I’m a pescatarian athlete. Being competitive, I want to be faster and stronger than my friends. Some of them swear by their post-workout protein drinks, and I was curious: do protein supplements improve athletic performance? As a pescatarian, do I need a protein supplement anyway, since I don’t eat many animal products? (I do eat a lot of eggs.) If I do need one, what are some options that are minimally processed, and based on protein from plants or humanely-treated animals?
First question: do protein supplements improve athletic performance?
Maybe: The idea is that ingesting protein within a half hour or so of a strenuous workout promotes muscle recovery. Protein drinks are a convenient way to get the protein quickly into your system. I usually eat a handful of almonds directly after a workout, followed by an egg-and-veggie breakfast a couple hours later. Livestrong.com suggests almonds are not the best choice for post-workout protein intake. Shoot.
Maybe not: Robb Wolf posits that unless you’re a competitive (I think meaning elite) athlete, you don’t need to worry about a post-workout meal at all. (See comments on this article; the permalink to the specific comment is broken.) Wolf’s site also says because liquid is absorbed faster than food, a protein drink could spike your insulin levels in a way that protein-rich food would not. Here are some real-food post-workout snack alternatives to liquids.
Answer: Unclear, leaning toward yes.
Second question: as a pescatarian, do I need a protein supplement?
Maybe: Precision Nutrition prescribes protein supplements and branched chain amino acids to vegetarian athletes.
Maybe not: According to this article, vegetarians who eat lots of dairy and soy probably get enough protein. I don’t eat much of either, but I do eat a lot of eggs. Precision Nutrition does not support heavy reliance on dairy for protein intake because lactose intolerance and milk protein allergies are so common.
Answer: Unclear, leaning toward no.
Third question: what are some protein supplement options that are minimally processed, and based on protein from plants or humanely-treated animals?
Many protein powders have some weird stuff in them—additives and fillers to make them palatable. Powders are, by definition, processed foods, so if you try to avoid processed foods, well, there you go. If you’re gluten-free, read the fine print as some protein powders contain glutamine peptides as a cheaper filler protein.
Protein powders generally come in two types: plant-based protein powders, and whey protein powder.
The most common plant-based proteins used in supplements are:
- Hemp protein
- Brown rice protein
- Yellow pea protein
This article gives an overview of the three types above. In it, the author, who is a vegan, gives advice to an active reader curious about protein powders. She seems to rank them hemp, brown rice, yellow pea, from favorite to least, saying hemp protein powder has more fiber than the others, and brown rice protein is hypoallergenic.
Recommended (by people on the internets, not me) plant-based protein powders:
- Nutiva Hemp Protein Powder. Contains no hexane, gluten, dairy, lactose or sweeteners. GMO-free.
- Sunwarrior Warrior Blend. A blend of pea protein, cranberry protein, and hemp protein. No gluten, soy, added sugar, or yeast. Hypo-allergenic.
- NutriBiotic Rice Protein. Made without chemicals, animal products, soy, or gluten. GMO-free.
- Garden of Life RAW Protein. Made from sprouted rice, beans, and seeds. Gluten- and dairy-free.
Whey is a byproduct of cheesemaking. If purchasing whey protein supplements, ensure the whey is from grass-fed cows. I read a comment on one site that said Mark Sisson’s Primal Fuel is grass-fed whey, but I could not find evidence of that anywhere on the Primal Fuel site, so I’m guessing it’s not true. A Google search came back with a bunch of grass-fed whey options.
Recommended (by people on the internets, not me) whey protein powder:
- Miracle Whey. From grass-fed cows. GMO-free.
So I don’t have a solid answer: do I need a protein supplement or not? This calls for Science! I just ordered a powder and will report back.