Amino acids or protein powder?
Amino acids or protein powder? Learn how to best boost your protein intake.
What are amino acids?
Amino acids are the building blocks of protein. There are 20 amino acids, 9 of which are essential. Essential amino acids cannot be made by the body and must come from food. The body breaks down food (dietary protein) into amino acids, which it uses to perform functions like building and repairing muscle tissue.
It is also possible to get some amino acids from supplements. Many people refer to amino acid supplements as “amino acids” or “BCAAs.” Branched-chain amino acid (BCAA) supplements consist of 3 essential amino acids: valine, leucine, and isoleucine. The thought is that because leucine, isoleucine, and valine make up approximately 17% of human skeletal muscle, adding them to our diet can help boost muscle growth and enhance exercise performance. The research into the effectiveness of BCAA supplementation is inconclusive, however, and it is unlikely that supplementing BCAAs is helpful.
What is protein powder?
You can also get amino acids from protein supplements. Protein powder is a dietary supplement designed to help you increase your protein (amino acid) intake. It is made from high-protein foods like eggs, peas, and milk, and can be added to smoothies, oatmeal, and baked goods for an easy protein boost. Millions of Americans use protein powder every day to reach their protein goals.
Again, the human body cannot synthesize all the amino acids that it needs. These “essential” amino acids must come from food, or supplements. Most people can get all the amino acids they need from dietary proteins like eggs, fish, and legumes. Some people, however, may need to use supplements like BCAAs and protein powder to get enough amino acids.
BCAAs or protein powder?
Unlike most protein powders, which contain all 9 essential amino acids, BCAAs only contain 3. It therefore does not make much sense to take BCAAs instead of protein powder. In other words, you can get all the amino acids that you need from protein powder, but you can only get one third of them from BCAAs. Many athletes use BCAAs to add extra amino acids to their diet, but, again, the advantages of doing so are negligible. I therefore do not recommend you waste your money on BCAA supplements.
Which protein powder is right for you?
All protein powders are not created equal. First of all, some protein powders do not contain a complete protein, meaning they do not contain the nine essential amino acids. If you are eating a balanced diet, however, you DO NOT need to worry about whether or not your proteins are complete. In other words, you do not need to mix and match incomplete proteins to create a complete protein every time you eat. If you are relying heavily on protein supplements, however, this may be something to keep in mind. Second, many protein powders contain ingredients that are not good for you. It is therefore important that you read the ingredient list before buying a protein powder. Here are a few of the top ingredients to avoid when buying protein powder.
Avoid food additives.
Again, most ready-to drink protein shakes and many protein powders are full of food additives. Although not necessarily bad for you in small quantities, additives can add up quickly (especially if you drink a protein shake every day) and cause gastrointestinal (GI) side effects like bloating, constipation, diarrhea, gas, and stomach pain. This is because food additives are, generally speaking, hard to digest. They sit in your gut for longer than food should, which gives your gut bacteria more time to eat. As they eat, these bacteria produce gas, which causes bloating and stomach pain. Gas also slows colonic transit (the amount of time it takes food to travel through the colon), which can lead to constipation.
In the long term, food additives can disrupt regulatory pathways in the intestine, which can result in the development of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) and systemic inflammatory disorders. Artificial sweeteners are among the most harmful additives in the long term as they alter the composition of your gut microbiota (the collection of microorganisms that help you digest food). This can lead to serious, chronic GI problems and widespread inflammation. Some sweeteners, especially sugar alcohols like xylitol, are also poorly absorbed by the gut (meaning they feed those hungry gut bacteria) and cause diarrhea because they draw water into your intestine. Now you finally have something to blame for those post-protein shake trips to the bathroom!
