I realised that I have mentioned protein powder in several of my posts, but have never specifically explained what to look for when choosing a protein powder. Let’s fix that.
The main categories of protein powders are:
- milk based protein powder (whey and casein)
- egg based protein powder
- plant based protein powder
The first thing to decide is what kind of protein powder is suitable for you, based on your personal and dietary preferences. If, for personal reasons, you do not consume animal products, for example, plant based protein powder would be the obvious choice for you.
You also need to consider potential allergies or food intolerances you may have, as that can influence what type of protein powder you can use. Make sure that the protein powder you pick doesn’t contain any ingredients that could cause issues for you.
The easiest example that comes to mind here is lactose intolerance. If you are lactose intolerant, a protein powder that is not milk based may be the easiest option for you. If you are lactose intolerant and would like to specifically use a milk based protein powder, you need to make sure it’s processed in a way that makes it lactose free.
Another important issue to pay attention to is the amount of added sugar in your protein powder of choice. For health purposes, it is recommended to keep the amount of added sugar in your diet fairly low. I would recommend going for a protein powder that doesn’t have any added sugar at all. After all, you’re looking to supplement your protein intake, not your sugar intake.
Most flavoured protein powders that do not contain added sugar likely contain sweeteners. If you have any trouble with or sensitivities to certain artificial or low calorie sweeteners, choose a protein powder that is either completely unsweetened, or make sure the specific sweetener you are sensitive to isn’t on the ingredients list.
Another point to consider is the amount of protein you get per serving in relation to the amount of calories per serving. Especially if you’re looking to achieve weight loss or trying to avoid weight gain, I would suggest choosing a protein powder that gives you a fairly high amount of protein (at least 20g protein per 30g serving), while keeping the calories under 120kcal per 30g serving.
The amino acid profile of your chosen protein supplement is another thing to consider. There are nine essential amino acids that your body cannot produce on its own, so you need to get them from food. The essential amino acids are histidine, isoleucine, leucine, lysine, methionine, phenylalanine, threonine, tryptophan, and valine. Protein sources that contain all nine of the essential amino acids in sufficient quantities are called complete proteins. Ideally, a serving of protein powder should contain all nine essential amino acids in sufficient quantities as well.
Proteins that come from animal sources are complete proteins, so you don’t need to pay as much attention to the specific amino acid profile when using milk or egg based protein powder. When it comes to plant proteins, the main complete plant protein that is commonly used in protein powders is soy protein.
If you prefer using plant protein powders, but don’t want to use soy protein, your best bet may be protein powders that combine plant proteins from different sources to get sufficient quantities of all nine essential amino acids that way.
Here is a comparison of the essential amino acid profiles of four different kinds of protein powder:
To make sure that your chosen protein powder is safe to consume longterm, go for a protein powder that’s third party tested for quality and contaminants if possible.
As useful as protein powders can be, it is important to remember that their purpose is to supplement your protein intake. They should not be your main source of protein. Try to get the majority of your daily protein from whole foods, and supplement with protein powder when necessary.
What’s your favourite protein powder?