Protein powders – are they safe? are they necessary?

blueberry protein smoothie

Nutrition for health | October 13, 2015

The biggest guys at the gym all take protein powder, celebrity athletes endorse it, and just look at the photos on the tubs, these powders get you ripped! Or do they? Are protein supplements just burning a hole in your wallet? Are they replacing fibre containing meals and leaving you constipated? Or worse still are they negatively affecting your health from contaminants undeclared on the label?

Some people have higher protein requirements than the general population, and could potentially benefit from a protein supplement:
– endurance athletes in heavy training
– Strength athletes in the initial stages of training
– athletes trying to gain body mass.
Most people will meet their protein needs easily through regular diet, but if you are vegetarian or vegan you may need to consider protein powder. Protein powders could also be more convenient for time-restricted carnivores. The key number to remember is 20g protein. This should be high biological value (i.e. animal or soy protein) to contain all the amino acid building blocks to repair and grow your muscle. Any more protein than this does not stimulate any more muscle growth. Taking 20g protein several times a day can keep muscle protein synthesis maximised during the 24hrs after a workout. To achieve this through normal diet see my blog post on ‘Tone up with your 20g recovery protein’.

The main issue here is that the supplements industry is unregulated. Protein powders are not classed as food or medicine, and so many brands when randomly tested have been found not to match up with the label. There have been several lawsuits over the past year over protein supplements containing half the amount of protein promised on the label, but containing extra carbohydrates. They can also be contaminated with steroids and stimulants, which is a risk you cannot take if you are undergoing doping for elite level sports (visit WADA for more information on this).

If you have made the decision that you would benefit from a protein supplement you will need to consider how to take it effectively and safely.
Effective: – Take the supplement in portion sizes equivalent to no more than 20g protein, any more than this cannot be used by the body.
– Aim to take the supplement within the 30minute ‘recovery window’ after exercise.
– Take alongside carbohydrates in a ratio of 4:1 carbs:protein. The carbohydrates will encourage muscle synthesis by stimulating the release of insulin, a natural anabolic hormone.
– Choose a brand that has been tested so you know the contents match up with the label: look for the Informed Sport logo on the packet.
Safe: – I would not recommend taking any supplement that has not been safety tested in a laboratory. Look for the Informed Sport or NSF mark on the packet. Don’t worry there are absolutely loads who go through this quality assurance process, you will still have a wide choice.

In conclusion I’d say yes, protein powders can be safe, but are they necessary? No. You can get the same protein from REAL FOOD, it’s not that time consuming, and it tastes better.  Seeds whizzed up into smoothies are almost flavourless, and once blitzed give a lovely angel delight texture with no grainy bits. Chia seeds particularly are great for adding extra protein and have the added bonus of omega three oils, perfect for anti-inflammatory effects post exercise. I’ve been making this ‘recovery smoothie’ for years and absolutely love it. Give it a go, its beats anything out of a tin or a packet.


Chia & Blueberry Protein Recovery Shake
Yields 1
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Total Time
5 min
Total Time
5 min
  1. 1 cup frozen blueberries
  2. 1 banana
  3. 1 heaped tsp chia seeds
  4. 4 tbsp low fat natural yoghurt
  5. 300ml semi-skimmed milk
  1. Put all ingredients into a blender.... and blend!
  1. use a frozen banana if you like your smoothies extra thick, or if you fancy a smoothie bowl for the added satisfaction of eating your smoothie with a spoon
  2. Substitute in unsweetened, calcium fortified soya milk and soya yoghurt for a dairy free alternative
  3. A full portion would constitute one of your 5 daily meals/ snacks
Nom Nom Nerd

Front of Pack Nutrition Labelling:

Nutrient per 100g %RI per 723g serving %RI
Energy kJ 258 3% 1866 22%
Energy kcal 61 3% 443 22%
Fat 1.4g 2% 10.5g 15% Low
Saturated Fat 0.7g 3% 4.7g 23% Low
Total Sugars 8g 8% 57.9g 64% High
Salt 0.1g 1% 0.6g 10% Low
Protein 21.1g __ 2.9g

Beef Jerky – are you man enough?

beef jerky

Nutrition for health | October 6, 2015

A request for ‘man snacks’ came recently from one of the alpha males in my extended family. I  laughed initially at the thought of snacks being gender aligned, until I took myself and my husband as an example:

Snacks for me: – Fresh fruit, dates, dried apricots, dark chocolate, home made oat cookies, bliss balls.

Snacks for hubby: – Crisps, nuts, meat sandwich. Sometimes all three combined. 

