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We recently received this question on Facebook: Do you have any tips for choosing protein powders for morning smoothies? I’ve always been inclined to stick with real food additions (yogurt/nuts/nut butters/Chia) – your thoughts? Do complete proteins provide greater satiety?

When it comes to protein it really depends on what your goals are. If you are looking for just good quality protein in an everyday meal then I would stick to real foods, you can still get good quality protein from real foods, at cheaper cost and real foods provide many other beneficial nutrients like omega-3, iron, zinc, calcium etc. For example: milk, yogurt, nuts, nut butters, Chia seed, linseed, skim milk powder, egg).

If you are looking to optimise protein intake to bulk up (increase muscle mass) then recent research shows it is important to include at least 20g protein per meal, spread over 4 meals per day. In this case, you should also be able to get enough protein from carefully planned real foods, especially if you have a large energy budget (i.e. you also want to gain body mass). For example: smoothie made with 250ml milk + 1 cup yogurt + 1 serve fruit + 1 Tbsp skim milk powder + 1tsp honey provides >20g protein.

This smoothie would also satisfy recommendations for optimal recovery post exercise which are to include about 10-20g protein + carbohydrate (about 0.8g/kg body weight) Leucine (a Branched Chain Amino Acid beneficial in muscle recovery). This smoothie example using wholefoods would provide >2g Leucine, the recommended amount for recovery post exercise.

On the other hand if your goal was to increase muscle mass while simultaneously reducing fat mass or body weight, it may be difficult to get enough protein from real foods while keeping calories minimal. In this case a protein powder would be beneficial. Which protein powder? Well in terms of optimal muscle uptake for recovery studies show that Whey Protein Isolate (WPI) is the fastest and produces the best results to date. I would just buy 95% WPI and add it to a home-made smoothie e.g. 20g WPI + fruit + water (or milk if need extra protein) +/- tsp vanilla/honey for flavour and blend. Plain WPI powder is much cheaper than commercially available protein shakes.
However, if you require convenience e.g. you are having a smoothie straight after a morning training session before work/school then you a commercially available protein shake that you can just add water to, shake and drink is more convenient.

So, while WPI is a good choice in terms of optimising muscle, for those that cannot eat dairy, there are some good alternatives such as soy, pea, hemp protein powders. Some people prefer to avoid soy, and hemp protein powder is not available everywhere yet, although it is becoming more popular. To date there a limited studies on the performance benefits of these proteins over WPI in terms of muscle recovery.
Hope this helps…..

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