Pros and cons of protein powder + 4 protein smoothie recipes

In this post, I’ll share about the topic today that is super interesting for me personally – protein powder. In particular, I’ll cover the pros and cons of protein powder, and how it is made.

In most cases, protein powder is associated with bodybuilders and athletes, and if you are none of them, there is a high chance you have never even considered adding protein powder to your diet. 

Personally, I’m mostly doing HIIT type training and I follow a 16/8 Intermittent Fasting regime. A combination of both has made my body the leanest it has ever been!

But I also noticed that my muscle mass drops along with fat and while I enjoy being lean, I’d love to add a little bit more of a lean muscle mass and that’s where the protein powder comes into play. 

HOW IS PROTEIN POWDER MADE?

Whey protein powder

The most common type of protein powder sold is whey protein (non-vegan).

It is made from the milky liquid that is left after making cheese and is then processed either by naturally drying or spray drying.

Depending on the process, different forms of Whey Protein are produced.

There are 4 main forms of Whey Protein:

  1. Concentrate (WPC)
  2. Isolate (WPI)
  3. Hydrolysate (WPH)
  4. Native Whey

Each of these types has slightly different properties, e.g. isolates are processed to remove fat and lactose and hydrolysate whey proteins are pre-digested and partially hydrolyzed, meaning that they are a lot easier to digest.

Vegan Protein Powder

There are also vegan or plant-based protein powders, that are made from a variety of plants. 

More popular ones come from proteins found in coconut, pea, pumpkin or soy and have somewhat similar production process as in whey protein. 

To describe it in a very simple way,  processed plants are mixed with water letting the proteins dissolve. Then, using the spray drying process, proteins are isolated and fat is removed.

This is how an isolate plant protein powder is made ready for consumption. 

Plant-based protein powders bring a smaller environmental impact and carbon footprint and are also a great alternative for people with a dairy intolerance. 

It’s worth noting though, that most of the soy produced in the United States is genetically modified and hence soy protein has caused some controversy in the last years. 

Some studies suggested that soy protein might decrease testosterone and increase estrogen hormone levels in males. 

But there is always more to the story, so I really encourage you to do your own research about soy before consuming products you are not sure about as we can’t possibly cover all aspects of the topic and I am neither a nutritionist nor dietician nor I pretend to be one. 

* My wife, who only takes vegan protein, prefers soy-free vegan powders, see more about her favorite recipes later in this article.

Pros and Cons of Protein powder

MAIN benefits of protein powder

MUSCLE GROWTH

The biggest benefit of protein powder is the boost in muscle protein synthesis, or in other words – muscle growth. 

Protein cells include a number of amino acids that are the essential building blocks of muscles and the more protein you consume, the more muscle mass you gain over time. 

There are, however, limitation on how much protein our bodies can absorb in one go. 

There are various studies made that confirmed the fact that our bodies can take up max 20-40g of protein within the 3-4h, hence stuffing your protein shake with extra powder won’t do much for your muscle growth.

FAT LOSS

Another potential benefit is a fat loss.

There are studies made that showed obese subjects, who drank high-protein meal replacements as part of a low-calorie diet and lost more weight in a year than subjects who followed the diet without the replacements. 

Shakes typically contain fewer calories than full meals, and according to researchers at University of Texas Medical Branch, protein is the most satiating nutrient, meaning it can keep you fuller for longer periods of time compared to carbs or fats. 

That is also a reason why using protein powder as a supplement can be a great way to boost your protein intake while keeping calorie intake low. 

And while you can get all the protein you need by simply eating protein-rich meals, this would usually mean eating increased amounts of meat, dairy, and nuts.

All of this, unfortunately, comes with extra fat, carbs and as a result, more calories. 

There are of course more benefits of consuming protein powder, like lowering your blood pressure, cholesterol, and blood sugar,  and reducing inflammation

SIDE EFFECTS of protein powder

Health Issues

Too much protein – starting at about 35% of daily calories – can lead to health issues such as nausea, cramps, fatigue, headaches and bloating. 

Some experts think it can cause kidneys to have to work harder, leading to complications for those with existing kidney problems, or increase calcium excretion, causing bone loss

Dehydration is also a risk for those consuming a lot of protein. However, as mentioned earlier, most side-effects come from consuming above the recommended rate of the protein.

