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If you’ve dipped even a toe in the fitness pond, it’s basically a guarantee that you’ll have heard something about using protein powders. Protein powders are becoming ubiquitous in and out of sports as both a convenient way to stay full and an easy way to pack on the gains, but this has led to a market saturated with dupes and duds. With dozens of protein powders claiming to offer the highest quality protein around, how can anyone hope to tell the difference? Fear not – Oliver’s and our wellness experts are here to help! We’ve gathered the info you need to know to become a protein-pro with the click of a button, or skip to the end to check out our top 10 favorite uses for protein powder beyond the shake!
So, why use protein powder in the first place? Surely a healthy, balanced diet will supply plenty of protein, right? In most cases, yes, but this isn’t always true, especially if you’re trying to put on a lot of muscle. Let’s think for a moment about how getting stronger works. When you put your body through strenuous exercise, it is inevitable that you will tear some of your muscle fibers. These tears can be large enough to result in a noticeable injury, but really, they’re mostly microscopic, leading to the aches and pains associated with aftermath of a good workout. Our muscles are made up of thousands of bundles of these fibrous proteins; when these fibers are torn during a workout and subsequently heal, the resulting fibers are both thicker and more durable. Tear and heal them enough times, and you end up with defined, durable muscles and (as the kids say) a “sweet bod” – right?
Well, kind of. Sure, any kind of physical activity will make you stronger, but exercise alone will only do so much. Any fitness coach worth their salt will tell you that to really get fit, it all has to start in the kitchen. A healthy, balanced diet and appropriate caloric intake is absolutely key to achieving any fitness goal, and protein powder offers the perfect shortcut! If rebuilding muscles made of protein requires more protein, then depending on your level of fitness, your protein needs may far exceed what you can reasonably prepare during the day. Let’s say, for example, that you are 150-pound male looking to pack on an additional 50 pounds of muscle – you will need to up your caloric intake to at least 3,000 calories a day and up your protein intake to at least 70 grams, or even more if you are especially active. That’s not coming from processed junk food, mind you — we’re talking real, home-prepared foods. With a carefully planned diet and plenty of money, it might be reasonable to meet all your nutritional needs through diet alone, but that’s not practical for the majority of people, and it only becomes more impractical as you gain more muscle. By supplementing with a high-quality protein powder, even a strict vegan diet can be tailored to make you a muscle-building powerhouse, constant eating (and spending) not required.
Which Powder Do I Pick?
Sadly, not all protein powders are created equal. Protein powders fall under the category of “supplements”, not food, and as such aren’t regulated in the same way as food items. Many companies exploit that lack of oversight, offering a product that is as over-priced as it is underwhelming in performance; luckily, there are a few ways to make sure you always get the best protein of the bunch.
First, a little background: protein powders are made by taking raw materials, isolating the proteins, and removing whatever is left. Vitamins, sweeteners, and preservatives are then added to the mix to make the finished product. A good company will constantly be testing their raw materials and products throughout the production process to ensure quality; however, because the industry is unregulated, this procedure isn’t standard. This means there are often discrepancies in what the company claims about the purity, potency, etc. of a product and what the product actually contains. Luckily, there are few ways to check if something will really stand up to the hype. Check for an FDA official “Good Manufacturing Practices” (also known as “GMP”) registration – if registered, you know that product has undergone some quality-assurance testing through a third party. Unfortunately, even if the product is GMP-registered, it’s still not guaranteed that what is on the label will really be what is in the product. For even more certainty, look for a certification by the National Science Foundation (NSF). This is an independent, third-party certification that verifies the exact content in a supplemental product like protein powder to standards that exceed those of the GMP.
That being said, all the certifications in the world will mean little if the raw materials in the powder don’t fit with your lifestyle. Many protein powders are derived from animal sources, be they eggs, dairy, or even bones; this is all well and good for those of us on a standard omnivorous diet, but what about people who are plant-based? Protein is equally important for those keeping to primarily plant-based or strictly vegan diets, especially when you consider that cutting out any amount of animal products will automatically remove options for easy protein. Luckily, there are plenty of options! Peas, soy, and even rice protein are fantastic plant-based options for proteins and, when formulated correctly, offer the same benefits as any other high-quality protein powder. For instance, we love the plant-based benefits from Garden of Life’s RAW Fit Protein line! Raw Organic Fit is a Certified USDA Organic, Raw, plant-based, vegan, high-protein powder made with 13 raw sprouted organic ingredients. They also include clinically studied ingredients like Svetol® Green Coffee Bean Extract, Raw Food Created Chromium and Organic Cinnamon to help you burn fat, maintain healthy blood sugar, boost your energy, lose weight and look great! By using clean, organic ingredients at the peak of their nutritional value and adding only what’s necessary, Garden of Life makes sure that even a plant-based diet can get you to your fitness goals.
So, How Do I Use It?
Once you pick your ideal protein powder, it’s time to get creative! Even the best of protein powders can have a gritty, processed flavor; if that’s something you enjoy, great! Throw a couple scoops of powder in a mixing bottle with your liquid of choice and chug away. If you’re like us and would prefer almost anything else, there are PLENTY of alternatives. Here are ten of our favorites!
- Protein pancakes for the whole family.
- Blend 1 scoop vanilla protein powder with 1 teaspoon matcha powder, 2 frozen bananas, and 1 cup almond milk for an energizing, pre-workout shake.
- Add a scoop or two to a green smoothie bowl for a filling breakfast.
- Replace 2 tablespoons of flour in a baking recipe with an equal amount of vanilla protein powder.
- Make homemade, nonsense-free protein bars.
- Blend 2 scoops chocolate protein powder, two frozen bananas, 2 tablespoons peanut butter, and 1 cup almond milk for an ultra-high protein post-workout shake.
- Combine ¼ cup chia seeds, two scoops vanilla or chocolate protein powder, and your favorite milk or dairy alternative in a blender for easy protein pudding.
- Make a batch of protein fudge for energizing, on-the-go snacks
- Stir together 3 cups milk or your favorite non-dairy milk with 2 scoops chocolate protein powder, 1 tablespoon cocoa powder, and 1 teaspoon sugar or stevia on medium heat for protein-packed hot cocoa.
- Add to popsicles for a post-workout treat.
Whether or not you try any of these treats, protein powder is a fantastic way to up your protein intake and blow the roof off your fitness goals, and with great deals all month long at Oliver’s, there’s never been a better time to get started! This week, we’ve bulked up the savings with an extraordinary 50% off Garden of Life’s RAW Fit Plant-Based Protein Powders! These vegan, certified organic protein supplements are the perfect addition to any fitness-oriented lifestyle. Check out these and other great products all month long, and find your Healthiest You with Oliver’s!