Here is a list of the most common food additives in protein powder:
acacia gum, acesulfame potassium, artificial flavors, aspartame, carrageenan, cellulose gum, dextrin, dextrose, erythritol, gellan gum, guar gum, gum arabic, inulin, locust bean gum, “natural” flavors*, maltodextrin, rice syrup solids, soy lecithin, silica, sucralose, sunflower lecithin, xanthan gum, xylitol
When it comes to identifying food additives, go with your gut. 😉 As a rule of thumb, they are the ingredients that you cannot pronounce. Food additives are not the only thing to look out for when buying protein powder, however. There are several other ingredients that can upset your stomach.
egg whites, coconut, cocoa, monk fruit
Protein Matrix Comprised of (Whey Protein Concentrate, Whey Protein Isolate, Calcium Caseinate, Micellar Casein, Milk Protein Isolate, Egg Albumen, Glutamine Peptides), Polydextrose, Sunflower Creamer (Sunflower Oil, Corn Syrup Solids, Sodium Caseinate, Mono- and Diglycerides, Dipotassium Phosphate, Tricalcium Phosphate, Soy Lecithin, Tocopherols), Natural and Artificial Flavor, MCT Powder (Medium Chain Triglycerides, Nonfat Dry Milk, Disodium Phosphate, Silicon Dioxide), Lecithin, Cellulose Gum, Salt, Yellow 5, Sucralose, Acesulfame Potassium, Papain, Bromelain.
*This is the actual ingredient list of one of the best-selling protein powders in the United States.
Dairy-based proteins like whey and casein, which are byproducts of cheese and yogurt production, are known to cause digestive issues, especially for people with lactose intolerance and irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). Over one in three Americans are lactose intolerant, and the prevalence of IBS is somewhere between 10 and 15 percent in the United States. It follows that you may be lactose intolerant or have IBS and not even know it. Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is a poorly understood condition, and it is unclear why dairy triggers symptoms. Lactose intolerance, on the other hand, is clearly understood. People with lactose intolerance are unable to fully digest lactose, the sugar in dairy. As you just learned, partially digested food feeds the bacteria in your gut, which produce gas.
Avoid protein concentrates and isolates.
Finding an additive-free, dairy-free protein powder is hard. Finding an additive-free, dairy-free protein powder made with real foods is next to impossible. Why? Most protein powders are made with protein concentrates and isolates, foods stripped of everything but the protein. They are listed on the ingredient list as “pea protein,” for example, as opposed to “peas.” We will not go into the details, but protein concentrates and isolates undergo heavy mechanical and chemical processing before becoming protein powder. Sometimes, manufacturers use chemical solvents like hexane to isolate (separate) the protein from the food. This means that what you end up putting into your body looks nothing like real food. The potential problem here is that your gut might not know what to do with ingredients like these. Your gut prefers the real thing, not some heavily-processed imitation, so protein concentrates and isolates might be hard to digest for people with sensitive stomachs.
Instead of protein concentrates or isolates, we use egg whites and almonds. Egg whites are simply pasteurized and dried before becoming protein powder. Almonds are just roasted, pressed, and ground. Minimally-processed ingredients like these are easy to digest and a stomach and gut-friendly alternative to protein concentrates and isolates.
Unless you have a sensitivity or allergy to eggs, egg white protein is the best protein for people with sensitive stomachs. Egg whites are low in fiber, low-FODMAP, and have the highest protein digestibility-corrected amino acid score (PDCAAS) of any whole food. Our customers have experienced fewer digestive issues with egg white protein than with any other type of protein.
If you cannot eat eggs, try our almond protein powder. Unlike protein concentrates or isolates, almonds contain lots of healthy fats, fiber, and other nutrients like calcium and vitamin E. We prefer almonds to other minimally-processed plant protein sources because they are more gut-friendly. Research suggests that almonds can improve the diversity and composition of the gut microbiome. Research also suggests that almonds possess prebiotic properties, meaning they stimulate the growth of healthy bacteria in the gut.
“I just finished my first bag and ordered 2 more! I Iove this stuff! I have IBS and every protein powder hurts my stomach…except drink wholesome!”
This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment.