I'm just a beginner to weight training and told I should be having protein shakes but don't know what to look for in a protein powder. Any tips please?

Beginners Guide to protein supplements

Protein is essential for repairing lean tissue.  It also helps strengthen the immune system and makes us feel fuller for longer and decreases circulating Ghrelin (the appetite hormone).  Protein powders are great to supplement protein intake without eating a kilo of chicken a day!  But what do we look for?

For weight loss. you want a protein powder that is high in protein (approx 20-30g per serve) and low in carbs and sugars (no more than 3-4g per serve).

For weight gain and athletes. a protein powder with higher carbs is for you (approx 20-30g per serve).  Of course you can choose a low carb protein powder and add banana, juice or milk to it to increase the carb content.

General health and fitness.  If weight control or intense training recovery isn't an issue, then protein only, or protein with carbs will be fine for you.

The sweetening source.  Some people prefer the natural sweetener Stevia.  Other protein powders are artificially sweetened with Sucralose, Aspartame or Ascesulphame K.  Some are just sweetened with sugar and are perfectly fine for weight gain and athletes.  There are also unflavoured protein powders available.

What does it taste like and how does it mix.  Some protein powders taste and mix better than others and it all depends on the brand you choose.  The Balance powders are good mixers and taste nice.

Source of the protein.  The most commonly used is Whey Protein (from dairy) and is most likely not suitable for those who are lactose intolerant, however may be suitable for those with straight milk allergies, since these allergies typically come from casein in milk.  Some people can also be whey sensitive in general.  You can also get rice and soy proteins.

Processing.  There are concentrates, isolates, and hydrolysates.  Concentrates are the least processed, but also the highest amount of sugars in the form of lactose.  Isolates have been processed to remove most of the lactose, making the total protein per weight higher than concentrates.  Hydrolysates have been ‘pre-digested' to allow for better absorption and are useful for those who find protein a little difficult to digest.  There are also highly-hydrolised proteins which are less allergenic than other forms of whey.  Soy and rice proteins also come in concentrate and isolate.  The more processing a protein has, the higher the cost.  Read your labels, because some proteins will contain more than one of these forms.

Price.  If budget is a concern then some proteins are more expensive than others.  On average you're looking at about $60 a kg, which is approximately 30 servings but again, depends on the product and brand.

Location.  You can get protein powders from your trainer (if the supply it), Supermarkets, Health Food Shops and dedicated supplement shops.  It can take a bit of trial and error to find a protein powder that meets all your requirements, take this guide with you, read your labels and ask if there are tasting samples available. 

How to use it.  You can mix it in your oats after cooking (a bodybuilders favourite) or you can shake it with water, milk or juice.  You can also add a very small amount of water or milk with it and use it like a sauce!  Some people even throw tins of tuna in with their blended protein shakes...but I'm not sure why they don't just add a couple of extra scoops of protein or some eggs.  If you are just using water then you will want to play around with the amount of water as too much will have the shake tasting thin and weak and too little water may be a flavour overload, it depends on your tastebuds.

Bells and whistles.  I won't get too much into this, but you will find some protein supplements contain ‘super duper extra muscle blasting patented nutrient formula complexes with added widgets and super technology'.  As a beginner you don't need to even think about these things.  Some supplement shops will try to sell you these products, unless you're a serious athlete or body builder these proteins aren't necessary for you, and if you are at that level chances are, you already know what protein supplement works best for you.

When you're a beginner, no one protein powder is better than any other, it all comes down your personal preferences, and how your body deals with it.  Happy shopping!!

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