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The Ultimate Guide to the Best Protein Powders for Women

29/08/2014 14:03 BST | Updated 28/10/2014 09:59 GMT

If you're a woman and want to start supplementing with protein powders then, my guide is for you.

There are loads of different protein sources out there so, in today's article, I want to give you the low down on what they are, why they're good and which one may be best for you.

So, let's get started!

Who Needs Protein Powders?

It's not always easy to get the protein that your body needs from whole foods and therefore supplementing your diet with protein powders is an excellent option.

So, when exactly might you need to supplement with protein powders?

1. When you're growing. If you're a teenager you need more protein because your body is still growing and requires more protein than a fully grown adult.

2. When you're starting to exercise. If working out is new to you and you're trying to build muscle, you'll require more protein than you normally would.

3. When you're upping your workouts. If you normally exercise for half an hour twice a week, but now you've decide to train for a triathalon, your body will need more protein.

4. When you're recovering from an injury. If you've got an injury you're likely to require more protein to aid in your body's recovery.

5. If you're going vegan. If you've decided to become vegan it's likely that you will need to supplement with protein because you will be unable to eat many whole food sources of protein including meat, chicken, fish, dairy and eggs.

To build a pound of muscle the body needs between 10 and 14 additional grams of protein per day. That's not that much - think 2 eggs. So, be careful when supplementing with protein powders because some have a massive 80 grams of protein per serving. You don't need that much if you are already eating a healthy and balanced diet. All that happens when you eat a surplus of protein is that your body breaks it down for energy, any energy that isn't required gets stored.

How Much Protein is Enough Protein?

So how can you tell how much protein your body, in particular, needs?

Well, studies show that:

• Recreational exercisers need 0.5-0.75 grams of protein per pound of body weight each day

• Competitive athletes need 0.6-0.9 grams per pound of body weight each day

• Teenage exercisers need 0.8-0.9 grams per pound of body weight each day

• Exercisers wanting to build muscle need 0.7 - 1 gram per pound of body weight

The maximum amount of protein that most adults can utilise per day is 1 gram per pound of body weight, so there's no real point ingesting more protein than this.

This means that if you're an adult who wants to build muscle, and you weigh 130 pounds, the most protein you would need to eat per day is 91 - 130 grams.

Signs you need to eat more protein

If you're not getting enough protein in your diet - you are likely to see some telltale signs, these include being unusually tired, feeling weak when lifting weights or doing another strenuous activity, or when you are recovering more slowly from an injury.

So, now we know a little more about protein, let's look at the different type of protein powders that we can use:

1) Whey Protein

Whey is the liquid byproduct of cheese production. After curdling and straining milk, what's left is 'whey protein'.

Whey is an excellent source of protein because it's a 'complete' protein. This means that it contains all 8 amino acids that the body needs to get from food, in order to repair itself and grow healthily. What's more whey contains a significant amount of leucine, an amino acid that is crucial for initiating protein synthesis.

Whey is the most popular type of protein to supplement with because it tastes good, isn't too expensive and its amino acid profile makes it ideal for helping build muscle.

This type of protein is perfect for taking after a workout (studies show that protein needs to be ingested within 40 minutes of exercise for best effects) because it is digested rapidly by the body, which helps to stimulate immediate muscle growth.

Obviously this type of protein wouldn't be an option for those who are lactose intolerant because they are allergic to the proteins in cow's milk.

My favourite whey protein supplement can be found here.

2) Casein Protein

Casein protein is another protein that is found in milk and comes from the curds that form as milk coagulates.

The difference between whey protein and casein protein is that whey is digested more slowly. Therefore this type of protein is less suitable as a post workout source but represents an excellent option for a pre bed-time supplement. This is because the protein will release slowly sustaining your body and helping with muscle recovery through the night time fast.

My favourite casein protein supplement can be found here.

3) Egg Protein

Egg protein powders are an excellent source of protein. They are made from egg whites and contain little carbohydrate and no fat. This is because egg, like whey, has a high biological value, meaning that the body can easily digest this protein. Like casein, egg protein is digested slowly helping overall muscle growth and making it an excellent source of protein throughout the day, or even before bed.

I'm not currently supplementing my diet with egg protein, purely because it has a very very (did I say very) strong egg smell which I find a little..errr... tricky..

A good option of egg protein can be found here.

4) Vegan Sources of Protein

Vegan sources of protein include soy, pea, hemp and rice protein.

Soy - There's a lot of contention in the research literature around soy protein, particularly with it's affect on estrogen levels in men, however, as this is an article for women I won't go into detail on that here. Some studies suggest soy protein is excellent for women, helping to reduce the risk of breast cancer and heart disease, whereas others suggest they stimulate the growth of cancer cells. So the jury is really out on this type of protein powder.

Pea, Hemp and Rice protein - many nutritionists advise against these types of proteins arguing that they are 'incomplete' meaning that they are not a source of all 8 essential amino acids.

However more recent research shows that protein from vegetables is 'complete' although some of the amino acids are present in much lower levels.

Pea Protein - if you can get over the taste this is a great option. It has a high biological value, similar to that of whey (80%).

Hemp Protein - contains a form of protein that isn't particularly digestible to the human body, making it the least effective for muscle building.

Rice Protein - Very similar to pea protein with a high biological value - making this a great option.

Conclusion

There is no 'right' type of protein powder, it's just what's right for you, your goals and your nutritional needs. I tend to prefer unflavoured protein powders because I don't want to be eating artificial colourings or sweeteners. But that's my personal preference. Try out some options and see what you like best. My favourite site for protein is www.theproteinworks.com for their high quality, well priced products and the infinite options they provide.

In terms of what's right for your goals - if you want to build muscle then I would definitely recommend having a protein smoothie made with Whey protein after you workout and a Casein protein drink before you go to bed. If you'd prefer a non milk based protein powder then opt for Egg for it's high biological value.