Should I Use Whey Protein?
Fitness Nutrition

Should I Use Protein Powders?

Should I use protein powders? It’s a good question and one I hear regularly from clients. Firstly though what are protein powders? 

Using Protein Powders

Essentially they’re derived from well known protein sources. Protein powders are concentrated forms of protein from plant based products such as soybeans, rice, hemp and potatoes. Or from animal products such as milk, eggs & meats.

Each type has a different nutrient profile. It’s important people understand why this important, particularly if you’re expecting certain results from using them. We will cover more on this soon.

Protein powders are ground down to a powder form which makes them versatile, portable, mixable and convenient. Often flavoured in hundreds of different varieties. 

There are vast amounts of research into these products, many of which highlight the considerable benefits the yield, when used correctly and in proportion to you own health, body composition and personal goals.  

Continue to explore the benefits and downside to using protein powders. 

Feature Facts

  1. High protein diets are well know for positively effecting fat loss, muscle hypertrophy, preventing muscle catabolism, increasing satiety and sustaining leaner body compositions. 
  2. For most people daily optimal protein intake ranges from between 1.6 g per kg of body weight per day to 2.2 g per kg of body weight per day. 1.6g/kg/per day is the minimum amount required to maximise MPS.
  3. A higher protein intake becomes more important for those who are: Lifting weights and exercising 3 or more times per week, the older population 40’s+, those leading an active lifestyle, people with metabolic issues and those chronically ill.
  4. The combination of weight resistance training and a high protein diet is essential to initiate mTOR signalling & muscle protein synthesis (MPS). Which is crucial to promote lean muscle and an athletic looking (and performing) body. 
  5. Protein powders have been shown to help people hit their protein targets. Important for continued progress, performance and maintaining results. Our bodies are in a constant state of breakdown and repair. Protein (& powders) support that repair. 
  6. Muscle is metabolic. Which is important to know if you are trying to lose or sustain fat loss. Essentially the more muscle you have the more calories you burn. The more calories you burn the less likely you are to gain body fat. 
  7. Side affects from using protein shakes are low risk. Common negative impacts  may include headaches, bloating, flatulence and nausea.

Types & Varieties

There are 3 main types of protein powders that people tend to use. All have their place and associate strengths. Largely your personal goals and dietary requirements will dictate which type will benefit you most. 

Protein Hydrolysates 

These are produced from filtered protein sources and further purified using heating, chemical or by adding proteolytic enzymes. Due to their pre digested forms it’s widely accepted that these protein types are one of the fastest to be digested and absorbed.

These are often used by people who are chronically Ill or have metabolic issues. Some babies and young children may also put on these types of proteins to support protein digestion.

Protein Concentrates 

These are traditionally derived from whole food sources but go through much less filtering compared to the other two forms. The macronutrient profile of a typical protein concentrate powder is 80% protein and 20% fats and carbohydrates. 

These are often cheaper to produce and buy, but for many people are perfectly suitable and effective for their health and fitness goals.  

Protein Isolates 

Like all of the protein types these too are derived from natural protein sources, however compared to it’s concentrate counterpart has a higher protein ratio.

These types typically contain between 90-95% protein with the remaining 5-10% comprised of fat and carbohydrates.

Within these 3 main types are many different varieties of protein powders. The main difference being with plant based or animal based products. Macronutrient composition again vary, more some does micronutrient profiles and amino acid arrangements. This is important when it come to muscle protein synthesis and creating an anabolic environment for growth and repair. 

Plant based varieties include but are not limited to the following:

Pea Protein

Extracted from legumes and yellow split peas this type of protein is very popular among the vegan and vegetarian community. Whilst pea protein does contain all of the 9 aminos needed to be considered “complete” some of them are trace amounts and because of that it’s widely considered to be an incomplete protein source. Pe protein digestion rates sit between whey and casein making it a good all round option. It is also high fibre; important for gut health, satiation and weight management.  

Hemp Protein

Derived from hemp seeds and created by grinding them into a powder. This type of protein is less researched by growing rapidly in popularity. Hemp products have exploded in the last 1o years, and hemp protein is no exception. Whilst rich in omega 3s, that are great for mental health, heart health, skin and eyes. Hemp protein has a low amino profile which makes it a less  attractive option when trying to promote lean muscle gains. 

Brown Rice Protein

Similarly to most plant based proteins BRP is made by grinding down brown rice grains and filtering them into a protein powder. This protein source is extremely low in lysine and therefor not considered a complete protein source. Nonetheless like pea protein, BRP is popular for those who are vegan / vegetarian. It’s worth noting also that aminos like leucine, lysine and tryptophan ca all be supplemented independently of protein. If you are vegan or vegetarian this is potential more important for you to consider. 

Animal based varieties include but are not limited to:


Derived from milk, this high quality protein type is fast acting and rapidly absorbed by the body. It has a complete amino profile which is important for mTOR signalling, MPS (muscle protein synthesis), growth and repair. Because of its fast acting nature this type of protein is best used after intense exercise.  


