The use of protein powders can be beneficial in specific situations. We don’t actually need as much protein as some would have us believe and it is quite easy to meet our daily recommended dietary requirements of protein, which can be achieved through dietary sources alone. For the average male adult, the recommended dietary intake (RDI) for protein is 0.84 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight and for a female adult it’s 0.75 grams per kilogram of body mass. This, however, does not take into consideration type, frequency, intensity or duration of exercise. Therefore, requirements will change dependent on these things.

Situations where protein supplementation may be required or prove beneficial include: facilitating post-exercise recovery of muscle function and performance, when you are just starting a muscle building program, when you are increasing the intensity and/or duration or a workout, when you’re recovering from an injury, those trying to gain weight or mass, you decide to go vegan, a growing teenager participating in heavy training.

What are the best foods to have pre/post workout?

The main goals for pre-training/pre-workout nutrition are:

  • Fuel and hydrate your body for the exercise session ahead
  • Get the most out of your training session – sustain quality and intensity for longer
  • Avoid unwelcome fatigue and distracting hunger pangs during the session

Food to choose before a workout should serve the purpose of being:

  • Rich in carbohydrate to prime your fuel (muscle glycogen) stores
  • Low in fibre, especially if you have issues with your gut e.g. upset, discomfort or fullness
  • Easy to digest – avoid foods overly high in fat as these are slow to digest
  • Familiar – practice your options in training and stick with what works best for you.

There’s no one “best” pre-exercise meal or snack option and it will depend on what your individual goals and requirements are but here’s a few ideas to get you started:

  • Small bowl of cereal with chopped fruit and yoghurt
  • Crumpets/pikelets/toast with sliced banana and drizzle of honey
  • Small bowl pasta with tomato based sauce
  • Fruit smoothie with your choice of milk or milk substitute
  • Raisin toast
  • Tub of Greek yoghurt with diced fruit

Similarly, to pre-workout nutrition, when it comes to choosing the best post-workoutsnack or meal, there is no one “best” option or “one size (option) fits all” approach and recovery strategies should be individualised based on workload, body size, type and duration of the training just completed, goals related to body composition and personal preferences.

However, there are some main goals that all recovery snacks or meals should have. These include:

  • Appropriate refuelling of glycogen stores and rehydrate the body
  • Promote muscle repair and growth
  • Optimise adaptation from the training session
  • Support the immune system

The general recommendation to optimise post-workout nutrition and recovery is to consume 20-30g of protein (or an equivalent of 9g of essential amino acids if you’re supplementing) paired with at least 50g carbohydrtes, which has been reported to maximise muscle protein synthesis in the first hour of post-workout recovery.

Therefore, some top picks for post-workout snacks or meals include:

  • A protein shake/smoothie – protein powder with the addition of milk or milk alternative (e.g. almond milk, coconut milk etc.) and fruit
  • 2 boiled eggs + banana
  • Small tin of tuna on wholemeal 2 x rice cakes
  • Seasonal fruit salad topped with Greek yoghurt
  • Small tub (200g) Greek yoghurt + teaspoon of chia seeds and a sprinkle of nuts
  • Lean chicken and wholemeal salad roll
  • Small tin of tuna and 1 cup cooked quinoa
  • Buckwheat thins with natural peanut butter (or other nut butter) + banana
  • Hummus and 1 wholemeal pita bread
  • 1 small bowel lean mince Bolognese + and pasta
  • 1 cup ricotta mixed with 1 teaspoon honey + sprinkle of cinnamon, served with cut up apple pieces

What are the best natural supplements on the market?

This depends on what your definition of ‘natural’ is. Naturally occurring nutrients are obtained through the unprocessed, wholefoods we eat. All supplements have been manufactured to some degree. During this process, a supplement may lose

It is also important to understand where a company sources their ingredients from as this can have an effect on the purity, strength and bioavailability of the ingredients in the supplement. When sourcing a supplement to buy, my advice is to talk to a health professional who has an understanding of supplements such as a chemist, dietitian, nutritionist of naturopath. They can help advise you to the best and most credible supplements on the market. Another question to ask is if the supplement or company has undergone or performed any clinical trials and what the results are. These are usually practitioner-use only supplements that may not be able to be purchased over the counter or on the shelf of a supermarket.

When trying to choose the most ‘natural’ supplements on the shelf, look for those that have minimal additives, contaminants and sweeteners, and are certified organic in origin (particularly in powder form). This is where the help of a health professional can come in handy.

Is whey healthy? What does it do to bodies in the long term?

It’s important to note that not all protein is created equal. Some forms of protein, such as whey, are better than others. Whey is the liquid part of milk that separates during cheese production and whey protein contains an incredible range of essential amino acids, which are absorbed quickly and efficiently. Whey is also more than just a protein as it contains numerous amounts of additional nutrients, some with potent biological effects.

