Whether you’re a pro athlete or just a weekend warrior, chances are you’ll have a tub of protein powder sitting on the shelf of your pantry. Most of us have a vague semblance of an idea that protein is good for us, and necessary to incorporate into our diets. But, let’s be honest, most of us are a little vague around the edges (us included!) about it’s real benefits. So, we went to student nutritionist, dietitian and White Wolf Nutrition ambassador Tamsin Cranney of Functional Foodies to get the low-down on what makes a good protein powder, when and how to use it and why we need to drink it.  Here’s how our most burning questions about protein powder shake out.

What should we be looking for on the packet?

“Whilst it depends on your fitness goals (mass gain or to improve lean muscle mass), you ideally want to be looking for a protein which has a high protein content, combined with low sugar and carbohydrate content.”

What are the key ingredients that we should avoid? 

“It is best to avoid artificial sweeteners, such as aspartamine, as they have numerous negative side effects and may cause weight gain.”

What are the key ingredients that we want in there?

“When choosing a protein, ignore all the packaging on the front and head straight to the ingredients list on the back. Make sure you recognise all the ingredients and ensure that it is low in sugar and free from fillers (coconut flour, psyllium) which can cause gastric distress.”

What’s a good amount of protein that should be included in a healthy diet? 

“The amount of protein an individual needs to consume is dependent upon their age, weight and activity level. The World Health Organisation (WHO) recommends a consumption of 0.8g of protein per kilogram of body weight per day, with protein constituting between 15-25% of energy. This recommendation is for the general population, with increased protein intake for endurance athletes, females and those with particular fitness goals – endurance athletes with a heavy training schedule will have higher protein needs than the general, non-exercising population. To maximise muscle health, spread out your protein intake evenly throughout the day.”

What’s a good amount of protein that should be included in a protein powder?

“Firstly, it is important to strive to consume the recommended intake of protein through wholefoods, although this is not necessarily always achievable. With many popular food trends, such as veganism, the need for protein supplementation is increasing. It is best to choose a protein which has approximately 80g of protein per 100g and above.”

What’s the difference between whey and non-whey protein?

“The type of protein is important when choosing a protein supplement. Protein’s nutritional value is determined by its amino acid profile, with high biological value protein sources being highly recommended. Animal based products have a high biological value, as they contain all the essential amino acids required by the human body. Whereas, plant based proteins may only contain some of the essential amino acids, and therefore are classed as having a lower biological value.

Whey protein, derived from milk, has a high biological value and is rapidly digested. They are rich in branched chain amino acids – playing a critical role in turning on muscle protein synthesis.

Casein, also derived from milk, has a high biological value, although it tends to clot due to the acidic environment of the stomach. This results in a slower digestion of amino acids.

Plant proteins, such as rice and pea protein, are ideal alternatives to whey and casein proteins. They are suitable for vegetarians and vegans, and well tolerated by lactose-sensitive individuals. They’re rich in vitamins and minerals and provide fibre, amino acids and antioxidants. Unlike casein and whey proteins which are comprised of all nine essential amino acids, pea protein requires consumption of wheat, quinoa and oats to therefore become a complete protein”

Does taking protein help build muscle?

“Protein is one of the most important components of our diet, particularly when focusing to develop muscle mass. The body uses protein to build and repair tissue, as well as being a secondary source of energy when there is an insufficient supply of carbohydrates and fat in the diet. Protein helps to support a healthy metabolism and assist in hormone production.”

Can protein be a meal supplement or replacement? 

“Protein is found in a variety of foods such as red meat, fish, dairy, eggs, tofu and legumes, as well as in a variety of formulated supplements. Protein supplements can be helpful for some individuals to compliment their nutrition plan, although they are not essential for everyone. For those individuals wanting to increase muscle growth and regeneration, it is recommended to consume protein within half an hour of training. Protein supplements are also beneficial for those who are time-poor and use it as a meal replacement.”

What are the risks from too much protein in your diet?

“The majority of the time, excess protein gets excreted out as urine, although it can be concerning amongst those with poor kidney function. Excess protein in this case may cause a build up of ketones in the body, which can thereby affect the absorption of vitamin A and fibre as the kidneys are being overworked.”

What are the top three proteins in the market that you could recommend that cover all bases?  

Whitewolf Nutrition, Prana On and Tropeaka.”