You've likely heard that there are benefits of protein powder when it comes to a healthy lifestyle—and particularly so for women passing through menopause. However, you may also be confused about exactly how sipping on a protein shake or tucking into protein pancakes will help supercharge your nutrition. Well, we've served up the expert take below on to use it as part of your workout routine, whether your goal is weight management or building fitness.
What's more, it's important to absorb all the facts in order to choose the best protein powders for you, and to make this handy nutritional supplement as much a part of your healthy routine as wearing your favorite fitness tracker. And, after you've got the bottom of why you should be fuelling up this way—especially if you're over 50—you can decide on the fun stuff. Like whether to enjoy your daily scoop stirred into your morning oats, or mixed with water or your milk of choice as part of a post-gym smoothie...
What the main benefits of protein powder?
1. Fat loss
If your aim is to reach a healthy weight in a sustainable way, then protein powder can be very helpful. It helps you feel fuller for longer—keeping cravings at bay.
"Protein can reduce hunger, which subsequently reduces snacking, leading to fewer overall calories consumed," says nutritionist Rob Hobson. "What's more, it has been linked to a slightly higher metabolism, meaning you burn more calories throughout the day—and even while you sleep at night."
But can't you get protein from food? "It is, of course, present in animal products—like meat, poultry, and fish—and through plant-based options, such as beans, pulses, and nuts," notes Gareth Nicholas, nutritionist for sports supplement brand Maximuscle. "However, for some people, an easy, convenient way to consume enough is through products like protein powders."
It's important to note that if you're enlisting protein powder for weight management, you can't expect it to do all the heavy lifting for you. In addition to a nutritious diet, regular exercise is also vital to help create a calorie deficit. This might include doing at-home workouts on a regular basis, trying out boxing for women, or giving something like Nordic walking a go.
2. Boosted muscle mass and bone health
Another important plus point is that it can help support muscle growth and improve bone density. Both of these become particularly crucial when considering fitness for women over 50. A study (opens in new tab) recently found that a decrease in the hormone estrogen during menopause was behind muscle loss, while women are particularly vulnerable to osteoporosis as they grow older and are twice as likely as men to break a bone.
"Protein is extremely important as we age," says Hobson. "Women going through menopause may see a decrease in muscle mass, and protein can help avoid this. Plus, bone mass density also declines due to a drop in the hormone estrogen." So it can be helpful to top up using protein powder.
Just like with healthy fat loss, protein powder can't do all the work in this regard. Strength training for women—whether using your body weight or a resistance band—is key to helping you reap all the benefits. It increases muscle mass, combats natural bone density loss, reduces the risk of injury, improves balance and posture, and also leaves you feeling empowered by your own body and its ability.
How much protein should I consume?
This varies for everyone. According to the British Nutrition Foundation, women aged 19 to 50 years old require approximately 0.6g of protein per kilogram of body weight every day. This means that a woman weighing 70kg—roughly 11 stone—would need 42g of protein daily. For the reasons mentioned before, this goes up for women over 50. It is recommended females in this age group consume 0.8g per kg of body weight, meaning that a woman of the same weight would now need around 56g of protein.
While this is a fairly easy target to hit if you're a meat-eater—a standard chicken breast alone provides around 31g of protein—it may be a little trickier, though not impossible, for vegetarians and vegans. As such, protein powder can be a helpful way to reach your daily target. Although whey protein powder isn't suitable for vegans, there are alternatives such as pea, hemp, rice, and soy.
What is the best protein powder?
Now, this really is all down to personal preference. For starters, there are numerous different types to choose between—from whey to rice and pea-based varieties—and which you go for depends on your dietary preferences. For instance, vegans should avoid whey and go for pea protein. Then there's the important matter of flavor—brands usually have options including chocolate, vanilla, and strawberry.
Then there are considerations like the quantity as well as price and beware of picking up powder packed with additives and hidden nasties. Your best bet is to check the label for one with minimal ingredients, that's also unsweetened. Some of the brands to make the cut in our best protein powder round-up include MyProtein, Innermost, and Shreddy. Enjoy!
Lucy Gornall is the former Health & Fitness editor at Future and a personal trainer specializing in pre and post-natal exercise.
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