With the likes of Paleo, Primal and Dukan dominating the modern weight loss market, low-carb high-protein diet plans may not be news to us. However, when faced with the thought of a boiled egg for breakfast or a steamed chicken breast for dinner, it’s no wonder the majority of us save these diets for the meat-head bodybuilders and hardcore dieters. But protein doesn’t have to be so, well, ‘caveman’.
Low-carb pancakes, muffins, cookies, bread, ice cream… the protein replacements are endless and surprisingly tempting. How? Step in: Protein powder.
Muscles burn calories and so when we restrict our calorie intake our bodies can shift into ‘starvation mode’ – with muscle tissue the first thing to go. So, if weight loss is your goal, getting rid of such an efficient calorie-burning machine is surely a little counter-productive. Much better to preserve your lean muscle mass by making sure you get all your protein requirements, enabling the fat loss you want. Protein is the building-block of muscles so if you are exercising regularly then you will need additional protein to help repair and protect your muscles after working out.
Whey protein is an extremely easy and convenient way to add protein to your diet, hence the male-targeted advertising and bodybuilding misconceptions. But don’t let that put you off. And, whatever you do, don’t fall victim to the ‘female friendly’ products which are merely taking advantage of your insecurities and reducing the protein content. So what actually is whey protein?
A natural by-product of milk, whey makes up 20% of the protein in milk and, when separated, can be dried out of its water content to produce what we know as whey protein powder. Containing all nine essential amino acids, whey protein has numerous health benefits and anti-cancer properties, scientific studies proving its ability to lower cholesterol, blood pressure and reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease. From unflavoured whey protein to the abundance of sweet-tasting choices (chocolate caramel, banoffee, apple crumble, latte, cookies and cream, to name but a few), the options available far better resemble that of an ice-cream parlour menu than a health-conscious meal plan.
As with any food product, the quality can vary and it’s important that you read the ingredients and protein content before buying. Choose a high quality own-brand version with a minimum protein content of 80% to ensure both quality results and value for money. Because on first glance they don’t look cheap. Ranging from £10-£30 per kg, a typical serving size is 25g (one scoop) which works out at 40 portions, or a measly 25-75p for 20g of protein. So what can you do with it? Well the obvious, and most common, is a milkshake. Simply shake one or two scoops of high quality whey protein with milk, blending in anything else you want to add like bananas, berries, peanut butter etc.
You also don’t need to make your own. Low in fat and high in protein, Upbeat is the only protein drink made with fresh liquid protein, and with 20g per 250ml bottle (and less than 150 calories), it offers an easy and effective way to boost your daily protein intake. Even better, it tastes pretty great too.
However, for many people, it’s this idea of a smoothie or shake as a meal-replacement that’s most off-putting. This is where the baking comes in.
The basic rule for cooking with protein powder is to treat it as a direct replacement for flour. With only 1.5g carbohydrates per 25g you’ll be surprised at how satisfied you’ll feel with these low-carb equivalents. Whether you decide to cut out flour altogether or do a 50-50 combo is up to you, but when making bread, muffins, or anything with a bit of ‘rise’ I tend to favour a combination. And yes of course if you simply start whacking protein powder in everything you eat already then you probably will put on weight. But the whole point of it is to swap. Swap one scoop of flour with one scoop of protein, swap that half a tub of ice cream with a ice cream protein sundae (recipe below). You get the idea.
Here’s a few tried-and-tried-again recipes to get you started.
Whey Protein Breakfast Pancakes (American-style)
– 1 heaped scoop flavoured whey protein powder
– 1 egg
Whisk the egg and protein together, slowly pouring in enough milk to form a thick but silky batter. Heat a frying pan and spray with a little oil. Pour in the batter, one ladle at a time, and leave to settle. Remember, these are American-style pancakes not crepes, so keep them small). Once you begin to see bubbles coming through (about 20 seconds) use a spatula to gently flip the pancake and leave to cook on the other side. Transfer to a plate and repeat with the rest of the mix.
Whey Protein Ice Cream
– 2 scoops flavoured whey protein powder
– 2 large tbsp Greek yoghurt
Swirl together the yoghurt and whey protein. The protein will cling to your spoon but don’t be tempted to add more yoghurt, keep stirring until the mix is fully combined in a thick, gooey blob. The more yoghurt you add, the icier and less creamy the ice cream. Place in the freezer for around two hours and eat immediately.
*Adjust freezer time depending on the temperature of your freezer
** If freezing the ice cream for a longer period of time (up to two days), remove from the freezer before eating and allow to defrost naturally or stick in the microwave for 10 seconds a time, until your spoon sinks in.