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1. They Boost Calorie Burn
Protein powders can help you lose weight by increasing the number of calories burned. Here’s why: Replacing some carbohydrates and fats with lean protein will slightly increase your metabolic rate because the human body burns more calories when breaking down protein than other types of food.
For most Americans, protein makes up about 12 to 15 percent of their total daily calories. But increasing it to around 18 to 20 percent should boost metabolism. If that protein replaces sugary or starchy foods, there’s even more benefit: Blood sugar will be more stable, resulting in fewer cravings, decreased appetite, and a leaner body.
In contrast to fast foods and processed snacks, protein powders don’t contain empty calories and are made from a variety of real foods. If you keep protein powder in your office desk drawer, it’s easy to make a satisfying protein pick-me-up instead of heading to the vending machine. And, if you’re like most people who could stand to cut some calories, instead of making smoothies, try mixing protein powder in water. Soy and whey are popular sources, and some are organic.
2. They Enhance Muscle Recovery
Strength training that fatigues muscles breaks down tissue, and during the recovery phase, muscle cells use protein for repair and growth—that’s how they get stronger and bigger. Whey protein is absorbed more quickly than any other type, but the best way to use it may depend on your age.
Studies of men in their early 70s, published in the British Journal of Nutrition, found that 40 grams of whey protein after strength training was the optimum amount. However, younger people benefitted most from 20 grams.
Other research with young people, presented at the Experimental Biology 2012 conference, found that about 19 grams of a protein combination—25 percent whey, 25 percent soy, and 50 percent casein—delivered optimum nutrition for muscles for a longer period of time. Soy is absorbed more slowly than whey, and casein takes up to five hours to be absorbed. Together, the combination provides an extended-release effect.
3. They’re Ideal for Vegetarians and Vegans
Protein sources are more limited for vegetarians, and especially vegans. Protein powders are great supplemental insurance. Look for plant-based protein sources like pea, hemp, brown rice, soy, and flax. At a glance:
Pea protein powders, made from green or yellow peas, are easy to digest and allergen-free. Pea protein has a balanced amino acid profile, including lysine, arginine, glutamine, leucine, isoleucine, and valine.
Hemp protein powder contains all the necessary amino acids and has the added advantage of being high in fiber, iron, magnesium, and zinc. Hemp powders are often combined with flax, a vegan source of omega-3 fatty acids.
Rice protein powder, derived from brown rice, contains a full spectrum of amino acids—all the essential and nonessential amino acids—and is low in carbohydrates and easy to digest.
Soy protein is available as a concentrate or the isolate. Soy isolate is purer, and often more expensive. Soy is a complete protein, comparable to milk and meat as a protein source. Soy protein is ideal for those who have dairy allergies and has been linked to lowered heart disease risk.
4. They’re a Great Way to Clean Up Your Diet
Sprouted, raw, grass-fed, rBGH-free, and other buzz words mean clean, hormone-free, often more nutritious protein sources. Whey and casein derived from the milk of grass-fed cows is naturally higher in conjugated linoleic acid (CLA), a fatty acid linked to leaner body composition. Corn-fed cows, on the other hand, do not produce milk containing CLA. Additionally, because corn is not the natural diet for cattle, they are fed large quantities of antibiotics to help their bodies handle health problems that arise from eating corn, which end up in milk and meat. If you choose a vegetarian powder, look for those produced from non-genetically modified (non-GMO), organic sources.
5. They’re Convenient and Save Time
Busy schedules mean we often don’t have time for a healthful, sit-down meal. Rather than grabbing fast food on the go and suffering the guilt and negative health effects, mixing up a nutrient-dense shake takes just minutes. In smoothies, protein powders are a great way to balance the carbohydrates and sugars from fruit with a more satisfying, longer-lasting fuel source. They’re a perfect power breakfast or snack option. Try a to-go shaker such as taBlender Bottle with a built-in BlenderBall. Just add the protein powder of your choice along with water, juice, or milk, and shake for a lump-free smoothie—no blender required. It fits in most car cup holders. And protein powder, flavored or plain, can make common foods such as oatmeal even more nutritious.