Losing weight, shedding fat and getting stronger requires a two-pronged approach. A well-structured, challenging training regime is vital, as is a nutritious diet. While some women avoid protein powder for fear of getting big and bulky, this isn't the case. A protein shake after an intense workout can help repair your damaged muscle tissue and speed recovery. Protein shakes are just as beneficial for women as they are for men, writes trainer Shannon Clark on Bodybuilding.com.
Animal-Based Protein Powders
Animal-based protein powders are the most commonly available in supplement stores. Whey protein contains fast-digesting branched-chain amino acids, which kick-start muscle recovery, while casein powder digests more slowly, writes nutritionist Nanci Guest in Oxygen magazine. Whey is the better choice after an intense workout as it is broken down more quickly and contains a higher percentage of protein, with around 25 grams of protein in a 30-gram scoop.
Plant-Based Protein Powders
It may be harder to get protein from a vegetarian diet, especially one that supports an intense training schedule, but plant-based protein powders can help. Soy, brown rice and hemp protein are all vegetarian-friendly options. While they may have a slightly lower protein content than animal-based powders, soy comes closest with 20 to 25 grams of protein per scoop. Studies have shown that soy may not have quite the same benefits as whey, but for all but the most elite athletes, the difference is insignificant, writes Guest.
Recovery Protein Powders
Many protein powders are sold as specialist recovery drinks. These contain protein, as well as carbohydrates and electrolytes. The carbohydrates replenish lost muscle glycogen, thus increasing recovery speed. Electrolytes help to rehydrate you and replace fluid and essential minerals lost through sweat. These may be more beneficial if you can't eat a solid meal for a few hours after training and need extra calories to sustain you.
The best protein powder is the one that fits your budget and dietary needs. There's no need to take a protein powder if you don't wish to -- a meal containing a source of protein such as chicken, salmon, eggs or beans, after a workout will be just as beneficial. Check with your doctor before taking any new supplements and always buy your protein powder from a reputable manufacturer.
Mike Samuels started writing for his own fitness website and local publications in 2008. He graduated from Peter Symonds College in the UK with A Levels in law, business and sports science, and is a fully qualified personal trainer, sports massage therapist and corrective exercise specialist with accreditations from Premier Global International.