Thursday, February 21, 2008

The Scoop on Protein Powders

One morning last week I ordered breakfast from the cafe in my gym-- a bowl of oatmeal. Sounds kinda boring, right? Wrong. It was the best oatmeal I'd ever had!!! It could've been the fact that I'd just finished lifting weights for an hour and was ravenous. Or it could be that the oatmeal was enhanced with Craisins (dried cranberries), slivered almonds, and vanilla protein powder. Those add-ins took a bowl of otherwise-boring oats to a new level of creamy, sweet deliciousness. I was a huge fan.

So of course this weekend I set out to buy the ingredients needed to make this dish for myself on a regular basis. I bought a can of Old Fashioned Oats (you can actually cook them in the microwave-- takes 3 minutes versus the 1 min needed for quick oats, but gives you more whole grains). Then I grabbed flax seeds and cranberries from the bulk food section. Finally, I went searching for protein powder.

Wow. Any idea how many choices there are in that department these days? The "healthy" grocery store I was shopping at had two shelves full of powders, supplements, and the like. Not wanting to spend all day reading labels and comparing prices, I grabbed a can of the powder that Amy recommended-- a product made by Kashi.

The next morning when I was making my oatmeal, I decided to count up the calories and nutritional information. One half cup of oats, one scoop of powder, ~2 Tbs of craisins, and ~1 Tbs flax seeds or nuts of your choice. (Add one cup of water, microwave 3 min, stirring every minute.) It was then that I realized the vanilla powder I'd bought was not just a protein powder but an energy shake.

What's the difference? Carbs. Energy shakes not only contain a good dose of protein, they try to offer a complete meal, so there's a heavy loading of carbs. This is great if your goal is to have a meal-replacement shake. But if you're trying to simply add some protein into your diet, without the extra carbs and associated calories, then a protein powder is a better option.

The protein powder that I've been using is the EAS Premium Protein that I get at Costco. Right now I have the chocolate flavor. One serving (2 scoops) has about 160 calories, 27 g protein, 2.5 g fat, and 3 g carbs. It's a blend of three types of protein-- whey, soy, and casein. Some body builders have bashed it because of the soy (apparently soy protein promotes estrogen?). But I think it tastes pretty good, and that's a lot of protein to pack into a few small scoops. I like making smoothies with 1 scoop of powder, 1/2 cup each of milk and yogurt, and a half of a frozen banana. The drawbacks to this product are that it doesn't mix well without a blender, and that it comes in a 6 lb bag, so you'd better want a lot of it!

Then the protein powder that the Good Medicine deli uses at the gym is called Designer Whey. It's soleley a whey-based protein (whey as in "Little Miss Muffit sat on her tuffit eating her curds and whey"; i.e. it's a milk-derived protein, basically a by-product in the cheese-making process). The French Vanilla flavor is what they used in the oatmeal. It looks like one scoop (24 g) has 90 calories, 2 g carbs, 18 g protein, and 1.5 g fat. So fairly similar to the EAS in that it has lots of protein, not much carbs or fat. Scoop sizes apparently differ. I haven't had any other experience with this brand, but the lady that runs Good Medicine is a badass fitness instructor/ex-military gal/mom/health-conscious person, so I found her recommendation to be fairly credible. She said she's explored a lot of different protein powders and likes this one best. One thing it definitely has going for it over the EAS is that you can buy smaller containers-- 12 oz, 2 lb, or 5 lb.

So the main point to pick up here is that ALL POWDER'S AREN'T CREATED EQUAL. Some are energy drinks or meal replacements that have carbs and protein. Some are mostly protein but have protein coming from different sources. So figure out what you need nutritionally, whether it's a meal replacement or just supplemental protein. Then figure out what protein source you think is best (there's tons of information and opinions out there; for some basic info, see here or here). Finally, READ THE LABELS to figure out what you're buying.

Then add it to your oatmeal and enjoy!

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