Find Out Which Protein Powder Is Right for You With This Handy Guide
If you’re interested in taking protein shakes for muscle building or weight loss, you’ve probably stared at a store shelf or web page packed with options. Ever wish you had a magical divining rod to help you choose the one that’ll get you to the best protein powder? No need to resort to wizardry or expensive trial-and-error. Here’s what the experts say are the main features, benefits, and drawbacks of each popular protein powder type.
1. Whey Protein Powders
Whey protein powders are derived from milk. Of milk’s total protein, 80% is whey, and 20% is casein.
Unlike most plant proteins, whey protein is “complete,” meaning that it contains all nine essential amino acids, which your body can’t produce on its own. As such, it’s a particularly good source of the building blocks your body needs to perform key functions, especially when it comes to working out.
“When it comes to research support, whey protein continues to stand out above others for its ability to maximally stimulate muscle protein synthesis — in other words, most effectively help repair and build muscle — following exercise,” says Kelly Jones, MS, RD, CSSD, LDN, a board-certified sports nutritionist based in Newtown, Pennsylvania. “This is likely in part due to its high leucine content.” Leucine is an amino acid that is thought to trigger the processes in the body that build and repair muscle.
“If your goals include building strength and power, losing body fat weight (fat mass) and recovering from a workout, nothing compares to whey protein,” says Marie Spano, MS, RD, CSCS, CSSD, a consulting sports nutritionist for the Atlanta Braves.
2. Casein Powders
Like whey, casein powders are also derived from milk, and might help you feel fuller longer.
“Casein is ideal for keeping hunger at bay because it digests slowly,” says Spano. “In fact, a study in overweight police officers found the casein-supplemented group lost more fat than the other two groups.” (All officers in the study exercised and were on a hypocaloric diet.)
3. Collagen Powders
Collagen protein powders are derived from the skin or bones of certain animals, such as cows, fish, poultry, or pork.
Collagen supplements of all kinds are gaining in popularity. Some supplements containing collagen among other ingredients claim they might positively affect skin health, but it may not be the best choice if gaining muscle mass is your top priority.
“When it comes to collagen, it is unfortunately lacking in certain amino acids, and therefore cannot optimally repair muscle—or support the body’s other protein functions—if taken on its own as a sole source of protein,” says Jones.
4. Egg White Powders
Egg white protein powder is just what it sounds like: It’s derived from egg whites that have been spray-dried.
Egg whites are lactose-free, which might make this type of protein the right choice for those who are sensitive to dairy. Like whey and casein, they’re a complete protein, meaning they contain all nine amino acids the body needs.
However, some studies suggest that egg white protein powder might be less satiating than milk-based or plant-based options.
5. Plant-Based Powders
Protein powders derived from milk, such as whey and casein, may cause stomach issues in people who are sensitive to dairy, and egg white powders might be off-limits to people with allergies to eggs.
Plant-based powders are also a good option for people following a vegan diet.
Best Way to Use Protein Powder
Curious about the best time to take protein powder after a workout? How about the optimal amount of protein to have per day, and each meal? Check out our report on the new rules of protein timing for all the answers.
How to Choose the Best Protein Powder for You
There isn’t an objective standard here. The “best” protein powder is one that will help you meet your fitness and nutrition goals and aligns with your dietary plan.
Downsides of Protein Powder
1. Stomach Upset
Some protein powders may cause bloating, gas, or an upset stomach. This is usually seen in the protein powders derived from milk (whey, casein), but can be seen in plant-based powders as well.
As mentioned above, if you’re sensitive to eggs, dairy, or soy, you’ll want to avoid protein powders derived from those foods.
- Protein content and amino acid composition of commercially available plant-based protein isolates www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6245118/
- Human Muscle Protein Synthesis Rates after Intake of Hydrolyzed Porcine-Derived and Cows' Milk Whey Proteins-A Randomized Controlled Trial www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6567276/
- Effect of different protein sources on satiation and short-term satiety when consumed as a starter www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3295702/
- Effect of a hypocaloric diet, increased protein intake and resistance training on lean mass gains and fat mass loss in overweight police officers pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/10838463/
- A Collagen Supplement Improves Skin Hydration, Elasticity, Roughness, and Density: Results of a Randomized, Placebo-Controlled, Blind Study www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6835901/
Hydrolyzed Collagen-Sources and Applications
- Effects of egg white protein supplementation on muscle strength and serum free amino acid concentrations www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3497008/
- Effect of different protein sources on satiation and short-term satiety when consumed as a starter pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/22196620/