Not to be used as a meal replacement

Another thing to make sure is to use protein powder as a supplement and not a meal replacement and to keep consuming protein-rich meals that include all necessary micronutrients and fibers needed for a healthy functioning body. 

However, you can make a meal (e.g. a smoothie bowl) with protein powder as one of the ingredients. Add foods to enrich it with some healthy fats and fiber, it could even serve as an excellent breakfast alternative or a mid-day snack/post-workout recovery!

How to choose protein powder

Now when we have looked at the pros and cons of protein powder, here are our tips on choosing protein powder. We are extremely careful about two things: ingredients and nutritional value.

In particular, we look for these things:

  • No GMOs
  • No soy
  • No added sugars or artificial sweeteners (or very limited!)
  • For post-workout recovery, we prefer protein powders with BCAA
  • 1 scoop should have circa 20g of protein,  up to 1g of carbs and up to 150 kcal max

The protein brands we use at home and can highly recommend: 

4 best Protein smoothie recipes

1. REGULAR PROTEIN SMOOTHIE

Nutritional value: ~354 kcal, 33g of protein, 9g of fat, 41g of carbs (9g of dietary fiber). 

Ingredients:

  • 1 scoop of whey protein (we used Dymatize Vanilla protein)
  • 1 frozen banana
  • 1 tsp of coconut butter
  • 1 tbsp of flax seed
  • 2 tbsp of wheat bran
  • ½ dl cows milk (2% fat)
  • 1 ½ dl water

2. VEGAN PROTEIN SMOOTHIE

Nutritional value: ~307 kcal, 22.5g of protein, 7.5g of fat, 47g of carbs (13.5g of dietary fiber).  

Ingredients:

  • 1 scoop vegan protein (we used Organic Plant Coconut Protein+ with organic spinach and blueberry powders)
  • A handful of spinach / frozen spinach
  • ½ frozen banana
  • 1 tbsp flax seed
  • 2 tbsp wheat bran
  • 1 tsp coconut butter
  • 200 ml coconut water

3. Low Calorie Protein Smoothie

Nutritional value: ~173 kcal, 23g of protein, 3g of fat, 13g of carbs thereof 7g of dietary fiber.  

Ingredients:

  • 1 scoop of vegan protein (we used PlantFusion’s Complete Plant Protein Vanilla Bean)
  • A handful of spinach / frozen spinach
  • 2 tbsp wheat bran  
  • 1 dl almond milk 
  • 1 dl water

4. "Like A MEAL" smoothie

Nutritional value: ~466 kcal, 28g of protein, 15g of fat, 57g of carbs thereof 17g of dietary fiber.  Ingredients:
  • 1 scoop of protein (we used Organic Whey Coconut Protein+ with organic coconut and baobab powder)
  • 1 frozen banana
  • ⅓ cup of frozen berries
  • 1 tbsp of peanut butter
  • 1 tsp of flax seed
  • 2 tbsp of wheat bran
  • 1 tsp of organic cacao
  • 1 dl milk (2% fat)
  • 1 dl water

BONUS: 5 ULTIMATE Smoothie Tips

  1. Add 2-3 ice cubes for more volume, guilt-free creaminess & frozenness
  2. Add 1 tsp of psyllium husk to thicken your smoothie and make it into a smoothie bowl (just ca 6 kcal per tsp!)
  3. Use frozen bananas – let them ripen before freezing for extra sweetness (also a great base for sugar-free banana nice cream)
  4. Replace fruits with greens of choice (kale, spinach, swiss chard) to reduce carbs
  5. Add wheat bran for extra fiber that will keep you full longer and help to lose weight,  read more here.

What's next?

Alright, folks, that’s all about pros and cons of protein powder, delicious protein smoothie recipes and how to choose protein powder. I hope you enjoyed this blog post and a short podcast episode. 

If you want to get more into the topic of a healthy lifestyle, check out our 21-day challenges.
Tauras Sinkus

Tauras Sinkus

Tauras is the founder and face of the 21 Day Hero. While being obsessed with mind and productivity hacks, he is hooked up with HIIT type group training and cooking gourmet meals almost every day. Tauras is widely known in the startup community for his kick-ass social media and marketing skills too!
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