Whey is generally well tolerated, although people with lactose intolerance need to be careful with it as it could cause gastrointestinal upset or bloating. There are also some people who are allergic to whey to should avoid it altogether.

Some studies have shown that whey protein has proven benefits for depression, blood pressure, blood sugar. It has also been shown to help protect against some cancers, reduce symptoms of hepatitis, increase bone mineral density and improve immune function in HIV patients.

Currently there is no evidence of negative long-term effects of whey protein ingestion on the body. However, eating too much whey protein may cause digestive issues such as nausea, flatulence, diarrhoea, pain and cramping, especially those with lactose intolerance, a whey or dairy allergy or people who suffer from irritable bowel syndrome.

What are BCAAs and creatine?

BCAAs or branched chain amino acids are essential amino acids (meaning we must obtain them through our diet because our bodies do not produce them, naturally). The term ‘branched-chain’ just refers to their molecular structure. Amino Acids are the building blocks of protein and have various functions related to energy production during and after exercise, so they are needed in adequate amounts, but not excessive. BCAAs also provide nutritional support for muscle building and athletic endurance, as well as reduce the risk of delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS) associated with endurance and resistance exercise.

Creatine is a small peptide composed of the amino acids L-arginine, L-glycine, and L-methionine. It is present in almost all mammalian cells and is produced in the liver. Its primary role is to supply energy to the cells all over the body, especially the muscles and to regenerate ATP in muscles after exercise.

Creatine is transported through the blood by an active transport system, it is then used by the brain and muscles that have high energy demands, such as skeletal muscle. Because of creatine’s ability to supply energy where it is demanded, the chemical is mainly used by athletes to increase their ability to produce energy rapidly, improving athletic performance and allowing them to train harder. Therefore, it is not a necessary supplement for the everyday recreational athlete or gym goer, but may prove beneficial if you are training at very high intensity’s.

Is there any risk of taking protein powders and kidney stones and heart disease?

Currently there isn’t any strong evidence to suggest that the frequent use of protein powders/supplements causes kidney stones or damage in people with healthy kidney’s. However, if you are someone with acute or chronic kidney failure or damage, you may want to avoid supplementation and it’s strongly advised that you speak to your specialist or a dietitian who can advise you on your protein requirements.

In extreme cases, whey protein may cause abnormal heart rhythms and/or changes in cholesterol levels. However, this may be the case for people who have a pre-existing cardiovascular condition or disease. The risk of heart disease increase for anyone who consumes high volumes of foods high in saturated fats and triglycerides. Therefore, limiting your dietary intake of these things play an important role in avoiding heart disease. IN any case, it’s important to discuss your dietary intake, medical history, family history and exercise regime with a health professional before starting any supplement program.

What’s the difference between the types of protein powders? 

There are many different types of protein powders on the market and all serve different purposes and have a different response in the body – particularly when it comes to bioavailability and absorption. A summary can be seen below:

  • Whey protein– is a complete protein from dairy and has an optimal amino acid profile and is quickly absorbed making it an optimal choice for post-workout recovery.
  • Casein protein– is the second type of protein found in dairy. It offers similar benefits to whey but with a different release process. It digests over a long-period of time, which means it’s not beneficial for the immediate post-recovery process but may be an optimal protein to consume before bed.
  • Soy protein– is not a complete protein but still has a good amino acid profile and is very low in fat or fat free. Soy protein powders are an alternative for vegans and vegetarians but are often genetically modified and contain endocrine disruptors.
  • Rice protein– being a plant-based option, it is not a complete protein and is deficient in some amino acids. However, it is extremely hypoallergenic and contains other nutrients such as fibre, B vitamins and complex carbohydrates.
  • Pea protein– as with most plant-based proteins, pea protein is hypoallergenic. And with few additives or artificial ingredients, this one appeals to those looking for protein sources closest to the whole-food source. It is also the closet plant-based protein to a complete amino acid profile.
  • Hemp protein– is derived from the seeds of the cannabis plant that’s gained popularity in recent years. It’s a natural source of B vitamins, D3 and minerals, and is extremely hypoallergenic. Hemp protein is not permitted for oral consumption in Australia and New Zealand.

The reason why some people may see better results than others doesn’t necessarily come down to ‘how much’ protein they are consuming, it may come down to how well their body is digesting and absorbing the protein. Therefore, it is crucial that you optimise your gut health and choose a protein powder that is not going to cause gastrointestinal upset or irritation as this will interfere with your body’s ability to utilise the protein efficiently.

It terms of the best timing for ingestion of protein, it should be consumed within 45 minutes after your training/workout. This has been shown to be the optimal time for protein synthesis, metabolism and repair to occur. If you choose to consume a protein supplement at this time, it should not replace a proper meal containing dietary sources of protein at your next main meal or snack. Research has also shown that if your pair 20-30g protein with at least 50g carbohydrates, you will reap the full benefits to optimise muscle recovery, repair and growth.