Protein is one of the three macronutrients, among fat and carbohydrates, that are essential in order for the body to function properly. Unfortunately, many people often consume much less protein than needed. (Check out this blog post to figure out how much protein you need)
An easy way to increase the amount of protein you consume is through the use of protein powders. Just one scoop can yield anywhere from 15-30 grams of protein! But which protein powder should you choose? There is a myriad of protein powders out there and they are not all created equally. In order to help, I have created this simple guide to help you choose the protein that best fits you and your goals.
1. Whey Protein
Whey protein is derived from milk and is arguably the most popular variety of protein powder on the market. Whey is quickly absorbed by the body and thus excellent taken post-workout. It is also inexpensive and tastes great! When buying whey protein, look at the ingredient list. Depending on the brand, many whey proteins may have a bunch of artificial sweeteners and chemicals that give it that great "red velvet cheesecake" flavor.
Unfortunately, there are quite a few people with lactose intolerance and dairy allergies that should stay away from whey protein as it may cause digestive problems.
2. Casein Protein
Casein protein is also derived from milk and offers similar benefits as whey. However, casein digests over a longer period of time (about 5-7 hours) making it ideal for a meal replacement rather than taken post-workout. Casein is also less soluble in liquids than whey, making it slightly more difficult to drink when mixed with water, but great in recipes!
As with whey, because casein protein is derived from milk, it is not suitable for individuals with lactose intolerance or those wishing to avoid animal products.
3. Soy Protein
Soy protein is one of the few plant-based complete proteins and a great alternative to whey or casein for those who avoid dairy and/or animal products. However soy protein often has a strange flavor and is highly processed. If you choose to use soy protein, look for soy protein isolate, as it contains more protein, isoflavones, and less cholesterol and fat than soy protein concentrate.
4. Pea Protein
Pea protein is another plant-based protein that often contains very few additives and artificial ingredients, making it very close to its whole-food source. Unlike soy however, pea protein is deficient in certain amino acids, making it an incomplete source of protein. If you choose to use pea protein, make sure to consume other sources of protein as well.
5. Hemp Protein
Hemp contains all 21 of the essential amino acids, making it another plant-based complete protein source. Hemp also contains a mix of essential fatty-acids (omega-6) and has a high fiber content, leading many people to refer to it as a "superfood". Thanks to the high fiber content of hemp, some studies suggest that it may even be helpful for weight loss.
Unfortunately, due to hemp being derived from the seeds of the cannabis plant, it is only harvested in mass quantities in select countries, making it extremely expensive.
6. Weight Gainers/Mass Gainers/Meal Replacements etc.
These are often blends of protein (usually whey) and high-carbohydrate ingredients used to replace meals and/or consume more calories than can be done with food alone. These are usually consumed by athletes with high energy requirements that have difficulty consuming enough food for their intense training. As expected, they are often full of additives, artificial sweeteners and chemicals to help bring the calorie counts up.
These products can be great for someone who struggles putting on or maintaining their weight through food alone. But consuming these products will not necessarily increase muscle mass. In fact, the extra calories in these shakes can lead to fat gain if consumed in excess and if training/exercise does not match consumption.
Well there you have it, a simple guide to protein powders. I hope this was informative and lessened some of the confusion. Now you can go out and choose the best protein powder for you!