There’s a reason protein powder has a bit of a bad rep. Every container of the stuff has a super intimidating all-caps name like “NITRO TECH” or “MASS GAINER” or “COMBAT ADVANCED.” If you’re a bodybuilder looking to bulk up, it really speaks to you. If you’re just looking to get yourself and your family their daily recommended protein intake, it’s a bit much.
It’s high time we end the reign of terror surrounding protein powder! And the best way to do that is to dive in head first. In that effort (and being a little intimidated by the stuff ourselves), we talked to registered nutritionist Andrea Donsky about protein powder myths and how she uses it on the daily for herself and her family. She gave us some life-changing tips for picking a powder, unconventional ways to incorporate it into your routine and even taught us how to get the little ones into it.
Now that we’re super confident protein powder slinging individuals, here’s what we learned so you, too, can evolve into your most protein-savvy form.
Change how you think about protein powder
The first step, Andrea says, is to stop associating protein powder only with working out and actively gaining muscle. Yes, you can use it for that purpose, but everybody needs protein; and powder and bars are a great way for anyone to make sure they’re getting their daily dose.
It’s not just for adults either. Andrea uses protein powder to supplement smoothies and shakes for her three kids to ensure they’re getting enough protein to run those little brains and bodies.
Start with something that speaks to you but THEN TURN IT OVER
With all the MANY options out there (especially the aforementioned all-caps screamers), where does one even begin? Realistically, the answer is: anywhere. Seriously. Take a gander down the protein supplements aisle or at the online marketplace (aka Amazon) and just pick out something that looks interesting to you. Are you looking for added fiber? A fun flavour? A certain type of protein? Just the prettiest bottle? Any reason works when you’re just starting the protein-picking process.
DON’T STOP THERE THOUGH. Your next step is flipping that compelling container over and reading all the info the back side has to offer. The ingredients list and nutrition facts are way more important than any claim on the front. (Because “sugar free” on the front doesn’t mean “sweetener free” on the back. Check that fine print!)
Ingredients are key
They can pack a whole lot of bad stuff into protein powder, so checking the ingredients before you buy is huge. Andrea has a few things she looks out for in particular—artificial sweeteners, extra sugar and number of ingredients.
“One of the things that’s a big no-no for me is artificial sweetener—I find it a lot more in the sports powders,” she explains. “For me, they can’t have any artificial sweeteners because you have to have clean ingredients.
“Also what kind of sugar are they using? Are they using cane sugar? Are they using beet sugar?” she adds. “I prefer that it’s organic, definitely non-GMO, that’s not an option. Organic is like icing on the cake.”
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It’s okay to care about taste though
Anyone who’s ever jumped on a health trend knows that they’re not always the tastiest things in the world. We need to strike a balance between making the smartest choices we can and still enjoying the food we eat. Andrea explains that while she wants to make sure her powder is made from clean ingredients and contains minimal sugar, she still has to like it or she won’t stick with it. Plus, good luck getting your kids to eat a totally unsweetened protein shake. That’s nuts.
“You want to be able to enjoy it,” Andrea says. “As much as it’s great to get your protein in and feed your brain, you also want to enjoy what you’re eating or drinking. So for me, taste is number one—obviously clean ingredients need to be a no-brainer—but if it doesn’t taste good, that doesn’t matter to me.”
But what about the different types of protein?
There are approximately 100 million different types of protein powders out there—egg white, whey, pea, hemp, soy, casein, collagen peptide, need we go on?—so it’s nearly impossible to determine if there’s One Protein to Rule Them All. Andrea’s best advice is to just pick what you like based on ingredients and taste, keeping in mind your own dietary needs.
If you’re lactose intolerant or vegan, plant-based proteins like pea or hemp might be for you. If you don’t have trouble digesting dairy, you might like whey better. It’s really up to you.
Don’t use it on autopilot
Since the packaging gives you a “serving size” right there, it can be tempting to just measure out that amount anytime you use protein powder. Easy peasy, right? Not quite. Andrea warns that you should take note of how much protein you or your kids have already had or are planning to have in the day and adjust accordingly, rather than letting the package dictate your needs for you.
“I think we get a lot more protein than we think we do,” Andrea says. “We’re so concentrated on ‘I have to get more protein.’ But we do get a lot—there’s a lot of protein in plant-based foods and we don’t realize that. We think protein is chicken and turkey and beef and fish but there is protein in a lot of plant-based foods like avocado or legumes.
“It’s being cognizant of some of the other foods we’re eating and not necessarily having to overdose on a full scoop of protein powder.”
Think about timing
It’s not just how much protein you’re getting, it’s also when. Andrea says using protein powder early to power you through the morning or in the mid-afternoon to get you to dinner is a way to optimize the effects—especially for kids.
“We want to give kids protein smoothies or protein powder or any kind of protein in the morning—it’s great because it wakes up their brain,” she says. “we want to wake up their brains, increase their focus. It also helps them to avoid reaching for sugary snacks throughout the day because it helps balance out blood sugar levels.”
“After school I like it because it’s filling but it’s not too filling that they’re not going to eat their dinner,” she adds. “It’s a good tide-me-over snack that keeps them full and makes them feel like they’ve eaten something that’s going to keep them full.”
Protein’s not just for shakes and smoothies (although those are incredibly versatile and infinitely transportable); you can also pop it into a bunch of baked goods for an added boost. Because while we all like to get our protein in, we like to get our carbs in even more. The internet is teaming with recipes for protein bites, protein pancakes, protein muffins, protein granola, protein cookies, protein banana bread, protein brownies and even protein-boosted savoury dishes like rice or broth.
IT’S IMPORTANT TO REMEMBER that while you can use pretty much any powder in a smoothie or shake, it does matter which type you use in baking. There’s a ton of philosophy on that on the interwebs, but ProteinPow.com has a handy-dandy chart and dozens of tried and true recipes for a start.
Give yourself a break—protein bars are a fine alternative
All this talk of protein powder, baking and healthy eating can be exhausting, especially when you’re just trying to get through the week with everybody in one piece. Andrea gets it and she wants families and everyone else to remember that it’s okay to give yourself a break and it doesn’t even have to mean compromising on health.
“Sometimes my kids are in a rush and they don’t have time for breakfast but they’ll grab an RXBAR,” she shares. “My kids love their bars, so when we don’t have time to do protein shakes, they literally just grab and go and they’re getting their protein.”
We stan a bar with simple, clean ingredients and “no B.S.”
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