What is Protein Powder? The Ultimate Guide For Beginners

Protein Powder Bowls And Scoops

If you’re a go-getting health and fitness enthusiast, chances are you’ve at least heard of protein powder. You’ve probably even tried it to boost your exercise performance or build muscle mass.

But, with so many protein powders out there on the market, how do you know which ones will offer the results you deserve? And, which types of protein powder will help you with your goal?

Choosing the right supplements can often feel like an uphill struggle—but don’t sweat it—we’re here to lend a helping hand.

Read this Smart guide to find out all you need to know about protein powder and how to choose the best product for…you.

Ready? Let’s get started.

What is protein powder and what does it do?

Protein powder is a fitness supplement that people add to food or make into a shake to fuel their training sessions or add extra muscle-boosting nutrients to their diet. 

It’s designed to help health-conscious people hit their daily protein intake goals in a way that’s quick and convenient.

As the powerhouse of macronutrients, protein contains essential amino acids that play a crucial role in muscle growth, repair, and maintenance.

If you’re an active person (which we’re sure you are), getting a healthy dose of daily protein is vital if you want to keep hitting those all-important fitness goals. No ifs, no buts, no compromises.

But sometimes, meeting your daily protein needs is easier said than done (especially when you’re juggling a million plates). Enter protein powder.

Protein powder is a convenient dietary supplement that provides a concentrated hit of protein, usually in powdered form—although you can get pre-mixed and ready-to-drink supplements. 

It's a quick and easy way of boosting your protein intake without consuming too many calories—and it’s always best to use protein supplements alongside a balanced diet.

What is in protein powder? Some of the core ingredients…

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  • A mix of quality protein sources (depending on the type of protein powder you choose), including whey, casein, flaxseed, pea, and hemp
  • Some protein powders contain branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs), including leucine, valine, and isoleucine. These offer added muscle growth and repair power
  • For extra immune support, certain protein powders also contain added vitamins as well as omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids
SmartTip: Avoid protein powders that are packed with artificial sweeteners, added sugars, trans fats or synthetic additives. They offer little nutritional value and could give you a bad stomach.

The three main types of protein powder explained

Now that you’re up to speed with the protein supplement basics, let’s look at the main types of supplements to consider as part of your health and fitness goals.

Whey protein powder

As one of the planet’s most tried, tested, and popular protein supplements, whey is an all-round body-boosting superstar.

As a dairy-based protein powder, whey is a by-product of cheese production. It’s the watery part of milk that separates from curds.

The reason whey protein is such a superstar supplement (aside from its healthy protein content) is because it’s so dense in nutrients. So, as well as helping you get an extra dose of essential amino acids, taking whey protein can also:

  • Improve mental focus
  • Boost athletic performance
  • Boost muscle mass
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SmartFact: There are three main types of whey protein powder supplements: isolate, concentrate, and hydrolysate. While each supplement is great for muscle growth and repair and contains all essential amino acids, you should choose a product based on your personal health or fitness goals.

Whey protein isolate contains less lactose, which is better for you if you have an intolerance.

Whey protein concentrate usually contains more protein per serving, which is perfect if you’re specifically looking to build muscle mass.

Whey protein hydrolysate absorbs into the body quicker, which is ideal if you take part in regular endurance training.

Casein protein powder

Next up, we have casein. Another member of the water-soluble milk protein family, this supplement is a popular option for maintaining muscle mass.

As a complete protein, casein also offers a balanced hit of all the amino acids your body needs to succeed.  It absorbs into the system a little slower than whey but still hits that muscle protein synthesis sweet spot while flooding the body with a mix of key nutrients.

Like whey, top-flight bodybuilders, athletes, and fitness enthusiasts alike take casein to ensure they get enough protein. 

As it’s slow digesting, some people prefer it over whey—especially if they have a sensitive stomach.

Plant-based protein powder

If you’re a vegan or you have an acute intolerance to lactose or dairy, plant-based protein supplements are the way to go.

SmartFact: The current global market value of plant-based protein supplements comes in at the 2.52 billion mark (1). That’s huge.

Vegan protein powders are also complete proteins that contain all of the amino acids you need for muscle repair and growth, but it’s usually made of high-quality alternatives like flaxseeds, hemp, and peas.

Oh, and in case you think that a vegan protein supplement tastes bad, think again. Today’s plant-powered protein powders come in all kinds of lip-smacking flavours.

SmartTip: Our epic VeGains protein powder is 100% plant-based and comes in three tasty flavours. Give it a try.

Are protein powders good for muscle-building?

Absolutely. As long as you take them as part of a balanced diet and exercise plan, you’ll experience healthy muscle gain while enjoying more energy.

Here’s why quality protein powders are great for building muscle, the Smart way…

Convenience and consistency

First of all, if you’re looking to boost your protein intake and get some extra nutrients when you’re constantly on the go, these super supplements are quick, easy, and, generally speaking, pretty tasty.

Whether you’re taking plant-based casein or whey protein, it’s a simple case of ‘shake and go’—you can also get pre-mixed drinks for added convenience.

By having a solid, low-calorie, complete protein shake at your fingertips, you’ll consistently ensure your protein intake meets your personal health and fitness goals. And as you know, consistency is the key to success.

Boosts metabolism

SmartFact: There’s evidence to suggest (2) that taking the right protein supplement can actually help to boost your metabolism.

Yes, getting a regular dose of protein powder can kickstart your metabolism, helping you to burn some calories in the process.

Remember, working towards your personal goals takes balance, consistency, and a little discipline. But, protein shakes (the good ones, at least) will give your metabolism the boost you need to get to where you need quicker, even when you’re at your busiest. Bonus.

