The powder power of protein supplements

Ronnie Shuker

The options can be overwhelming and the information endless when trying to pick a protein powder. What look like giant vitamin bottles populate the supplement shelves, each putting a claim on the consumer to deliver peak results.

When it comes to pure performance, however, there is a sure-fire No. 1.

“Whey protein is the gold standard in terms of the most bang for your buck, getting the most essential amino acids per serving per gram – there’s no question about that,” said Matt Nichol, a strength and conditioning coach and creator of BioSteel Sport Supplements. “It’s not just how many grams of protein you take, but how many grams of amino acids your body is able to extract from the protein you take.”

The chain of muscle growth works like this: amino acids function as the foundation for proteins and proteins work as the building blocks of muscle. Bigger muscles require amino acids. And whey, which is made from milk, contains all essential amino acids.

But for vegans and those allergic or sensitive to dairy products, whey is out. Nichol has several such clients who have to explore vegetarian options.

Soy is the best of the veggie pack for protein punch, but like whey it is a common allergen. And soy is almost entirely a genetically modified product – a non-starter for many athletes and fitness-conscious folk. Brown rice and pea proteins register low on the allergen scale, though neither is as effective as whey or soy.

One option gaining in popularity is hemp protein, touted as the best vegetarian alternative by Ryan Dennis, a holistic nutritionist who has worked with several NHL clients of fitness freak Gary Roberts. For those looking beyond the best protein performer to a more holistic supplement, hemp is the best all-around option.

“Hemp protein is very close to being basically a whole food, because you’re getting a mix of fibers, proteins and fats,” Dennis said. “It’s probably overall the closest you can get to what humans require as far as protein goes from a vegetable source.”

Hemp is also high in chlorophyll, which gives plants their green color, making it a great vegetarian source of iron. Chlorophyll supports the cardiovascular system, too, and is known as a blood cleanser.

With all these options on the shelves, it’s easy to become a shake sucker and focus solely on protein powders to promote muscle growth. They work best as recovery beverages when taken within 45 minutes to an hour after an intense workout, but for the rest of the day Nichol and Dennis emphasize getting protein the old-fashioned way.

“In all cases, it’s better to get your proteins from actual whole food sources,” Dennis said. “While powders can be good supplements, it’s definitely not good to just rely on them exclusively. We can over focus on protein at the expense of other nutrition that we need every day, so always make sure to consider that these supplements need to be taken in combination with a balanced diet.”

Ronnie Shuker is an associate editor at The Hockey News and a regular contributor to the Post-To-Post blogFollow him on Twitter at @THNRonnieShuker.

This article originally appeared in the Winter 2012 edition of Fully Loaded. For more great profiles, news and views from the world of hockey, subscribe to The Hockey News magazine.