Another derivative of milk. In fact before processing, milk protein is around 20% whey and 80% casein. Like whey it has a complete amino profile including high levels of leucine and lysine two key aminos to signal repair. Casein is much slower to be digested, therefor its consumption is best before bed or for periods where you’re not going to be consuming a protein source for 3/4 hours. 


Considered a “complete protein” source. These forms are created from whole egg and egg whites. A great source of protein and an effective option to sustain satiation levels. For those who experience hunger more intensely or frequent supplementing with egg protein before a meal has been show to keep you fuller for longer. 


Extracted and produced from beef. Compared to the other three animal based proteins, beef protein is much slower to digest and absorb. Compared to whey beef protein would largely be considered inferior. It has a lower bioavailability status and lower EAA and BCAA amino profile. That said meta-analysis findings of beef protein do find that for medium to long term results people who supplement with it can expect similar result when compared to whey. 


Supplementing protein powders have many positively documented results. Heres a list of many of them. 

Fats Acting Superhero


Compared to typical protein sources such as meats, beans and eggs to name but a few. Protein shakes are often more easily digested. This however does depend on the type of protein powder you are using. For instance whey protein and particularly hydrolysate are broken down and absorbed at a rapid rate. Most protein powders are combined with digestive and absorption support agents such as DigeZyme & Astragin. 

So when might this be important? Well in a few scenarios. After your training session it’s important to get a protein into your system relatively quickly (within about an hour). Or perhaps you have had a period without food and particularly a protein source. In both examples a faster digesting protein source is preferable. This kick starts recovery and “switches on” MPS. This leads to muscle hypertrophy and prevents catabolism (muscle breakdown). 

Protein Powders are potable and convenient


They are easy to consume and take little time to prepare. This makes them an. Attractive option for those leading a busy lifestyle. After a workout, It’s common to see many people carrying protein shakers they have prepared at home. Simply pop a scoop of powder into your shaker and when ready mix with water and drink. 

Quality protein powders are usually dosed with at least 20g of protein per serving and also contain a decent amino acid profile. This is no accident.

Typically to initiate mTOR signalling and MPS that stimulates an anabolic environment within your body you need to consume a minimum of 20g of protein per serving with at least 2.5g of leucine (amino acid). 

Protein shakes often meet this requirement. Which also reduces the need to actively think about positve food choices. When your busy or preoccupied this can get missed. 

HWK Protein Brownies & Oppo Ice Cream


Firstly protein powders come in hundreds of different flavours. For some having taste options can increase diet adherence. 

They are also usable in many snacks, meals and treats. A popular Howick household meal is our morning PROATS. Suitable for all of us, including my children. PROATS are the combination of rolled oats and protein powder. The provide a meal high in fibre, starch carbs and protein and low in saturated fats. Perfect for start your day. Further more protein powders can be used in baked goods such as muffins, cookies, doughnuts and more. Even use them in ice cream! Check out recipes we have that use protein powders. You can also buy yours in our shop. 

Please note, be mindful about protein powders for children as some may not be suitable. If in doubt contact one of our coaches or trained professional such as your GP or paediatrician. 

Amino acids Leucine

Leucine Rich

Lucy who??! If you’re a nutritional geek like may you may already know what leucine is. If though this word is completely alien to you (and for most it probably is) then allow me to explain… 

Leucine is an amino acid. And is arguably the most important of the amino acids when it comes to creating an anabolic environment that promote hypertrophy. I’ve already mentioned MPS and it’s importance; leucine however, helps to further ensure that this process starts. In doing so initiates recovery and growth. 

Usually protein powders are higher in leucine content although this isn’t always the case. Foods high in leucine include: Beef, eggs, brown rice, nuts, soybeans. Food low in leucine include: most plant based foods. To initiate mTOR signalling around 2 – 3g of leucine is recommended . 

Protein powders help support heart health

Lower Cancer Risks

A study conducted in 2000 by Immunotec Research Ltd based in Canada found that whey protein has anti-carcinogenic properties and may contribute in the reduction of tumour size also. It’s important to add that more research needs to be done and is being carried out. However initial findings are encouraging but should be taken in context. 

In fact higher protein diets in general have been shown to help people lead healthier lifestyles, maintain leaner body compositions and as a result reduce the risk of many poor health diseases. 

Reduce Heart disease

Higher protein diets can lower blood pressure, prevent cardiovascular diseases and reduce stroke risks. 

Protein shakes in particular are good because of their lower fat content.

Many studies have shown a higher protein and lower fat diet can be very beneficial for heart health. Click here to find out more about one of these studies 

Cost effective Health Fitness Nutrition Mind

Cost effective

Staying fit and healthy isn’t cheap. As sad as that is true, healthier foods tend to cost more. For those who aim to improve and maintain muscle quality and size a high protein diet is essential. 

