Protein for Women doesn't Exist
Protein supplements are getting increasingly popular, but there is still some confusion over what women need in a protein supplement, and whether they need them at all!
First thing’s first. Protein for women doesn’t exist. There are many companies that try to convince women that they need a different kind of protein supplement than men, but they don’t.
Protein is a macronutrient, like carbohydrates or fats. Can you imagine if women were told that they needed to eat a different kind of chicken than men? It’s simply not the case! Protein is protein. And women need it in the same way that men do. Ignore marketing ploys and follow this simple guide.
While there are many protein supplements becoming available, from protein bars to protein desserts, the focus of this guide is protein powders.
If you’d like more information on the role of protein and protein sources in general, head to my protein guide for women for a thorough overview.
Benefits of protein supplements
It’s always best to take a ‘food first’ approach to getting protein into your diet, but like many other people, I’ve found protein supplements incredibly helpful in meeting my daily requirements.
Protein powders are great to top-up your protein intake while being able to control your intake of other macronutrients.
Protein supplements are convenient (requiring almost no preparation), are easy to consume in a rush or on-the-go, and are very affordable with some coming in at as little as 30p per serving.
Protein powders are available in a range of flavours, most of which are great for satisfying a sweet tooth! However, they tend to be sugar-free, instead being sweetened using sucralose or, increasingly popularly, stevia.
Types of protein powder
There are several different types of protein powder on offer. Protein powder can be derived from different food sources, different forms can be blended, and additional ingredients can be added.
Whey protein is the most popular product when it comes to protein supplements. It is regarded as the gold standard and is usually used in research as a control. Whey naturally occurs in milk and is filtered to make whey protein products.
The reason that is it so popular is that it has an excellent amino acid profile and can be digested and absorbed into muscles very quickly.
Even within the category of whey protein, there are different types.
Whey protein concentrate (WPC) is generally the cheapest option. It contains around 70-80% protein.
Whey protein isolate (WPI) is generally a little more expensive as it has undergone an additional step of purification and so contains around 90% (and up to 97% in some cases!) protein. WPI is also slightly lower in lactose than WPC.
Hydrolysed whey protein (HWP) is another option. HWP has undergone the process of enzymatic hydrolysis to break down long protein chains into small chain peptides making it quicker and easier for your body to absorb. This is a good option for people with digestive issues, however, not necessary for other people as whey is already very digestible. HWP is more expensive.
Like whey, casein is derived from milk. However, unlike whey, casein is a very slow releasing protein. The slower digestion of this kind of protein means that there is a sustained release of amino acids for up to 7 hours.
Micellar casein digests very slowly and is a more expensive form of casein.
Calcium caseinate is the cheaper form of casein. It is inferior to micellar casein as it has undergone further processing to make it more soluble. While this means that the consistency of the shake is less sludgy, the treatment affects the quality of the product.
The term milk protein tends to indicate a mixture of casein and whey.
Soy is the most well-researched vegetable protein. In terms of absorption time, soy is the intermediate bridge between the two dairy proteins. Soy protein also contains a good amino acid profile. However, soy is a heavily genetically modified crop that tends to be treated with a lot of pesticides.
Egg protein and Beef Protein
Egg protein and beef protein are also available as non-dairy protein alternatives, and are often posed as ‘paleo’ protein options. They tend to be a little more expensive and not as tasty.
Besides soy, there are plenty of other protein supplement options for vegans. Pea and rice proteins are both fairly good options, whereas hemp protein has a low protein content and is not as digestible as the other options.
With vegan proteins, it is best to opt for a blend to ensure that you benefit from a better amino acid profile, as their amino acid ratios are not as good as proteins from animal sources.
Often, as mentioned with vegan protein, protein supplements will be a blend of two or more of the above forms of protein.
For example, a blend that contains whey, soy and casein may be formulated to create a product where amino acid availability is high but also sustained. In this scenario, whey protein would ensure that amino acids reached the muscles quickly, while the soy and casein would ensure prolonged release and protein synthesis.
One example of a brand that does this is MaxiNutrition, who include whey, casein and soy in their protein powders.
However, be aware that companies may also blend proteins in this way in order to make the formulation cheaper to manufacture. Therefore, if you feel that you would benefit from a blend of whey and casein protein (before bed, for example), consider mixing this yourself rather than buying a protein blend.
Many protein powders have added ingredients, from vitamins and minerals, to weight loss aids.
For example, some post-workout formulas for people looking to gain muscle and strength may include carbohydrates and creatine (find my guide to creatine here). Other products contain enzymes to aid digestion, although these probably aren’t necessary for most people.
This is also the part where the idea of protein for women should be addressed. Protein supplements aimed at women tend to have added ingredients, such as green tea extract, that claim to be fat burners. In other words, protein supplements marketed to women are actually protein supplements that may (or indeed may not) aid weightloss.
I personally like to take a basic protein powder and add other powders and take other supplements as and when I need them, and in the doses that are best for me.
When to take protein supplements
There are several times at which you would benefit from an intake of protein.
Firstly, in the morning, after your body has essential fasted for many hours. Having protein in the morning can also assist with satiety and weight management.
Most commonly, protein supplements are taken post-workout to support recovery. Here, fast-acting whey protein is beneficial.
It is also beneficial to take protein before bed. In this case, a slow-releasing protein such as casein is best for sustained release of protein throughout the night.
How to take protein supplements
Protein supplements are really easy to consume. They can be mixed into a shake with water or milk (I tend to opt for water for fewer calories and quicker digestion), blended into a smoothie.
Mixing protein powder with water will generally digest more quickly, so this is a good option post-workout. Mixing protein powder with milk will generally mean it is absorbed more slowly, making this a good bedtime option.
Alternatively, you can improve the protein content of your foods by mixing protein powder into porridge, or using it in recipes for pancakes or waffles. Protein powder can in this way improve the macronutrient profile of foods that are generally lacking in protein.
Where to buy protein supplements
I always recommend buying online. Supermarkets, pharmacies and health food stores tend to sell protein supplements for very high prices compared to online. My go-to for protein supplement shopping is MyProtein, where I buy Impact Whey Isolate. Remember to use the code BLONDEETHOS for 10% off your order1 There are also lots of protein supplements on amazon.
Sometimes I vary what brands I use products from depending on samples I pick up and what other people in my household are using. I enjoy experimenting and I sometimes use different products at different times of day for optimal nutrition.
Need a hand?
The type of protein supplement that you choose will vary depending on the time of day that you take it, your lifestyle situation, your budget, and digestive tendencies.
Get in touch if you’d like any help picking out the right protein product for you. I’d love to help!