I see a theme here. Unsurprisingly this topic has already been extensively researched. A well referenced article in the Guardian concludes that there is little science to explain why men should eat in a different way to women, but it’s a cultural thing. Men eat steak to show they are men. Women eat chocolate because we have learnt that it’s a forbidden treat just for us. 

Whether it’s culture or innate the fact remains that men generally prefer savoury foods. This clashes with many sports nutrition products. Sports shakes, gels, bars, drinks are all generally sweet. There’s also the problem with healthy snacks, if you’re not after something sweet but you need a snack vegetable crudites may not cut it for you, and will certainly not enhance sports performance.

So I offer you my top 3 savoury man snacks. High in protein, nutrients and healthy fats these snacks will keep you full and help you sidestep the mid-afternoon empty calorie hiccup. If you’re trying to build muscle at the gym a high protein snack will help contribute to your 5-6 /d protein based meals or snacks. Your body cannot utilise more than 20g protein in one sitting so spacing it through the day helps encourage muscle growth during the recovery phase post resistance training (research).  

    1. Jerky: Lean seasoned ready to eat meat. Good for kit bag post workout or briefcase post long day at the office. Pretty much the ideal high protein snack if you’re careful about which you buy if going for shop-bought. Check the labels and choose the ones that have less salt and sugar and are actual meat slices rather than reconstituted meat. Preferably make you own form the recipe below, or if beef’s not your thing substitute in turkey, pork or salmon. One 30g portion provides Calories: 89 kcal Protein: 12 g
    2. Almonds: Almonds are high in fibre, high in satiating healthy mono-unsaturated fats and low in calories relative to other nuts. Studies have shown that eating a handful of almonds daily leads to less calories consumed overall and enhanced weight loss and fat loss when compared to diets higher in carbohydrates without almonds (summary of research on  One handful (22 nuts) provides Calories: 164 kcal Protein: 6g
    3. Vegetable crisps with humous: If you don’t own a mandolin buy one now! Homemade veggie crisps are a healthy & delicious alternative to potato crisps (chips). Eat with humous for the protein and healthy fats to make it a satiating snack. Experiment with different veggies – personal favourites here are beetroot, parsnip and butternut squash. Coat with favourite seasonings – I love smoked paprika or garlic salt. Thinly slice, spritz with olive oil, sprinkle with seasoning and pop in the oven for 15min at 180degreesC. Leave in the oven for an extra hour with the heat off checking every now and then to see if crisp. 


Beef Jerky
Yields 10
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Prep Time
24 hr
Prep Time
24 hr
  1. 500g lean beef steak eg sirloin
  2. 70ml sweet cider (or unsweetened apple juice)
  3. 1tbsp balsamic vinegar
  4. 1tbsp fish sauce
  5. 1tsp dijon mustard
  6. 1tbsp honey
  7. 1tsp liquid smoke
  8. a good few grinds of a black pepper mill
  9. 1tsp smoked paprika
  10. 1tbsp garlic powder
  11. 1tsp onion powder
  12. 1tsp salt
  13. 1tbsp sesame oil
  14. 1tsp crushed red chilli
  1. Cut away all visible fat from the steaks
  2. Put in the freezer for 60min to firm up and make slicing thinly easier
  3. Cut into 6mm thick strips. Cut at an angle to the grain of the meat.
  4. Put into a zip lock bag and add all remaining ingredients. Mix well.
  5. Leave in fridge to marinate for 24hrs.
  6. Lay marinated steak slices directly onto your oven rack. If they fall through use a cooling rack on top of the oven racks.
  7. Lay an oven tray or a sheet of foil over the base of your oven to catch drips.
  8. Dry out in oven at 70degreesC with door wedged open with a wooden spoon. Leave in oven for 3hours, then turn over and leave for another 3hrs.
  9. The jerky is ready when you can tear a piece of meat off but it doesn't snap (which means its overdone).
  1. If you don't eat beef try pork, turkey or salmon.
  2. Liquid smoke can be hard to come by in shops but is easy to order online. The recipe works well without it too.
Adapted from the healthy foodie
Nom Nom Nerd

Front of Pack Nutrition Labelling:

Nutrient per 100g %RI per 30g serving %RI
Energy kJ 591 7% 378 4%
Energy kcal 141 7% 90 4%
Fat 5.6g 8% 3.6g 5% Med
Saturated Fat 1.8g 9% 1.2g 6% Med
Total Sugars 2.5g 2% 1.6g 1% Low
Salt 1.1g 18% 0.7g 11% Med
Protein 18.8g __ 6g