Proteins, the building blocks of the body, are essential for recovery, muscle growth and repair after exercise.
But when it comes to using protein powder to supplement diet the choices can be confusing.
"When it comes to protein powder, no size fits all," says Alex Mark, director of supplement supplier Sportsfuel. "Different protein powders are catered towards different goals and outcomes and understanding the differences between them is key.
"It is best to compare the benefits of each and weigh up which works best for you."
A similar message comes from Jake Campus, an accredited nutritionist and director of Jake Campus Nutrition in Hamilton. He says education and understanding is the most important thing when choosing the right protein supplement.
"Before anyone takes any sort of protein powder supplement, they should do their research to understand what powder would best suit their overall health and nutrition goals," he says.
Mark says protein supplements are of benefit to almost anyone wanting better results for their workouts, whether they're a casual gym-goer or a professional athlete.
But, he says, when considering how much to consume each day, the amount varies from person to person.
"We've all got different macronutrient requirements (the amount of fat, protein and carbohydrates we need to consume) which are based on elements of our lifestyle such as activity levels, general health, weight and gender.
"On average the recommended daily protein intake for women in New Zealand is 46g and about 64g for men. But this can be higher for professional athletes and people recovering from injury or illness."
"We recommend spreading protein consumption throughout the day rather than cramming it into one meal because if the body has too much of one thing it starts to process it as waste or store it as fat," he says. "By spreading it out you maximise the amount of protein you absorb with each meal."
Mark says there are many protein-rich foods people can include in their diets – meat, fish, eggs, nuts and dairy – but many still can't get enough from these sources. That's when, he says, you need a reliable alternative without the hassle.
Meanwhile, Campus says protein powder allows people to reach their protein needs relatively easily. "It's also a lot cheaper and more convenient than buying and cooking chicken and fish all the time."
However, when it comes to protein powders, there are a number of alternatives.
Whey protein powder is derived from cow's milk and is the most popular type of protein in New Zealand Mark says. "It's relatively cheap and easily digested by the stomach.
"Whey makes up approximately 20 per cent of the protein content found in milk and has the highest count of BCAA's (branched-chain amino acids)," he says. "It can be bought and consumed in both a whey protein concentrate or in isolate form (this is purer but can be more expensive)."
Casein is the primary protein found in milk although it isn't processed by the body as quickly as whey protein. Mark recommends taking it between meals or right before bed: "Casein is full of glutamine and amino acids, which are also essential for recovery."
A third option is plant-based protein powders such as pea protein, rice protein and soy proteins. These are excellent options for vegetarians, vegans, anyone who may be lactose intolerant or have an allergy to dairy products.
"These come from many sources including pea, hemp and soy," says Mark. "We recommend trialing different types of plant-based protein powders to see what works best."
"A protein powder supplement should be consumed immediately after a workout to aid the body in muscle recovery."
Mark says protein powders are convenient and versatile and come in all sorts of tasty flavours (often without any additional sugars) such as chocolate, vanilla, strawberry and banana.
"You can have it in a protein shake with extra ingredients for added nutrition like honey, oats, avocado, spinach and nut butter," he says. "You can add it to your oats or sprinkle it on baked fruits such as apples or pears - or if you're on-the-go just use a shaker and take it with you.
Mark says Sportsfuel has one of the largest ranges of protein powders in New Zealand catering to all sorts of needs: "It's about finding the right protein powder based on your specific health and fitness goals."
To browse through a wide range of industry-recognised and science-proven brands and to find the right protein powder for you head to: www.sportsfuel.co.nz
* Always use the label and use as directed. Vitamins and minerals are supplementary to, and not a replacement for, a balanced diet.
Sportsfuel, 789 Te Rapa Rd, Hamilton