Maintains energy levels

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SmartFact: In addition to building muscle and improving your body composition, protein helps to regulate your body’s iron stores (3). And, when your iron stores are healthy, this translates to better energy levels. 

Armed with the right protein powder for your needs, you’ll be able to tackle your everyday life with confidence. You’ll also be able to squeeze every last drop of juice from your training sessions.

The result? You’ll improve your performance which, in turn, will make you fitter, stronger, and better equipped to keep smashing your fitness goals. 

Amino acids and power-ups

If you want to level up your fitness and get stronger, you need to get your daily fill of amino acids—all 20 of them.

Most protein powders (the good ones, at least) are ‘complete’ and contain the key amino acids your body needs to succeed.

So, why do we need all of our amino acids, exactly? Well, these complex yet vital substances work in unison to help us produce protein in the body. Without getting your fix of amino acids, your overall body’s overall functionality will suffer. You’ll also find building muscles impossible and recovering after your workouts a slow, arduous slog.

On the flipside, getting your added fix of quality acids from powder will result in…

  • Quicker post-workout recovery
  • Improved exercise performance
  • Better mood
  • Helping wounds to heal more rapidly

But that’s not all! Simply put, dietary protein is essential to all life stages to produce enzymes, boost immune function, bone health, hormonal production and regulation, body tissue growth and repair, muscular development and cellular health. 

Weight control

Adding protein powders into your nutritional mix can also help you with your weight control efforts.

Yes, the regular use of protein powders or shakes will help you get your fill of amino acids in a quick, low-calorie dose.

As the nutrients contained in protein supplements also help to boost metabolism and reduce hunger pangs, you’ll burn more energy while consuming fewer calories.

Protein can:

  • Serve as an appetite suppression due to a slower gastric emptying rate in comparison to carbohydrates
  • Result in a lower blood glucose rise than carbohydrates
  • Have a greater thermogenic effect than the other macronutrients
  • Have a positive effect on increasing and maintaining muscle mass and low-calorie content (4kcal/g) compared to fat (9kcal/g)

The result? You’ll be able to manage your weight better or even shed a few extra pounds.

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Immune support

Another surprising perk of investing in quality protein powders is immune support. When you work out regularly, you need the right nutrients to fight fatigue and keep your immune system in the green.

As the best-quality protein powders are fortified with the right blend of vitamins and minerals in addition to a blend of essential ingredients needed to regulate body function while boosting recovery—a daily scoop will help you keep your immune system up while you’re on the go. Double bonus.

SmartStatement: All of these perks combined will give you every possible chance of recovering quicker, repairing better, keeping your training efforts consistent and ultimately, building more muscles.

How much protein powder should you take?

Now that you know all about the protein powder benefits, let’s consider how much of this powerhouse nutrient you need in your diet to stay healthy and smash those fitness goals.

The protein supplementation ‘sweet spot’

We’ve established that there is such a thing as too much protein (and overdoing it can come with its fair share of unpleasant side effects). But, how much protein should you actually take to keep hitting those health and fitness goals?

Here are the correct protein supplementation levels…

Active men should aim to get between 1.5 and 2 grams of protein per body weight each day.

Active women should aim to get between 1.2 and 1.5 grams of protein per body weight each day.

That’s the protein supplementation ‘sweet spot.’

SmartTip: Intakes are best consumed in 20-40g intakes at several intervals - don’t have all your protein in one or two sittings. And, as you age, protein needs increase, so the higher end of the calculation is recommended.

Can you take too much protein?

Well, yes—you can. Like any nutrient, you can add too much protein to your diet.

When it comes to proper nutrition, striking a balance is key. So, you should stick within the recommended daily intake limits to stay healthy, grow your muscles, and improve your body composition.

Taking too much protein over time can lead to…

  • Dehydration
  • Fatigue
  • Stomach cramps and diarrhoea
  • Digestive issues

How do you take protein powder?

You can take protein powder in the form of a ready-mixed drink, a shake or by adding it to foods like yoghurt, oats or cereal.

The most popular (and quickest) way to take a protein powder is by mixing it with milk (dairy or plant-based) or water.

All you have to do is add one generous scoop to a shaker bottle, fill it with your choice of milk or water—give it a good shake or three—and you’re away.

Power up your performance the Smart way

Now that you know all about the main types of protein powder and their body-boosting benefits, we’re sure you’re revved up and ready to find a supplement that suits you.

If you want to power up your performance the Smart way, our whey protein isolate and concentrate blend—known as The Protein Blend—suits every type of fitness enthusiast.

Whatever your goals, with a trusted mix of low lactose ingredients and 23 grams of complete protein per serving, this balanced protein shake will give you the muscle power you need to succeed.

If you’re a proud plant-based amateur or professional athlete looking for a quality protein that will level up your training sessions, our legendary Ve-Gains formula comes in three lip-smacking flavours and offers 20 grams of protein per serving. Go get it.

Sources:

Smart Protein is committed to sourcing only the most up-to-date and scientifically-based research in our articles.

1. Grand View Research:

https://www.grandviewresearch.com/industry-analysis/plant-based-protein-supplements-market#:~:text=The%20global%20plant%20based%20protein%20supplements%20market%20is%20expected%20to,USD%204.62%20billion%20by%202030.

2. PubMed Research:

https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/21912246/

3. Becomeio Research:

https://www.becomeio.com/blog/does-protein-give-you-energy/#:~:text=Protein%20is%20involved%20in%20managing,which%20affect%20the%20body's%20metabolism.

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