One of the hottest crazes inspired by fitness fanatics, sports enthusiasts, bodybuilders, dieters, or anyone looking for overall wellness, is protein powders. Go to any supermarket aisle that sells protein powder and you’ll discover the options are endless. Varieties to choose from like whey, pea, soy, rice, and hemp, make shopping for a protein powder simply overwhelming.
But which one is best for you? Here’s what to know when searching for the protein powder to suit your needs:
Ask yourself first, do I really need to use a protein powder?
Protein is one of three macronutrients (carbohydrates and fat are the other two) necessary for building muscle mass and are required for the structure, function, and regulation of the body’s tissues and organs. Protein takes longer to digest and absorb making it a vital part of contributing to satiety preventing overeating helping us feel fuller longer.
Protein powders, drinks, and bars have become a big business and are considered mainstream in today’s society. Because of their popularity and are abundantly found everywhere, many people may believe they need to be adding protein powder to their diet for good health.
However, most Americans already get enough protein in their diet. We already have natural sources of high-quality protein easily obtained from animal food sources such as beef, poultry, pork, fish, eggs, and dairy. Protein is also found in plant-based food sources such as legumes, nuts, seeds, whole grains, and some in vegetables.
All of us can easily meet our protein needs by eating only natural, whole foods and these foods should always be your first choice for obtaining protein in your diet. These same foods are also packed with other nutrients besides just protein – nutrients such as vitamin B12, vitamin B5, selenium, magnesium, potassium, iron, and zinc. Natural sources of protein basically provide a much bigger nutritional punch than a protein powder will since protein powders will contain much fewer nutrients.
Most adults need between 25-30 grams of protein at each meal and between 10-15 grams of protein at a snack. Personal protein needs can also be calculated by multiplying the number 0.36 by your weight in pounds and then doubling that if you are very physically active. To help maintain muscle mass as you age, studies have shown that adults over 50 should consider consuming 0.68 grams of protein per pound of body weight. This has been shown to help older adults better able to rebuild and retain muscle mass preventing or at least slowing down the rate of sarcopenia which is age-related muscle mass loss.
Not everyone needs protein powder in their diet. Protein powders are simply a type of supplement meant to be taken in addition to what you’re already eating in whole food sources. That being said, protein powder can still be a convenient way to add additional protein to your diet if you skip meals or are dieting to lose weight, want to rely on a fast and convenient way to deliver protein after a workout, or if you want to boost your overall protein intake.
Be familiar with different protein powder types and uses
Anyone who has pondered over which protein powder to buy, quickly learns not all protein powders are the same. There are various types to choose from and knowing which type to be looking for will help you determine which one is best for you depending on your health and fitness goals.
Here is a look at different protein types and uses:
Whey Protein: This is a commonly used protein powder and is best for day-to-day use. When protein is made from an animal source so it will contain all nine of the essential amino acids and is the most easily digestible protein. If you are actively training with the intention of adding muscle mass, whey protein is a good one to choose. Whey isolates and concentrates are best to use after a workout.
Rice Protein: This protein powder is a plant-based option and can be effective for changing body composition and improving exercise performance. It is recommended not to use rice protein powder as your primary source of protein as it lacks all nine of the essential amino acids our body requires daily.
Soy Protein: Protein powders made from soy protein is another common choice. This plant-based protein powder is one of the only plant-based protein powders that contain all nine essential amino acids. This one is a good alternative for vegans who wish to avoid animal-based products.
Other types but lesser-known protein powders include:
- Egg protein – This is released more slowly than whey
- Pea protein – This is highly digestible, hypo-allergenic, and economical
- Hemp protein – This is 100% plant-based and is a good source of omega-3 fatty acids
Choosing the best protein powder for your fitness goals
Whichever protein powder you end up buying, will depend on the specific needs you are trying to accomplish. Are you wanting to build muscle, lose weight, watch your carb intake if you have diabetes? These are a few considerations to keep in mind when making the right choice for you.
Here are some general guidelines to get you on the right path:
Wanting to build muscle – Whey protein and whey isolates are the best options. They will help enhance muscle growth (as long as you are performing strength training regularly) and your body will be able to absorb and utilize it well.
Wanting to lose weight or go low-sugar for diabetes – The aim here is to choose a protein powder with no added sugars or dextrins/maltodextrins (sweeteners made from starch). Avoid powders that contain added branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs), as they promote muscle growth and weight gain. Also, look for a protein powder low in carbohydrates per serving (no more than 15 grams of total carbohydrates per serving).
Wanting to stay vegan – Following a vegetarian or vegan diet means you will need to avoid milk-based protein powders (like whey). Choose instead 100% plant protein powders such as soy, pea, or hemp.
Wanting to limit protein for kidney disease – For anyone needing to limit their protein intake due to kidney disease, before doing so, always check with your doctor for their opinion on using a protein powder. If your doctor approves, use protein powders with a lower-range protein content of no more than 15 grams of protein per serving.
Other considerations to know
Here are a few other words of wisdom to consider when buying or using a protein powder:
- Protein powders can be pricey; to save money, buy a tub of protein powder rather than more costly ready-to-drink protein shakes.
- As a consumer, look for a protein powder that is primarily just protein and is free of added sugar or artificial sweeteners.
- Consider adding a scoop of protein powder to a smoothie recipe such as mixing berries with almond milk and a banana; a banana, spinach, and water; or mango, with pineapple and coconut water.
- Best to use a protein powder within 60 minutes after a workout. That’s when your muscles are most responsive to the protein for the repair and growth process of muscle mass.