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Some of you may remember the Great Protein Powder Experiment from mid-February. It involved a large number of blending devices and created a substantial layer of powdery dust. But the data was conclusive: we created protein powder. The data also indicated that what we had really created was carbohydrate powder! Commercial protein powder runs about 3:1 protein-to-carbohydrate. Our powder had nearly the same protein content (well, about 80% of target), but we had LOTS of carbohydrate. We had a 1:5 protein-to-carbohydrate ratio. Technically, it would be more accurate to say a 5:1 carbohydrate-to-protein ratio!
So, after the dust cleared (literally), I looked into the whole protein powder issue more closely. First, I learned that, in many cases, an active person doing modest exercise does not NEED protein powder. If you eat a well-balanced, nutritious diet, you are probably getting the protein your body needs. The implication is that, regardless of your activity level, you need protein. There is a tipping point, though, where a high level of physical activity puts you in a bit of a protein deficit, so that is where the commercially-produced protein powders come in.
If you are engaging in regular, high-intensity exercise where you are really making your large muscles work hard, your protein needs will be higher. Food is a great choice here. Thank you, Captain Obvious. What I mean, though, is that planning your food intake to include high-protein foods will be important for you if you are doing strenuous workouts. You have other nutritional needs, but it is THIS scenario where protein supplements come in. If you can deliver high protein without packing a large carbohydrate punch, you will be providing rocket fuel for your muscles (okay, that was taking a liberty) without adding too much extra. . . let’s call it “stuffing”. At 3:1, the protein powder gives you relatively a lot of protein without much carbohydrate. So it is simply a more efficient protein source if it’s just protein you want.
An after-workout smoothie made with 2% milk, a banana, and some protein powder will give you a great boost – the milk has calories (energy) without too much fat, the banana contains slow-releasing sugars/energy, and the protein powder provides some easily-digestible protein. And it tastes pretty awesome after an hour of variations on a theme by Burpee.
There’s way more to say, but I’m sure you’re done reading for now. This article was really just food for thought (sorry), to whet your appetite (sorry, again) about the idea of protein supplements. I have decided to do a follow-up piece on what the stuff actually is (the commercially-produced protein powder) and where it comes from. My question, after we created our own protein powder and looked into its nutritional makeup, was this: “What is the real protein powder (high-protein, low carbohydrate) made of?” The answer may surprise you. Unless you’ve been talking to Miss Muffet.