Chicken breasts, lean steaks, protein yoghurts etc can all add up and hit your pocket. 

Whilst protein powders aren’t traditionally cheap an effective food compassion with a similar nutrient profile may impact your wallet or purse much more.    

Hit Your Protein Goals

Hit protein targets

When you combine the positive benefits of protein powders its no wonder then that protein targets become much easier to hit. 

Protein powders are relatively light in comparison to eating copious amounts of meat for example. For some fullness is a considerable issue when aiming to hit higher amount of protein. 

It’s well know that to build muscle a small calorie surplus diet is preferable. THis can be uncomfortable over time. protein powders pack plenty in despite weighing less. 

Perfect then when your needing a light but effective protein hit.

Potential Downsides


Some protein powder can be high in fibre and / or contain sugar alcohols. If you’re not used to a higher fibre diet this can cause some bloating, however this should subside as your body adjusts to new nutrient intake. 

Sugar alcohol are neither sugar or alcohol despite the misleading name. Rather the are a natural occurring in foods such as fruit and berries. These can be added to protein powders to sweeten or used as a bulking agent. The body doesn’t fully digest these and therefor can leave you feeling bloated. 

Typically bloating should last no longer than 24 hours. 

Protein Headache


Headaches from protein shakes are typically less common but derive from the same reason as the dreaded protein bloat.

In fact many of the negative side affects associated with protein powders are due to higher fibres and sugar alcohols. 

To overcome protein headaches, perhaps try an alternative brand or type of protein powder. Or try a reduced amount that you build up over time. Most overcome these after multiple use, however headaches shouldn’t persist.

Always contact a medical professional if headaches last for long periods of time or are reoccurring  

excess gas

As my wife will passionately confirm, protein powder can make you toot (lots)! And by god can they be potent. Again this is often due to the higher fibre content.

Let’s not vilify fibre. In fact fibre is very good for you and most people will adjust to a higher fibre intake, but to reduce hitting all those around you with a gassy poo cloud try and pick a protein powder that is lower in probiotic fibre. 

Probiotic fibres feed friendly bacterias in your gut and colon. Changes in your gut microbiota can initially lead to gas build up, bloating and nausea. Check out this article to find out more about fibre and why you should absolutely prioritise this in your diet. 

Feeling Sick


Protein in general is among the most satiating macro nutrient. Fibre being a close second. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist therefore to predict that protein powder high in fibre will leave you feeling fuller for longer. For some this may leave you with feelings of nausea. In worst cases resulting in actual sickness. 

It’s not advisable to drink a protein shake or consume high amounts of protein BEFORE exercise or periods of energetic activity. Protein takes longer to breakdown and absorb. Running around with undigested food is a sure fire way to invoke feelings of sickness. 

Make sure protein is consumed after and at leats an hour before you workout. Not everyone is the same of course some of my friends have the constitution of well developed ox and can perform just fine after chowing down a plate full of chicken. Find your tolerance set points and stick with that. 

The Run Down

As a nutritional therapist and fitness coach I largely feel that using protein shakes as part of a healthy diet is more beneficial than not. That said, in a perfect world we would get our daily protein requirements from food alone and for many this is easily achievable. 

However for those who lead an active lifestyle, lift weights or exercise regularly in any capacity, then protein intake becomes much more important. Active people need more protein than their sedentary counterparts. Our bodies are in a constant state of breakdown and repair and for those who exercise this is ramped up. A high protein diet therefore is need to ensure we have supplied enough nutrients for sustained growth and repair. 

Protein shakes, especially whey, casein and hydrolysate types are very effective at maintaining and promoting leaner healthier bodies. They can assist recovery and help boost performance. These types often boast a better amino acid profile, when compared to plant based equivalents. If you are someone who adheres to a plant based diet further supplementing EAA’s and BCAA’s may also be more important.   

From a practical perspective protein powders are cost effective, portable and convenient. Which makes them a great go to for people on a budget, who are busy and need a quick protein hit. 

I also love the versatility protein powders offer. You can use them in baking, add to your porridge, even create ice cream with them (check out our recipes for more ideas). Or buy our “SHAKES” eBook to give you plenty of inspiration and reasons to be adding a scoop or 2 of protein powder to you drinks.

For those that are vegan or vegetarian be mindful about your chosen protein powder and con sider further supplementing with EAA and BCAA’s.

To conclude I’d encourage most people to have access to a decent pot of protein powder to help ensure that their protein intake matches their requirements. To expand on this people should prioritise the majority of protein from unprocessed food sources like meats, beans, eggs etc. And use protein powders no more than once to twice per day ideally. 

If we can help you in you quest to become fitter, healthier and happier please get in touch. Contact us to review your current approaches or to explore a greater understanding about fitness nutrition and mindsets. We’d be honoured to support and guide you through any improvement journey. All of our programmes include coaching and digital systems that encourage ongoing achievements and results. Become a HWK!


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