How to Choose A Protein Powder
by Kate Daugherty, MS, Functional Nutritionist
If you’ve embraced the power of a high-protein diet for muscle growth, muscle retention, weight loss, satiety, and great hair, skin, nails, and bones.. you know the struggle of fitting in adequate protein in your day.
The current RDA for adults is 0.8-1.0 g/KG of protein per day. However, for most active adults (or those looking to recomp their body), I think something like 0.8-1.0 g/LB is more appropriate. The exact number is very individualized to your needs.
While I always recommend getting the majority of your protein from whole-food sources, protein powders can be a useful supplement for hitting goals during a muscle building or fat loss phase.
Protein powder supplements can be a valid option when:
You need more protein daily than you can eat in salmon, grass-fed beef, chicken, turkey, eggs, and the like.
You feel good on a higher protein amount, but can’t justify the cost of buying high-quality animal sources to meet your needs
Your digestive functions, such as stomach acid, pancreatic enzymes, or bile function are impaired
You’re on the go a lot, and having a balanced meal isn’t always an option
You’re traveling often, and know that the food options will not be adequate
You’re looking for a protein option that boosts health overall
If you care at all about hitting protein goals, you will probably rely on a protein powder at some point.
What I’m not recommending here is that you replace all your protein sources with protein powder. It should be a supplement to a balanced diet. So often, I see people replacing nutrient-dense, real food, with sub-par protein powders or bars. Quality is everything, especially when it comes to your diet.
If you visit your local supplement store, you could blindly point and find a chalky powder that provides nothing but processed protein and digestive issues. Instead of aimlessly searching for “the one”, here are my tips for finding a high-quality, protein powder that will provide health benefits.
Side note: All protein powders fall in the “supplements” category, and therefore are largely unregulated by the FDA. It is especially important to know where your protein powder is coming from, in order to avoid unlabelled additives like mercury, lead, or arsenic. For more about pharmaceutical-grade supplements read this post.
Whey protein is derived from milk, so those who have an allergy to casein, lactose, AND whey may not tolerate this powder. However, if your milk allergy is only to lactose or casein, whey protein isolate may be a great choice. It is the most bioavailable of the powdered proteins, and provides the building blocks for glutathione- the body’s master antioxidant.
There are two kinds of whey protein powder: whey protein concentrate and whey protein isolate. Whey protein concentrate has more biologically active components, BUT it also contains lactose and fats. Whey protein concentrate tends to be cheaper to produce (and sell), but is the most contaminated of powdered proteins. Further, the concentration of whey/fat/lactose can cause digestive upset (like the dreaded protein farts) in many people.
Whey protein isolate is the purest protein source available. Most of the allergenic compounds are removed, even any hormones and antibiotics. A hydrolyzed whey protein isolate is “pre-digested”, making it quicker to absorb and easier on the digestive system. If you are consuming a protein supplement after a workout, hydrolyzed whey protein is the best choice.
To find the best whey protein, follow these tips:
Make sure it doesn’t have artificial flavors or added sugars
Make sure it is not processed with heat
Look for “grass-fed” on the label
Collagen is a protein found in the connective tissues of your body. It’s a form of fibrous protein that provides support for our body tissues, including our muscles, bones, and ligaments. As we age, we produce less collagen, contributing to wrinkles and folds in our skin.
Collagen peptides are derived from animal or marine sources and are only the short-chain amino acids. Think of these proteins as “filling in the gaps” of your protein needs. They do not contribute to your overall protein goals for the day, but are still a useful supplement to include.
Collagen peptides can be added to cold or hot beverages and will not alter the taste or texture in any way. They are highly bioavailable, digestible, and soluble providing great digestive support and gut-healing glycine. Collagen is high is the amino acid proline, which is a building block of collagen and where the skin, hair, nails benefit comes in.
When purchasing collagen, use these tips:
Look for grass-fed collagen peptides (or marine-based)
Each serving size (g) should match the amount of protein (g)
No added fillers, sugars, or flavors
Collagen peptides can be a great complement in High-Fat Coffee or Tea because of the solubility in hot liquids. Even if you’re having black coffee, I recommend adding a scoop of collagen peptides.
The first thing to consider with plant protein is the protein abundance in plants versus animal sources. Much lower, right? Most plant sources are not complete proteins (lacking a number of the essential amino acids). In order to get a complete protein source, you need a combination of plant proteins.
Check the label on your plant-based protein to ensure you see leucine, lysine, and tyrosine; followed by isoleucine, cysteine, threonine, valine, and tryptophan. If all these are listed, you know you have a balance of the amino acids you need.
However, the bioavailability is still going to be much lower than other animal-based protein powders. Soaking, sprouting, and fermenting plants can reduce the “anti nutrients” and increase the protein bioavailability. An ideal plant-protein powder is processed by first soaking, sprouting, or fermenting the plant source.
My tips when searching for a plant-based protein powder:
Look for a blend of plant sources (pea, legumes, rice, seeds, vegetables)
Avoid soy-based products; especially when highly-processed into a powder
Check the amino acid profile for a complete source of protein
Look for soaked, sprouted, or fermented plant sources
It is a reality that many individuals do not tolerate dairy or choose to avoid animal-based proteins. It is still possible to find an adequate powdered supplement to reach your protein goals, with some awareness.
TLDR: PROTEIN CHOICES
When making the decision to include protein powder as a supplement to your diet, quality is everything. The majority of your dietary protein should be real food sources from wild-caught fish, grass-fed beef/bison, game meats, poultry, as well as plant-sources like legumes, seeds, and nuts. However, it is possible to find a complement to a food in the form of a powdered protein supplement if some awareness and conscious choice is applied.
MY FAVORITE CHOICES IN EACH CATEGORY
Plant-Based: Four Sigmatic Plant-Based Protein with Superfoods
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