If I had a dollar for every time I got asked this question, I’d be sipping smoothies on a tropical island far, far away.
The question, ‘what protein powder should I use’ comes up all the time, and as you’re navigating the roads of eating cleaner, it’s bound to play a role in your new or cleaned up eating routine. If you’re amping up your fitness routine, or trying to balance your blood sugar, eating a healthy amount of protein will be important to building muscle mass and boosting your metabolism.
The daunting part is, there are SO MANY to choose from. Every time I turn around, a new brand has sprouted up. Also, there are certain ingredients you need to be aware which can basically turn an otherwise healthy addition into a chemical %$#*storm. Choosing wisely requires some diligent label reading – unless you read this post where I’ve done the work for you and made some recommendations on brands I’ve vetted for quality, taste and nutrition. I hope you’ll share this with others to help avoid having to do the work!
To start, there are four main categories of protein powders ruling the market these days:
Up and Comer: Collagen Protein
Let’s break these proteins down a little more:
Whey Protein: Whey is a great way to build muscle, as it contains all of the essential amino acids and helps with recovery and also boost your immunity. That said, it can be effective in increasing muscle mass and for many, it is very easy to digest and blends up in a smoothie nicely. It’s generally preferred by bodybuilders and those looking to build mass quickly as you can get upwards of 29 grams of protein in a scoop. Derived from dairy, so if you have an intolerance to milk, this is probably not the best option for you. If not, the flavor and smooth, creamy taste is hard to beat. Expect to see ‘Grass-Fed’ or ‘Pasture Raised’ emblazoned across whey protein containers everywhere, as it is a big trend right now and something I covered in my 8 Hottest Healthy Trends Report for 2017. The idea of grass-fed is the cow is eating mostly, if not all, grass and therefore, producing a better quality, more Omega 3-rich product.
Brands to try:
Kura Nutrition Grass-Fed Protein
Orgain Grass-Fed Whey Protein
Natural Force Organic Whey Protein
Soy Protein: A vegan/vegetarian option for those who don’t mind using soy, this protein also contains a complete amino acid profile and can be a powerful way to build muscle. Soy has also been shown to lower the risk of heart disease and lower cholesterol. If you’re going this route, be aware that soy is full of phytoestrogens, so depending on your life stage, this can be a good thing or one that can plague hormone balance. Since much of the soy grown nowadays is GMO, I recommend you go organic if you’re picking soy protein. The flavor can be a little more gritty but can be balanced out with fruit and a nice quality nut milk.
Pea Protein/Non-Soy Plant Protein Blends: Gaining popularity especially in the last few years for their allergen-free status, pea protein and other non-soy, plant protein blends containing grain protein (pea protein, brown rice protein, amaranth, buckwheat, millet, quinoa, lentil and any combination) have popped up in brands like gangbusters as fuel for the masses. It’s also non-dairy so good for vegans, and easy to digest. Pea protein has also been shown to support healthy kidney and heart function. While it may lack some of the amino acids in whey and soy, it’s a great non-dairy, clean option and offers up to 25 grams of protein per serving, depending on the brand.
Products to Try:
Garden of Life Raw Meal Organic Protein
Garden of Life Fit Protein (for weight loss)
Garden of Life Sports Nutrition Protein
Orgain Organic Protein
Nutiva Organic Plant Protein
Amazing Grass Protein Superfood
Collagen Protein: Think of collagen, the most abundant protein in your body, as the glue that holds it all together. This is my new favorite thing, primarily because I’m in my 40’s and in your mid-30’s, that stuff starts to break down and your skin, hair and nails start to show it, and your creaking bones and joints start to feel it. I recently found a brand called Vital Protein and they have Pasture-Raised and Wild-Caught Marine Collagen products – so if you don’t do whey, you have another option. The beautiful thing is it’s completely flavorless and easily mixes into warm or cold water flawlessly. I tried this recently and was surprised and how smooth it was, making it very easy to just shake it into your water bottle and go.
Products to try:
Vital Proteins Pasture-Raised Collagen Protein
Vital Proteins Marine Collagen (Wild Caught)
Bulletproof Collagen Protein
So, what’s the best protein? The one that you 1) digest best 2) like the taste best and 3) is clean. There are a lot of landmine ingredients in some of the most popular brands out there, so how do you know what to avoid in protein powders?
WHAT TO AVOID IN PROTEIN POWDERS
Warning: With the sea of protein products on the market, make sure to read the label thoroughly and opt for organic brands when possible to avoid artificial and chemical ingredients. Still, try to steer clear of the following ingredients:
- Excessive sugar; can read as cane sugar, organic sugar, etc
- HFCS (high fructose corn syrup)
- Artificial flavors, colors, additives preservatives
- Artificial sweeteners, like sucralose (splenda) and aspartame (sweet n’ low)
- Soy lecithin, xanthan gum and other gums
So how much protein should you get? This is based on your sex, age, activity level and your goals. If you’re an average build, in your early 40’s and fairly active but trying to eat cleaner, you can basically take your weigh, cut it in half and eat that many grams of protein per day. (130 lb. healthy woman, eat 65 grams of protein a day). Yet, if you’re a guy in his 20’s getting in shape for your first body building competition, that’s gonna’ look a lot different. Make sure to consult your healthcare professional for specific guidance based on your needs.
Protein powders can make it very easy for you to get your intake daily without having to cook anything, but certainly, you can also get your protein from whole foods like chicken, fish, beans, bison and other lean protein sources. I hope this helps in your pursuit of getting your intake of protein in effectively, healthfully and deliciously. Protein on!