the taste and texture of real food!

Which protein powder?

If you do want to try a protein powder, opt for one with the least number of added ingredients. If you choose a sweet or flavoured version, go for one sweetened with stevia (a natural sweetener without kilojoules) or natural flavouring.

Be mindful that some protein powders contain additional carbohydrate and can be high in energy – great for people exercising hard or wanting to put on weight, but not ideal for those looking to slim and tone.

The bottom line?

Protein powders can be helpful to people doing a lot of exercise and if you’re happy to pay for them, can be convenient as a filling snack.

10 foods that boost protein

  1. Palm-sized serving of lean meat, chicken, fish or tofu
  2. Small can of tuna, salmon or sardines
  3. 1/2 cup of cottage cheese
  4. 2 boiled eggs
  5. Glass of trim milk
  6. 2 slices of cheese
  7. Pottle of yoghurt
  8. 1/2 cup of chickpeas
  9. 2-3 tablespoons of trim milk powder – add to smoothies to boost protein
  10. Small handful of nuts



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