Choosing the best protein powder can seem daunting with thousands of options available. Sports nutrition and health companies are aware protein is becoming a priority nutrient and supplemental protein can be found in most grocery stores and in all kinds of products: coffee, fruit and nut bars, pancake mix and pasta.
Here is a step by step guide to choosing the right protein powder for you:
YOUR CURRENT NUTRITION GOALS
To Lose Weight: Supplemental protein can be a great way to stay full without extra calories, promote muscle mass growth and retention while decreasing fat mass, and meeting your body’s daily protein needs.
To Boost Workout Recovery: Consuming supplemental protein after fasting and 30 minutes before exercise has been shown to increase energy expenditure post exercise and promote weight loss. Additionally, branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs) have been shown to help boost energy during exercise. Try drinking a protein shake with BCAAs in it before a morning workout.
While not as taxing on the body, short workouts of up to one hour still require the body to repair muscles and support growth. Studies show consuming protein and carbohydrates close to finishing intense exercise helps to promote muscle growth and replenishes glycogen stores (where carbohydrates are stored for fuel).
Longer workouts of 1–4 hours deplete glycogen stores more thoroughly compared to shorter workouts and require individuals to replenish these stores with more carbohydrates.
To Recover From Injury: Supplemental protein can be a great way to accelerate healing and meet the body’s protein needs without extra calories. Choose a low-carb protein powder with added arginine, vitamin A, vitamin C, vitamin E, zinc, vitamin D and calcium to support healing.
To Improve Sleep Quality: Studies show consuming 30g of casein before bed helps to improve sleep quality as well as muscle growth. Choose a protein powder with 30g of casein and little to no fat or carbs.
TASTE AND APPLICATION
While some people see protein powder as a means to an end for getting quality nutrients, others put taste as a higher priority when choosing food and drinks. Once the nutritional profile is decided based on goals, it’s time to choose a product based on taste and application.
Vanilla: Great for adding to smoothies, oatmeal, baked goods and other foods. Vanilla is widely available and is a more neutral flavor that won’t overwhelm the food being enhanced by the protein powder.
Chocolate: Great for chocolate lovers who could eat chocolate in every meal. Chocolate-flavored protein powders can be an overpowering flavor in some combinations so watch out if you don’t love all of your food tasting like chocolate.
Other flavors: While vanilla and chocolate are the standard flavors, manufacturers are coming out with new and inventive flavors every day. Try chai, strawberry banana, mocha, pumpkin pie spice or any other new flavor on the shelf.
ALLERGIES AND RISK FOR UNWANTED ADDITIVES
If you have a known food allergy, check the ingredient list for known allergens as well as whether the product was produced in a facility with known allergens.
A wide variety of certifications and third-party testing services exist for supplements. If you are competing in a sport with anti-doping control, it is imperative the supplements you put into your body are void of banned substances. Look for product labels indicating a supplement has received NSF Certification, been cleared by Informed Sport or otherwise tested for banned substances.
If you have dietary restrictions, chances are there is a protein powder out there that’s right for you.
PACKAGING AND CONVENIENCE
Two-pound plastic tubs are not the easiest way to travel with food and snacks. Making sure you get the right nutrients at the right times can sometimes be a matter of convenience. If you complete most of your exercise at home or have reusable bags and containers you prefer to restock, then opt to purchase larger quantities.
If you travel or like to bring your protein shake or snack to the gym, pick a brand or product which comes in single-serving sizes. These single-serving packets save you from needing to pre-portion baggies of protein powder or fill your shaker before heading to the gym.