Without fail, one of the first questions I get from clients is, “what protein powder should I use?”
The supplement industry has done a phenomenal job of convincing us that without a post-workout shake, our exercise is useless. They’ve even gone so far as to convince us that if you don’t drink your protein shake within 15 minutes of your workout, you’re not going to see “gains”.
Y’all – I need you to know that that protein powder is not a magic cure. It’s a supplement. It can be an incredibly helpful tool under the right circumstances, but can also be next to useless if you’re not first prioritizing the quality and quantity of the real food you’re eating.
I’ll say it again: shortcuts don’t exist in health and wellness, and protein powder is a perfect example of that.
Because of the almost non-existent regulations of the supplement industry, I want to take a second to help you decide whether you need a protein supplement, and if so, how to choose the right one.
There are so many factors that differentiate protein powders. In no particular order:
- Grams of protein per serving
- Animal products vs. vegan
- Amino Acid Profile
But before we look at any of these, we have to ask the most important question:
- Do I even need a protein powder?
So much of our diet includes processed foods. If we are getting enough protein by eating whole foods, we absolutely do not need to be supplementing our protein intake with more (highly) processed ingredients.
I always ask my clients to do a ballpark track of their protein intake for three days. This doesn’t need to be exact, and myfitnesspal or a pen and paper will do just fine.
After the three days, we assess whether they’re getting enough protein. There is a TON of research trying to find the perfect amount of protein that every human needs. The FDA suggests a MINIMUM of .36g of protein per pound of bodyweight, while some bodybuilders will suggest up to 2g of protein per pound of bodyweight. According to extensive research, some of which is featured here, I aim for .7g of protein per pound of bodyweight. Let’s break that down:
.7g protein x bodyweight = total grams protein per day
For me, that equation looks like this:
.7g protein x 160lbs = 112g protein per day
Once you find this number and compare it to your past three days of eating, THEN we can decide if a protein powder is necessary for you to be reaching your protein goal.
P.S. Collagen protein is incredibly buzzy right now for hair, skin, and nails, but shouldn’t be confused with other types of protein that aid in muscle recovery/growth. You can definitely take collagen, but you shouldn’t necessarily count it toward your .7g protein per pound of bodyweight goal.
Okay, moving on.
2) Is my protein powder trying to do too much?
When starting your research into protein powders, you’ll find that companies love to shove as many benefits into your protein powder as possible because it makes the product seem more appealing to consumers. Try not to fall for this. We don’t need our protein to also be a probiotic, a hair/skin/nails strengthener, and a “fat burner” all in one. We just need it to be protein.
Kelly Leveque, a holistic nutritionist and celebrity health coach writes, “…your protein powder should simply be protein, not an excessively fortified supplement that’s stuffed with ingredients and trying to replicate every whole food under the sun.”
Ideally our protein powder would be one ingredient – protein. As this isn’t possible yet, we’ll set a rule to prioritize protein supplements with as few ingredients as possible.
3) Is my protein digestible?
The problem with many protein powders is that they can be quite hard on the stomach. Whey protein contains lactose and can cause an upset stomach to people who are lactose intolerant. Vegan protein powders are super popular for non-meat eaters but can cause bloating and gas, and don’t include the full amino acid profile that animal proteins have.
Other factors such as sweeteners, flavorings, emulsifiers, and thickening agents can also cause some adverse gut reactions and should be avoided if possible. There’s going to be a lot of trial and error when picking the protein powder that is right for you. The more you know about your intolerances overall, the easier it will be to find a supplement with the least adverse effects.
4) How are you going to use your protein powder?
Some protein powders have been created to mix exclusively with water and will over-thicken in a smoothie. Some protein powders were meant to be blended and taste horrible with just water. Your choice of protein will be dependent upon how you’re going to use your protein. Before buying your protein, try to get some intel about how that protein is best used or it may end up sitting on your top shelf for years gathering dust.
5) How much does your protein powder cost?
It’s tough because most of the cleanest protein powders are also the most expensive. We want to reconcile our goal of quality, low number of ingredients with the cost of the powder.
My suggestion: if you are using a protein powder everyday, it’s worth it to pay the extra few bucks for a quality protein. I know that sounds backward, but if you’re putting those ingredients into your body everyday, it’s even more important that you know what those ingredients are.
6) Does it taste good?
And lastly, does your protein taste good? Or said another way, does it taste good enough that you will continue using it and not let it go to waste? From a nutritional standpoint this is obviously the least important factor. But you shouldn’t have to plug your nose to take your protein powder. There are tons of options out there. If you don’t like the taste – try something new!
The bottom line? I’ve tried probably 30 different protein powders in my life and not ONE of them has been a magic shortcut to health. For some people, using a protein powder is going to be an integral part of achieving a protein goal. For others, protein powder is an expensive and unnecessary supplement that shouldn’t be bothered with. The decision is yours.
Picking the protein powder that is right for you is a tricky business – especially when trying to fend off the hundreds of companies vying for your wallet. But if you use these 6 tips to inform your decision, you’re so much more likely to find a protein powder that will lead you in the right direction toward your health goals!