Being strapped for time often leads us to look for easy options for meals and snacks. This is likely a big part of why the protein powder question is such a common one!
Protein powder is a highly processed food.
Nothing in protein powder from the protein to the added vitamins and minerals is in it’s natural form. Keeping that in mind and remembering that you should be focused first on consuming as many whole, natural, pure foods as possible protein powder should not make up a primary component of your diet.
However, in a pinch or when you get home super late from rehearsal and you’re exhausted it can be a snack or meal alternative.
Read the ingredients. Just like any packaged food. It’s your job to read that ingredient label and make sure it’s not packed with bad stuff or things you don’t recognize. As a dancer you should become an expert on your body – since you ask so much of it, you’ve got to give it what it needs!
At the bottom of this post you’ll find a break down of an animal sourced protein powder as well as a plant based protein powder and the ingredients defined.
For practical purposes – what should you look for when you read a protein powder nutrition label?
- Check that it doesn’t have added sugars, sugar alcohols or chemical sugar alternatives (words ending in “ose”).
- Consider when you’re likely going to consume it. Pre – workout can be lower protein, think less than 10 grams and post workout should be higher.
- Will it be a snack or meal replacement? For a snack look for one that’s under 150 calories per serving and for a meal look for one that’s over 200 calories per serving. Remember that you can always cut a serving in half and use the same one for both scenarios. As with absolutely anything you consume – the calories should never be the most important consideration. The most important thing is that you’re following your hunger and fullness cues, listening to your body and stopping at the point of satisfaction, not fullness!
- Read ingredients carefully and if you’re using your protein as a meal replacement, consider one with additional superfoods (chaga mushrooms, maca root, chia seed, goji berry, chlorella, spirulina, acai, or pomegranate are popular).
- Go for high quality. Since this isn’t something you’re drinking every day, go organic and Non – GMO and find a company whose sourcing and practices you can trust.
Here are my top Protein Powder Options :
Straight up protein, nothing added. Jazz it up with your own superfoods if you desire! Blended with some unsweetened cocoa powder, vanilla extract and a banana this can be a great sometimes snack.
For a protein that’s a full meal and packed with lots of good stuff, try Garden of Life Raw Organic Meal. This protein provides superfoods, digestive enzymes and probiotics, greens, healthy fat, fiber, vitamins and minerals. It’s definitely a fine option as an occasional meal replacement. Just blend with unsweetened almond milk and enjoy!
I also reached out to Tanya of Bulletproof Ballerina for her take on protein powders. She and I are totally on the same page!
Here’s what she shared, “I always try to go with real food options when it is available, but I find that having a protein shake as backup for those nights when I get home from rehearsal at 11pm or mornings when I need to get out the door fast is a healthy alternative.
I also agree that not all protein shakes are created equal, and in fact, it can be quite hard to find good ones that aren’t packed with stuff you can’t pronounce. My theory is that if it tastes like a milkshake…it’s probably not healthy for you (unfortunately, right?!).
I use a brand that is completely non-flavored and just pure whey protein from grass-fed cows called Raw Organic Whey. It’s a bit pricey but it’s super high quality with no additives. Sometimes I add a scoop of Maca powder or Naked Nutrition’s powdered peanut butter (or the cocoa p.b. version) for flavor…but it doesn’t taste bad as is…just not like a milkshake!”
Here’s a sample ingredients list for animal sourced protein :
Protein Blend (Whey Protein Isolate, Micellar Casein), Natural Flavors. Contains less than 2% of the following: Sunflower Lecithin, Cellulose Gum, Steviol Glycosides (Stevia), Sea Salt, Xanthan Gum, Sucralose.
Lets break that down :
whey protein isolate – “A whey protein isolate (or whey isolate) is a dietary supplement and food ingredient created by separating components from milk. Whey is a by-product of the cheese-making process. Whey can be processed to yield whey protein in three forms: whey isolate, whey concentrate, or whey hydrolysate.”
micellar casein – “Slow release protein derived from milk. It’s absorbed slowly by the stomach allowing a tapered supply of amino acids to the muscle over a prolonged period of time. This makes Micellar Casein the ideal protein supplement for between meals and before bed.”
sunflower lecithin – “It is found in egg yolk, meats, soy, and vegetables. Most commercial lecithin is made from soy. So, you’d assume that when you take lecithin (the supplement), you get phosphatidylcholine. In fact, commercial preparations contain between 20% and 90% of the stuff.”
cellulose gum – “This ingredient is a chemically-treated cellulose derivative.”
steviol glycosides – “Steviol glycosides are natural constituents of the leaves of Stevia rebaudiana (Bertoni) Bertoni, a plant native to parts of South America and commonly known as Stevia. They are non-nutritive sweeteners and are reported to be 200 to 400 times sweeter than table sugar.”
sea salt – “Sea salt is a type of salt produced from the evaporation of current seawater.”
xanthem gum – “It is produced when glucose, sucrose or lactose is fermented by the bacteria Xanthomonas campestris. As long as you are not allergic, it is relatively harmless.”
sucralose – “Sucralose is approved for use in food as a non-nutritive sweetener. Sucralose is sold under the brand name Splenda®. Sucralose is about 600 times sweeter than sugar.”
Here’s an ingredient list for a plant based protein :
Proprietary Blend [pea protein isolate, sunflower lecithin, maca, chia, goji extract (Lycium barbaric), flaxseed], natural flavors, guar gum, glucosylated steviol, glycosides, silica, Lactobacillus acidophilus
Lets break that down :
pea protein isolate – “Pea protein powder is among the most hypoallergenic of all protein powders, as it contains no gluten or dairy. It’s also easy on the tummy and doesn’t cause bloating, a common side effect of many other protein powders.”
sunflower lecithin – see above*
maca – superfood – check this post!
chia – “The chia seed is nutrient dense and packs a punch of energy boosting power. Aztec warriors ate chia seeds to give them high energy and endurance.”
goji extract – “Goji berries have been used in traditional Chinese medicine for over 2,000 years. Some legends report that goji berries were eaten by monks in the Himalayan Mountains thousands of years ago and steeped in hot water to help aid meditation and obtain greater health, vitality, longevity, energy and stamina.”
flaxseed – “Flax is an annual plant, and it is grown both for its fiber and for its seeds.”
guar gum – “a fine powder obtained by grinding guar seeds, which has numerous commercial applications, especially in the food industry, where it is used as a thickener and a binder.”
glycosides – “a compound formed from a simple sugar and another compound by replacement of a hydroxyl group in the sugar molecule. Many drugs and poisons derived from plants are glycosides.”
silica – “Silica, also known as silicon dioxide or SiO2, is a colorless, white, chemical compound.”
Lactobacillus Acidophilus – “is the most commonly used probiotic, or “good” bacteria.”