Eating enough protein can be difficult, which is why so many people use a protein supplement like protein powders or protein bars to help them reach their daily protein intake. I'm one of those people!
It wasn't easy finding the right protein powder for me.... I tried so many different ones, it's hard to count! Along the way I learned a few things about protein powder, and I want to share that information with you. So let's get started and find the best high-quality protein powder for you!
Types of protein and uses
If you have ever been to a health and supplement store or searched through Amazon for a protein powder then you know how overwhelming it is. There are so many different protein powders to choose from which makes it difficult for you to find the right one for your lifestyle and goals.
So I gathered the top types of protein and what they are used for to help make your life a little easier.
Whey protein powder
Whey protein is by far the most popular and commonly used protein powders. Whey is an animal-based protein that is found in the watery portion of milk that separates from the curds when cheese is made. It's commonly used by weight trainers because it contains all the essential amino acids, it's easily digested and absorbed, and can help with muscle growth.
There are three types: whey isolate, whey concentrate, or whey hydrolysate.
- Whey isolate - Highly concentrated protein content because it is processed to have most of the lactose and fat removed. Contains about 90-95% protein, but lacks some of the nutrients found in whey concentrate.
- Whey concentrate - Has some lactose and fat removed, but not as much as isolate. This is why people say it’s the best tasting protein. It contains an average of 70-80% protein.
- Whey hydrolysate - This type of protein is "pre-digested" so it gets absorbed faster. It makes digesting it easier, but it does cause a greater spike in insulin levels than isolate does.
Whey protein concentrate is probably the best option out of the three. This is because it has the most beneficial nutrients naturally found in whey, it’s known for its flavor/taste, and it's usually cheaper than isolate protein.
For those who want the maximal protein with low fat and carbs then whey isolate or hydrolysate is the best option. The taste is not as great as concentrate, but you can always make it into a delicious protein smoothie by adding stevia, fruit, peanut butter, almond milk, or whatever your heart desires!
If you're sensitive to lactose then I suggest avoiding whey protein powder because it can cause bloating and gas. Opt for a vegan option - there are a lot!
Vegan protein powder
There are various plant-based options for vegans or for people sensitive to lactose who want to supplement with a protein powder. The protein source for these vary from hemp seeds, brown rice, yellow split peas, pumpkin seeds, and more.
Plant protein powders:
- Rice protein - Brown rice protein powders are relatively inexpensive and are said to have similar muscle-building effects as whey protein. It doesn't contain as much the essential amino acid lysine, but it is still a good source of BCAA's to support building muscle.
- Pea protein - This protein powder is made from yellow split peas, they contain higher protein which makes it an excellent source of vegan protein. Another great thing about pea protein is that it is rich in the essential BCAA's - leucine, isoleucine and valine. These amino acids help give you steady energy for your workout and minimize muscle protein breakdown.
- Hemp protein - Hemp seeds come from the cannabis plant and are processed to make hemp protein. But don't worry, hemp seeds contain little to no traces of THC! It's considered not a complete protein because it contains low traces of lysine. It also has less grams of protein compared to other vegan options. But it is a great source of fiber, magnesium, omega fatty acids, and iron.
These are just three plant protein powder sources, there are many more! Pea protein is probably the best option because it contains the most BCAA's and when combined with resistance training it can help increase muscle mass. Those with digestion issues or stomach sensitivities, hemp protein is your choice because it's easy to digest and still has good sources of iron, fiber, etc.
Casein protein powder
Casein, like whey, also comes from milk. Casein is 80% of the milk protein, and whey is 20%. But they have some crucial differences. Casein is absorbed slowly which helps you stay fuller longer and it also has all the essential amino acids. People often take this type of protein before bed because the slow absorption rate helps with recovery and reduces muscle breakdown.
There are two types of Casein:
- Micellar casein - Digests slowly and is the most popular form
- Casein hydrolysate - Predigest and absorbs rapidly
Try to prioritize a high protein diet, eat foods like chicken, salmon, beef, eggs, nuts, legumes, etc. Then use protein supplements as needed, like to reach your protein goal or post-workout for muscle recovery.
Which protein powder is best?
The best protein powder depends on your personal fitness goals, but also your lifestyle. I broke this down into 4 categories:
Build muscle - The best protein powders for this are casein and whey isolate. A few suggestions are:
- Optimum Nutrition Gold Standard 100% Whey Protein plus concentrate provides 24 grams of protein and 5.5 grams of BCAA's
- Dymatize Nutrition Elite Whey Protein is a concentrate and isolate, contains 24 grams of protein and 5 grams of BCAAs per scoop
Weight loss - For those wanting to lose weight, look at the ingredients of the protein powder you're buying. Make sure there are no added sugars or artificial sweeteners. Try to look for a combination of whey and casein because they keep you full longer and help with fat loss. A few suggestions are:
- Optimum Nutrition Gold Standard 100% Casein Protein has 24 grams of protein per scoop and has minimal ingredients
- Isopure Whey Protein Isolate has 25 grams of protein per scoop and it's sweetened with monk fruit so it has only 3 grams of sugar per serving
Low carb - Those suffering from diabetes or simply following a low carb diet should look for whey isolate protein because it is processed to remove most of the fat and lactate. There are also powders that are specifically for keto and low carb diets, just make sure to read the ingredient label to ensure that it is! A few suggestions are:
- Isopure Zero Carb Whey Protein Isolate has 25 grams of protein per scoop and 0 grams of carbs
- Combat 100% Isolate has 24 grams of protein per serving and no carbs, fats, or sugars
Vegan - Plant-based and dairy-free protein powders are the best option for vegans and anyone that is lactose intolerant. Look for hemp, rice, or pea protein. Here are two of the best vegan protein powders:
- Garden Of Life Raw Organic Protein has 22 grams of sugar-free, pea and and sprout protein with each serving, it also contains probiotics and is non-gmo
- MRM Veggie Elite is a blend of pea and brown rice protein with vegan digestive enzymes containing 24 grams of protein per serving. It's also gluten free, soy free, and has no artificial sweeteners, flavors, or colors.
The great thing is that all of these can be found on Amazon, but if you don't have a membership then check GNC or your local health store.
What to look out for
I always suggest to try to get most of your protein from natural food sources, but sometimes a protein shake or two are needed to help you reach your goal. Some protein blends have a lot of additives that can actually sabotage your goals, instead of helping. Here are a few things you should look out for when buying protein...
- Short ingredient list - Look for a protein powder with minimal ingredients. Your supplement should be mostly protein and very little fillers.
- At least 20g per scoop - The amount of protein per scoop is important! Protein powders are often used for smoothies as a meal replacement or snack, so make sure it has at least 20g per scoop and less than 5g of carbs.
- Pick a neutral flavor - There are so many flavours available on the market, but remember that often protein comes in a large tub, so if you are cake batter or cookie dough lover - go for it! But if you think you can get tired of this easily - then consider going with the classic chocolate or vanilla.
- Stay away from artificial sweeteners - Added sugars can make digesting the protein difficult. Look out for sugars ending in "ol" or "ose", also for dextrin and maltodextrin. You can always add your own sugar like stevia to your shake to sweeten it up.
Just make sure to read the nutrition label!
The best protein powder really depends on your overall goals, and I hope this information will guide you to find the right one for you!