An average female adult needs approximately 45-60g protein per day to meet their requirements. To do this we should aim to include a small serve of protein with each meal (e.g., 1-2 eggs or some natural yoghurt with breakfast, 1 cup chickpeas in a lunchtime salad and 100g chicken in a stir-fry at dinner). One scoop of protein powder contains around 20g protein, so this provides approximately one third of your daily needs.
Most Australians easily meet their protein requirements (even vegetarians). Remember protein is found in many foods, including nuts and seeds, grains and even vegetables. Therefore, while most of us don’t need protein powders, they can be a useful tool, especially when busy. For example, protein powder can be ideal to add to breakfast smoothies that may otherwise be a little protein lacking. A protein shake can also be a filling and great post workout snack, and will maximise muscle protein synthesis and recovery if you consume within 2 hours of training.
So, what is the best protein powder?
Which protein powder is best for you will of course depend upon your individual needs. Whey protein (from milk) is a high-quality protein powder however the lactose content does vary, with whey protein isolate being the lowest (less than 1%) and therefore suitable for those following a low fodmap diet or for many with lactose intolerance. Hydrolysed whey protein on the other hand is the most readily absorbed. Protein powder made from casein is another type of milk protein, but more slowly digested than whey.
There are also many plant-based protein powders, such as soy, brown rice, pea and hemp. Isolated brown rice and pea proteins are comparable in absorption to whey protein, while soy and hemp proteins are complete proteins containing all essential amino acids. Some plant proteins are quite strong tasting (such as pea and hemp), so it really comes down to personal taste.
What to watch for
Whichever type you choose, what is important is the other ingredients included. Many protein powders are in fact highly processed, with a long list of ingredients that looks like a science experiment! If adding to smoothies, opt for a straight protein powder (i.e., non-flavoured – one ingredient). If having as a shake and therefore you need some flavour, pick those with minimal added ingredients and check the sugar content, some are loaded with sugar or artificial sweeteners.