Men who exercise regularly often enjoy a protein shake directly before or immediately after training, in order to promote muscle recovery and growth. Sporty women on the other hand, are far less likely to opt for a protein shake, as building muscle is not generally considered a priority. However, women can still benefit enormously from protein shakes, particularly those who are trying to lose weight. This blog highlights the key benefits of protein shakes and investigates which is the best protein powder for women.
What are proteins?
Proteins are comprised of amino acids and are predominantly found in animal food products, such as meat, fish and eggs. Plant products also contain proteins, including vegetables, legumes and seeds. There are twenty different amino acids present in the human body, twelve of which can be manufactured by the body itself. These are known as non-essential amino acids. You must extract the other eight amino acids, the so-called ‘essential amino acids’, from your daily diet. The majority of animal proteins contain every essential amino acid, and are thus referred to as complete proteins. Plant proteins also contain all eight essential amino acids, but as these are usually present in extremely low quantities, they are known as incomplete proteins. In fact, the only plant foods that contain all eight essential amino acids in sufficient volumes are quinoa, hemp seeds, buckwheat and blue green algae (e.g. spirulina and chlorella). The amino acids found in plant-based products are of the same quality and can be just as effectively absorbed by the human body as those found in animal-based products.
Why does your body need proteins?
Amino acids from proteins are crucial for all round good health; they are responsible for your body’s metabolic processes for example, and play a role in the manufacture of tissue, hormones, enzymes, antibodies, carrier proteins and other important protein structures. A lack of protein can result in impaired enzyme and hormone production, and may lead to a degradation of structural proteins, meaning that vital bodily functions can no longer perform at an optimum. Unlike carbohydrates and fat, the human body cannot store proteins, so it’s imperative that you obtain sufficient protein from your daily diet.
What are protein powders and are they healthy?
You've likely seen the large jars of protein powders that can be purchased from sports and nutritional supplement stores. As they promote muscle recovery and muscle growth, these protein powders tend to be favoured by men who regularly enjoy strength training or other intensive forms of exercise. Protein powders are typically used to prepare protein shakes for consumption immediately before and / or directly after exercise.
The key ingredient in the vast majority of protein powders is whey, a by-product of the cheese industry. Also known as milk plasma, whey is the liquid that remains after the milk used to make cheese has been curdled. Pure, unprocessed whey possesses a fresh, faintly acidic flavour, contains little or no fat, and has an exceptionally high nutritional value. It is rich in protein, B vitamins, lactose, minerals and beta-glucan, and contains the amino acids cysteine, glycine and glutamate, which are required by your body for the manufacture of glutathione (an antioxidant that inhibits the shortening of telomeres and thus helps to slow down the natural aging process). Whey additionally contains a substance called glutamylcysteine, a unique cysteine residue that promotes the production of glutathione (Bounous et al., 1991).
A growing number of protein shake consumers are now opting for whole vegetable protein powders (made from hemp, brown rice or peas) instead. The main reason for choosing vegetable protein powders over whey protein powders, is that whey protein powders often contain unhealthy additives, such as artificial sweeteners, refined sugars, soya, gluten and preservatives. You can read more about this in: can whey protein powder be replaced with hemp protein or brown rice protein powder?
The best protein powder for women
Whilst a muscular body is not a priority for most women, women can still benefit from consuming protein shakes on a regular basis, particularly if they want to lose weight. Indeed, protein powders make you feel fuller for longer, deliver lasting energy and help to regulate your blood sugar levels, meaning that you’re far less likely to snack between meals (e.g. Westerterp-Plantenga et al., 2009). In addition, protein powders increase muscle mass, which in turn encourages the burning of fat, enabling you to shed more pounds as a result. And, thanks to the leucine that they contain, protein powders also help to prevent muscle loss – a problem that has been linked to high-carb weight loss diets (Buse et al., 1975).
Women aiming for weight loss are advised to opt for a vegetable protein powder, such as Superfoodies Organic Hemp Protein Powder or Superfoodies Brown Rice Protein Powder. This is because vegetable protein powders are free from unhealthy additives and allergens, do not cause unwelcome digestive complaints and score low on the glycaemic index. Vegetable protein powders additionally boast a number of unique benefits: they help to strengthen the immune system for example, slow down the aging process, reduce blood pressure, possess anti-bacterial and anti-viral properties, and stabilise blood sugar levels (e.g. Petersen et al., 2009; Marshall, 2004).
Want to learn more about the numerous benefits of vegetable protein powders and how many protein shakes you can safely drink per day? Then read: How many protein shakes a day is still healthy?
Searching for the best protein powder for women? Then choose for a premium quality organic hemp protein powder or brown rice protein powder and avoid inferior whey protein powders crammed with unhealthy additives. Please note that protein powders must never be used as a substitute for meals. If you are striving to lose weight or are wishing to maintain a healthy weight, then try replacing some of your carbohydrates with proteins from foods such as meat, fish, poultry, eggs and quinoa.
 Bonus, Gustavo, and Phil Gold. "The biological activity of undenatured dietary whey proteins: role of glutathione." Clin Invest Med 14.4 (1991): 296-309.
 Westerterp-Plantenga, M. S., et al. "Dietary protein, weight loss, and weight maintenance." Annual review of nutrition 29 (2009): 21-41.
 Buse, Maria G., and S. SANDRA Reid. "Leucine. A possible regulator of protein turnover in muscle." Journal of Clinical Investigation 56.5 (1975): 1250.
 Petersen, Brent L., et al. "A whey protein supplement decreases post-prandial glycemia." Nutrition Journal 8.1 (2009): 1.
 Keri Marshall, N. D. "Therapeutic applications of whey protein." Alternative Medicine Review 9.2 (2004): 136-156.