How to Choose the Best Protein Powder for You

Protein powders are an easy way to increase your overall protein intake. While it’s important to get the majority of protein through natural sources like chicken, fish, beef, eggs, yogurt and nuts and legumes, protein powder can be added to shakes, smoothies, oatmeal and even in healthier baked goods to give you a boost. Since the average person needs about 0.8-1.0 grams of protein (or more) per pound of bodyweight, the convenience of a powder can really help!

Protein powders are easy to sneak into shakes, smoothies, oatmeal and even dessert, like this acai bowl

Why do you need so much protein? Protein contains the amino acids that are necessary to build tissue In your body (think cells for muscles, skin, hair and nails), so whether you’re looking to build a strong body or just to eat a cleaner diet for overall wellness and energy, protein is where it’s at.

But with so many options for protein powder – plant-based from brown rice protein, cranberry protein, hemp seed, pea protein, or animal-based from whey (from cow or goat), egg white protein, casein and collagen – not to mention all the brands, flavors and claims – how do you choose which one is best for you?

Here are a few things to consider to narrow it down and find your new go-to:

CONSIDER THE SOURCE: Animal or plant-based?

Pros of plant-based powders:

Lactose intolerant, dairy-free or abstaining from animal products? Plant-based proteins are a great option for you!

Pro-tip: choose a plant-based protein that has a combined source for a complete amino acid profile. A protein needs all 12 branched chain amino acids to a “complete protein,” and mostly only animal products are complete, with the exception of quinoa. If you combine two plant-based proteins (like cranberry seed and hemp powders), you have a complete protein that your body can use to build tissue.

Vega is a popular brand for plant-based protein powder

Pros of animal-based powders:

Whey has lower carbohydrates and more protein per serving, and it’s a complete protein all on it’s own. Whey protein is best for use for before/during/after workout fuel because of it’s fast-digesting properties.

Pro-tip: Choose your whey from the best-made dairy available. Look for labels that say “grass-fed cows” or “USDA Organic.”

Casein is another dairy-based protein. It’s a slow-digesting protein, and usually only used before bed for athletes that want to prevent the risk of muscle loss overnight.

Collagen, known as a property in skin, has gotten a lot of attention lately as a dairy-free alternative powder that promotes joint health, gut health and improves the look of skin. It’s produced from the bones or skin of cows (beef collagen) or the scales of fish (marine collagen).

Goat whey is gaining popularity for those who want the fast-acting properties of whey without the digestion problems or controversies that can come from the cow dairy industry. Another animal protein is egg-white.

CONSIDER THE USE

Making protein-rich baked goods or pancakes, or shaking powder with water?

Plant-based powders tend to bake up better than whey, but whey protein blends smoothly with liquids in a shaker bottle. Don’t be afraid to have both on-hand!

CONSIDER THE OTHER INGREDIENTS

Look for a clean label, and avoid artificial sweeteners

It’s fine to have flavor! From chocolate to cookies ‘n cream, salted caramel to cappuccino and even “milk and cereal” there are tons of flavors out there! But make sure you turn the container around to look at the nutrition label and ingredients. You want a powder with a list that matches its front label. Using whey? It should read “whey protein (or isolate)” and then words and foods you recognize like cocoa, vanilla, peanut butter powder, etc. Check the “sugars” label if it’s listed as an ingredient.

Do watch out for ingredients with artificial sweeteners like sucralose or sugar alcohols like erythritol, sorbitol, xylitol, etc. They are lab-made sweeteners, and can cause gastrointestinal issues like bloating and are not advisable for those with IBS, and not much is know about their long-term effects. Natural sweeteners like stevia or monk fruit extract (both plants) are considered more “clean.”

CONSIDER: “Real food” is always better

Don’t be fooled by marketing campaigns from companies that promise their shake is the “healthiest meal of your day.” Your body needs micronutrients and fiber from real food, so a meal of chicken and broccoli or a salad with fish beats a shake any day. If you find yourself frequently replacing most of your meals with protein, rework some of your habits to get a real meal in your day!

A meal of whole foods is always better than a shake, but protein powders are a great way to supplement your overall protein intake.

 

MY CLEAN-EATING PROTEIN POWDER PICKS:

Plant-based protein: Sunwarrior Warrior Blend

Whey protein: Pure Whey Protein Powder

Collagen protein Vital Proteins Collagen Peptides

 

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