Adding protein supplements, as well as vitamins and other supplements, is necessary when you lead a busy life. We don't always have time to cook or prepare all 5 meals each day. Even if you spend extra time on weekends cooking (assuming there is time for that), it may still be difficult to adequately prepare for all your nutrition for the entire week. In addition, sometimes the way our food is produced before we purchase it takes some of the nutrients out of the food we buy; especially vitamins. So, the more unprocessed natural foods you can eat, the better.
Still, let's be realistic. You have a job that keeps you busy for 8, 10 or 12 hours a day. Then you have children to feed and get to sports or music practice. There are church activities. And, oh yeah, don't forget that your spouse needs a little attention if you plan to keep him/her around :)
All of this busyness makes protein supplements, multi-vitamins and other supplements helpful in keeping our nutrition properly balanced instead of just grabbing that bag of Cheetos out of the vending machine.
Protein powders and bars have come a very long way since I first tried them in college in the 1980's (yes, I'm THAT old). I couldn't even choke down my first protein shake, it was so nasty back then. Luckily, there are a lot of wonderful-tasting products on the market today. So many, in fact, that it's a little overwhelming to decide on what to buy.
A lot of times, I ask the store clerks what products they recommend. Not with protein any more. In my personal experience, they have tried to sell me what they wanted me to buy. I took their advice a couple of times....bad idea. I figure they sold me what had the best profit margin for them. They were unpleasant to drink. Maybe they were the best for me, but if I can't/won't drink it, the product does me no good. So I set out to learn more so I could make my own decisions.
There are a number of different types of protein that you can get in the protein supplements. For example: whey, egg, milk casein, soy, etc. I will describe the most common types of proteins in supplements along with their characteristics so you can zero-in on a protein supplement that will help you meet your needs.
Whey - Most likely, you have heard of whey protein. This comes from milk. It gets a lot of advertising hype and for good reason. It is a highly bio-available protein; meaning it is absorbed into your blood stream quickly making it available to your muscles in very short order. It is excellent for a post-workout drink/snack to help your muscles re-build after you have worked them to fatigue (remember, you are supposed to lift weights as part of this weight loss program). It's also rich in 3 essential amino acids that help grow muscle.
The down side is that, because it digests so quickly, it does not satiate your hunger for very long. That is why the supplement companies will blend whey with other proteins in their meal replacement powders (MRP's) so you feel full longer.
Also, with whey, there are derivatives that have their own characteristics. Whey Protein Isolate is just what it sounds like: protein only without the milk sugars and fats. Whey Protein Concentrate tries to accomplish the same thing as isolate, but with less processing time, making it more cost-effective. Concentrate is not as pure as isolate, but more pure than plain whey.
I don't get too wound up with the difference between the last two. I try to get a post-workout protein that has whey isolate, concentrate or a blend of both.
Casein - Milk casein is the largest protein in milk; about 80% of a serving of milk (whey is the other 20%). This protein digests much more slowly than whey so it makes a great protein to use for your 2nd and 4th meals because it makes you feel full longer.
Egg Albumin - As the name implies, this protein comes from eggs; egg whites to be specific. It's a great source of essential amino acids which build muscle and, since it does not come from dairy, it's great for lactose-intolerant people. It is also rather slow to digest.
Soy Protein - This protein is a vegetable protein made from soy beans. If you are a vegan, this is for you. Also, it would be good for those that are lactose-intolerant. Soy digest quite fast so it will not keep you feeling full. It also does not have the quality amino acid profile that dairy-based proteins do, so it won't build muscle as effectively.
When it is time to hit the sports nutrition store (or even Walmart), how do you choose a protein? Think about the features of each protein above and compare that to your needs. Looking for a snack or meal replacement? Get something that has several of these proteins. Looking for a post-workout beverage? Focus on getting whey in your protein supplement.
As for what brand to chose, there are dozens. I have my favorites after trying many of them. There are new brands and product lines that come to the market every year. Try one that fits your budget (think cost per serving by using the nutrition label) and buy one. If you like it, buy it again. Try several over the next year. Come back to the ones you like the best. As long as the protein contents fit your needs and don't have too much sugar (keep it to a few grams per serving), it will work for you.
From a flavor standpoint, chocolate is usually pretty safe as is strawberry. Vanilla is OK if you blend it with fruit. I don't care for it by itself. The Muscle Milk product line has a very large number of flavors that are worth trying. I do use their products, among others.
In a perfect world, we would get all of our essential vitamins and minerals from the whole foods that we eat. However, for all the same reasons that we discussed at the top of the page (and more), this does not happen. We need to supplement our nutrition program with multi-vitamins.
I don't recommend the "national brands" that recommend taking one tablet each day. Your body needs the vitamins throughout the day just like lean protein, complex carbohydrates and veggies. Take a supplement produced by a good sports nutrition company; perhaps the same one that makes the protein supplement that you end up liking. They usual have you take them 2 or 3 times each day. They cost a bit more, but have a much better profile, in my experience.
Use these supplements to augment your nutrition program and support your body as you change your lifestyle with this new weight loss program. I'll see you on another page!