If you read my prior post about The Benefits of Protein, you may now be asking yourself, “what about protein powder? Which one is right for me?” Here is what you need to know!
Protein powder can be found at many supermarkets, sports nutrition stores or online. Going into a sports nutrition store like Vitamin Shoppe or GNC can be overwhelming when you not only realize that there are different brands and flavors to choose from, but different types all together. Some of the most common types are:
- Whey (Derived from Milk)
- Soy Protein
- Vegan Protein (typically derived from brown rice or peas)
- Egg White Protein
- Hemp Protein
- Beef Protein
- Casein Protein (Derived from Milk)
Overwhelmed yet? Don’t worry, I am about to break it down for you.
The question obviously is “which one is the best?” The answer to this question though is that it depends on the person. This doesn’t mean though that you need to go out and try every type and then try to decide. I will try to simplify it for you. The following are the main factors that go into deciding which protein powder is right for you.
- Specific allergies or dietary restrictions
- Absorbability of the protein
Specific Allergies or Dietary Restrictions:
This one sounds obvious, however it can get a little bit tricky. Let’s start with the obvious part. Example: You are allergic to soy, don’t get soy protein. Simple. Example 2: You are a vegan, don’t get protein that is derived from animal sources. Now I wouldn’t have written this section if it was so simple and here is where the tricky part comes in.
Whey protein: Whey protein is the most popular protein powder on the market for many reasons that you will see later in this article. As mentioned above, Whey protein is derived from milk, and many people either have a dairy allergy or intolerance. A dairy allergy though is not nearly as simple as most other allergies. An individual typically either has problems with the fat in dairy or the protein in dairy. To complicate things even more, milk protein is typically 80% casein protein and 20% whey protein, and individuals typically have more issues with the casein protein. Therefore if you think that you have problems with dairy, it is possible that you will be fine with Whey protein. One should always consult their doctor prior to ingesting something if they don’t know how their body will respond. However, it is not black and white that if you have problems with dairy then you will have problems with Whey protein.
Absorbability of Protein:
Different protein sources have different Biological Values (BV). This sounds fancy, but all you need to know is that it is a measure of how well your body can absorb and efficiently use the protein. Also proteins with higher BV values have more essential amino acids (Good Thing) I list below the approx. BV’s of the protein powders mentioned above.
- Whey: 104
- Egg White: 88
- Beef: 80
- Casein: 80
- Soy: 74
- Vegan: 60 (Varies slightly depending on what type of vegan powder)
- Hemp: Very Low (Couldn’t find consistent number)
So there you have it, everything that you have ever thought about how simple protein is just got turned on its head. A gram of protein doesn’t really equal a gram of protein. If you are more interesting in this topic, there is plenty of info on this subject available online, but for the purpose of this article I will move on.
As I mentioned before, whey protein, namely whey protein isolate is the most common protein powder on the market. It is also, as you probably guessed, the cheapest protein on the market. Typical prices for whey protein is about 3.7 cents/ gram of protein (this makes it one of the cheapest protein sources available!). This translates to approximately $13 per pound of powder. The other protein sources mentioned in this article are considered “boutique proteins” and are typically 1.5 to 2.5 times the cost of whey protein isolate.
Taste is something that should never be overlooked. Protein powder is never going to taste like Dr. Pepper, but with some knowledge and know how, it can end up being very delicious. Also, half of eating well and supplementing well is being satisfied at the end of the day, and this will never happen if you need to hold your nose to drink your protein.
My best tips for deciding what protein powder will taste the best is by using online reviews from different retailers. Typically it is very easy to see from the reviews what tastes good and what doesn’t, as it is usually the first sentence of a review. Optimum Nutrition is known for having the great tasting and thelargest variety of flavors, but many others are great too. I would recommend searching around for what flavor you want because there is no shortage of different types, from simple vanilla to peanut butter cookie dough. Just remember that you are typically buying a tub which is a commitment (15-100) servings, so do some research.
The last note in this section is that different protein powders have different textures. This is a result of some of them being more water soluable than others. For example Whey protein powder will always blend up smooth because it is soluable whereas vegan protein will have a gritty taste to it (not the end of the world but not as enjoyable).
A quick note a wanted to make was the difference between Casein protein and the other types of protein. Casein protein is a very slow absorbing protein powder, meaning that it will give you a very slow release of protein. It is typically used by body builders to get extra protein before bed. I personally do not recommend it due to my own beliefs on casein and goals.
If you are interested in protein powder then you are most likely interested in health and fitness as a whole. For many of us, that means trying to eliminate as many chemicals and filler garbage. There are protein powders available that are much “cleaner” i.e. sweetened with stevia and less additives.
Protein blends are something new on the market these days. They are typically protein powder mixed with some form of creatine and or other enhancers. Although I am not against creatine or enhancers as a whole (I take creatine daily), It is more responsible to take them separately so that you get the proper porportions.
So there you have it, I have laid out for you the groundwork for picking the proper protein powder for you. Through all the different criteria, whey protein is the cheapest, most effective and typically best tasting. However, it is important to look at your goals and your body and decide which protein powder will be most effective. I would highly recommend getting the smallest size available, or a trial packet if you can when you are first trying to decide which is right for you. Then when you feel like you know what works for you, go for the big jug.
My Personal Recommendation:
I have used many different protein powders, mainly whey and vegan. I have tried many flavors from Optimum Nutrition (ON) and can attest that they are good and cheap. My current protein powder however that I use on a daily basis is Source Naturals Whey Concentrate. I feel like this is the best because A. it is Whey (fast absorbing), B. The milk used to derive the whey is from grass-fed cows, C. The only ingredients are the actual protein itself, vanilla extract and stevia, and D. the taste is mild so I can put it in anything from a green shake to homemade coffee ice cream and it doesn’t overpower. The only downside is the cost which is approx. 1.75 times more than standard whey protein.
Wondering why protein is important? See my post The Benefits of Protein