Here’s Everything You Need To Know When Picking A Protein Powder
We hope this doesn’t come as a surprise to you, but it’s entirely possible to receive all of the nutrition your body needs — yes, including protein — from the food you eat. If anything, we as a society tend to overdo it in the protein department. Unless you follow restrictive dietary guidelines like vegetarianism or veganism, have food allergies, want to gain a substantial amount of muscle mass or wish to safely boost your weight loss results, you’re probably doing just fine at mealtime.
Now, plenty of you fall into one of those categories, which is probably why protein powder supplements appeal to you in the first place. And if you pick the right one for you and consume it the way you should, it can be a great addition to your overall nutritional plan.
Since finding a single product among the hundreds available feels pretty much impossible, we’ve broken down the process a bit for you below. Here are all of the things you need to consider in picking the right protein powder supplement for you.
Different Types Of Protein
Protein powder products will typically fall into one of three categories: concentrates, isolates and hydrolysates. These distinctions are used to describe how much of a powder’s composition is actually protein (as opposed to carbohydrates, fats, vitamins and minerals), which matters a great deal when it comes to achieving your intended goal.
Concentrates: Protein concentrates tend to be approximately 70-80 percent protein, the remainder being a combination of other nutrients. The body absorbs this one at a moderate pace, so it functions better as a dietary supplement during the day as opposed to immediately before or following a hard workout.
Isolates: Protein isolates are usually at least 90 percent protein, meaning they include fewer additional nutrients. These products require a little more refining and tend to be more expensive, but the body absorbs them faster than concentrates, making them ideal for post-workout refueling.
Hydrolysates: These products include partially-digested proteins like polypeptides and peptides, which sound pretty gross, but actually make for faster absorption by the digestive system. So these are fair game for workout recovery as well.
Different Protein Sources
While there are quite a few protein sources used in powder form out there, we’re going to focus on five: whey, casein, milk, egg and pea. Each of these boasts its own set of benefits, and there’s something in this list for everyone no matter their dietary limitations.
Whey: Whey protein is the most popular choice and ideal for anyone focused on muscle growth and fat loss. It digests the fastest of all the proteins on this list, which makes it most effective as a pre- and post-workout fuel. Whey protein makes up about 20 percent of cow milk.
Casein: Casein protein makes up the remaining 80 percent of cow milk and is the slowest to digest on this list. It also has the most glutamine, which is great for preventing muscle breakdown. Most people consume this protein before bed or in between meals to keep their recovery speed as quick as possible.
Milk: Believe it or not, milk protein might be one of the best options for folks who aren’t lactose intolerant because of its 80/20 blend of whey and casein. The body gets its fast-absorbing source of protein right after a workout and then continues to recover for hours afterward. (This is why chocolate milk is often recommended for long-distance runners after a race.)
Egg: Most egg proteins consist mainly of egg protein isolate, making it a high-quality and easily-digestible protein for those who can’t stomach milk products. Eggs also contain all of the amino acids the body needs for protein synthesis, which easily sets this protein apart from the rest of the bunch.
Pea: For all of the vegans out there, pea protein is by far your best option. It’s hypoallergenic (unless you’re allergic to peas, of course) and the body can digest 98 percent of it, making good use of almost all the nutrients it provides. It’s also the easiest to digest among all plant protein varieties.
Read The Nutrition Facts And Ingredients Label
Similar to normal packaged foods, protein powders have nutrition facts and ingredients labels, and you most definitely need to read them. The ingredients label should include no more than 10 things, and you should be able to pronounce and recognize most of them (or at least be able to Google them easily).
When it comes to the nutrition facts, be wary of high sugar numbers. Some powders can also be pretty heavy in carbohydrates and fats — especially if they’re protein concentrates — which makes them much higher in calories and not so helpful for someone trying to build muscle, as well as lean out. So if you’re worried about protein supplementation leading to unwanted weight gain, make sure to find a product that keeps the protein high (20 to 25 grams per serving) and the carbs and fat low (both between 1 and 5 grams).
The Brand Does Matter
We’d like to tell you not to judge a book by its cover, but you really do need to vet the brand you want before buying. Check out online reviews to see what other users have to say about their experiences with the products and see how long the company has been in business. Basically, just do your homework. If they’ve been around in the protein biz for a while, it means people are continuing to buy their stuff and seeing results from it.
And if you’ve narrowed it down to a few products you want to try and compare, look into whether they sell individual serving samples online or in your local supplement store rather than buying three big drums of protein at $30 a pop. Ain’t nobody got time (or money) for that.
Think About When You’re Going To Be Consuming It
As mentioned earlier, different proteins metabolize at different rates and aid muscle building and recovery in different ways, so you need to think about when you’re most likely to use the protein powder and pick a product with that detail in mind. For example, downing a casein product right before a CrossFit class probably won’t make you feel so great. Making a post-workout smoothie with a whey protein, on the other hand, will do your body so many favors as it enters recovery and refueling mode.
The Most Important Thing To Remember
Whether you choose to attain it via whole foods, powder supplements or a combination of the two, know that protein is one of the most important nutritional building blocks for the human body. Your average Joe can’t get a clean bill of health from the doctor without it, and high-level athletes can’t perform at their max without it. So just make sure you’re giving your body what it needs when it needs it without a bunch of added junk and chemicals, and you’ll be just fine.