Walk into any gym now, and amidst the loud thumping music and clanking of weights, you’ll hear the rattling of a shaker bottle. Supplements — especially protein-centric ones — have become so deeply ingrained in workout culture that it’s almost unfathomable to not get your fix before, during and after. For all its convenience, accessibility, and versatility, protein powder has been leading the charge for a long time now.

If you’re a fitness freak, chances are you’ll have a tub proudly sitting on your counter. But for the average beginner, it can be a hard habit to get into, simply because it’s no longer as simple as choosing between vanilla or strawberry. For starters, it’s hard to not be intimidated by the massive tubs they’re packaged in. Then there’s the fitness jargon, which will appear as a bunch of abbreviated gibberish.

Before you lose hope, we’ve created a beginner’s guide to starting on protein powder. These supercharged supplements are no longer reserved for bulky bodybuilders looking to get jacked, but for everyone leading an active lifestyle. Backed by intensive research and development, the protein powders of today not only speed up muscle growth, but also contain important nutrients for an energy boost, as well as amino acids for optimum muscle recovery.

Before you make your big first step towards a toned body, here are five things you need to know about protein powders.

Types of powders

The two most popular types in the market are milk-based and plant-based protein powders. The former, which includes whey, casein, and calcium casein, have been shown to increase lean body mass, decrease fat mass and suppress appetite effectively. However, while they’re rich in branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs), these dairy products may not be the best option for the lactose-intolerant. Plant-based powders derived from hemp, soy, rice, and peas are a good source of fibre, essential amino acids, vitamins, and complex carbs. Pea protein, in particular, is loaded with BCAAs, and can promote muscle just as well as its whey counterparts.

Portion control

Being an extremely important macro nutrient that’s integral in muscle-building, you’ll need to make sure you’re getting enough to see results. The average adult needs 0.8g of protein per kilogram of body weight per day, but you’re going to need to hit at least 1.5g if you lead an active lifestyle. For example, if you weigh 75kg, you’ll need a minimum of 150g of protein a day. A large cheeseburger would contain about 30g of protein, so you’ll have to work much harder than you thought in hitting your daily targets.

Timing is key

Depending on what your end goal is, the timing at which you consume protein powder will vary. Choosing those that are high in BCAAs 30 to 45 minutes before a workout will effectively give you an energy boost. For quick post-workout recovery, down a shake as soon as possible after exercise or within 30 minutes of completion, when protein uptake is faster. For maximum muscle recovery, consuming protein powders — especially casein ones — before bed will help stimulate muscle protein synthesis while you sleep.

Get creative

We can all agree that most protein powders don’t taste as good as their packaging promise them to be. It doesn’t mean you have to suck it up and down it; you just have to get creative. Protein powders are great additions to pancakes and smoothies for breakfast, as well as energy bites as snacks, or even mashed potatoes for dinner. For effective meal prepping, protein muffins will get you through the rest of the week effortlessly.

Scores matter

The old adage of “you get what you pay for” really applies to protein powders, so set aside a decent budget. Pay extra attention to the non-GMO certification and take note of the “score” on the packaging. Here are some of the most common ones.

PER (Protein Efficiency Ratio): measures protein quality by determining a protein’s effect on growth. Opt for anything over a 2.7 score.

NPU (Net Protein Utilization): measures the percentage of amino acids consumed that are converted into proteins and utilised by the body. Opt for anything over a 90 score.

BV (Biological Value): measures how well the body utilises dietary protein. Opt for anything over a 100 score.

PDCAAS (Protein Digestibility Corrected Amino Acid Score): measures protein quality based on human essential amino acid requirements and our ability to digest it. The top score of 1.0 is usually awarded to whey, casein and soy powders.

Shatricia Nair
Deputy Editor
Shatricia Nair is a motoring, watches, and wellness writer who is perpetually knee-deep in the world of V8s, tourbillons, and the latest fitness trends. She is fuelled by peanut butter and three cups of coffee a day.