Before you use a protein product you should ask yourself a couple of important questions – do you exercise intensely? And do you exercise often?

If you don’t, be warned: protein is not a magical ingredient. Nothing in life comes without a bit of effort (sadly!) and you won’t get any of the benefits of protein – like increased muscle mass or healthier bones – unless you’re willing to put the time and sweat in too.

But if you are pounding the pavements or hitting the gym then the question is not do you need protein – it will certainly help you – but what sort of protein do you need?

Fortunately, it’s not too complicated. There’s a few different types of protein-based product around, but the most common by far are protein powders. You can make them up with water, you can make them up with milk, you can get them in virtually all the flavours under the sun.

Powders are available in virtually every store or website selling sports nutrition and convenient for pretty much every occasion – just add water or milk to some powder (don’t worry, the packet will tell you how much powder, just make sure to follow the instructions!) and off you go. Many sports nutrition firms will often throw in a free mixer flask too, either because they’re very generous or because you’re then carrying round free advertising for them…

  • There’s protein drinks too, often called RTDs (or ready-to-drinks). They are marginally more convenient than powders – no more of the fiddly work of adding a liquid to a powder – and widely available too. Perhaps best for you when you want something on-the-go and you’ve left your powder at home.
  • Protein bars are also increasingly popular. Thanks to years of innovation in the sector (you don’t want to know what the first protein bars tasted like) they’re perfect as a snack full of flavour and a lot healthier than your average chocolate bar. You can get bars in specialists and, increasingly, mainstream outlets too – sometimes even sitting on the shelves by the tills to replace those very same chocolate bars.

Whatever you’ll buy will be your choice, but when buying we’d suggest a few simple steps:

  • Mind your health! OK so if you’re running 5k at lunch or spending an hour in the gym after work then you probably think you’re fine – but not always. Are you a diabetic for example? Do you have an underlying health condition? Take all this into account before spending your money on a protein product – and consult a healthcare professional if you’re unsure.
  • Do a bit of research, especially if you’re vegetarian or vegan. There are a few different types of protein out there: you can find out more in our “10 steps to buying protein guide”.
  • Buy according to your needs. Looking to bulk up? There’s a protein for that. Looking to manage your weight? There’s a protein for that too – but probably a different one. Think about what you want from your sports nutrition and hunt out the best products to help you meet your goal.
  • Looks dodgy? Don’t do it. Promises something that sounds too good to be true? It probably is. You wouldn’t buy a car at half the price of other cars from a website you’ve never heard of, so why do the same for protein? If in doubt, click close on the tab, and look for a product bearing the ESSNA kitemark – a protein powder or bar or drink you know will be safe, effective and do exactly what it says on the label.