How to Choose Protein Powder that’s Right For You
Getting enough protein is an important part of keeping your energy up, your mood even, and your blood sugar stable. The lion’s share of my patients and clients think they are indeed getting enough protein, but then when they track their food and we look at how much protein they get compared to how much I want them to get they’re shocked, and often resistant. My approach to care is always- let’s try it and see how you feel.
Almost all the time they feel better. Much better.
The rub though is that not everyone wants to eat meat at every meal. And although there are vegetarian sources of protein (and I’m not opposed to vegetarian diets on principle) most of these foods that we think of in this capacity are more fat or carbs than protein. You can find specific examples here.
So, for many of my vegetarian patients and clients, or those who simply want other (or more) options, I suggest protein powder.
When I started my practice twenty years ago there were only a few options for protein powder—soy and whey.
Now we have so many different kinds of protein powder that it’s easy to get lost in the weeds trying to figure out what’s what.
Here are my 5 rules for selecting a protein powder:
Rule #1: Don’t buy protein powder with a half naked weight lifter on the bottle.
Rule #2: Avoid protein that has a sweetener that ends in –ol.
Rule #3: Avoid those with a laundry list of ingredients.
Rule #4: Get straight protein powder, no flavors, no sweeteners and mix it with what you choose so you’re in control of the ingredients.
Rule #5: Skip the pre-mixed cans of protein drink; they almost always have too many carbs or some kind of unsavory sweetener.
Let’s look at the benefits and drawbacks to the different types of protein powder you can buy:
Remember, plain powder is best to be mixed with your own, real, food (my favorite protein smoothie recipe is here—the perfect balance of protein and carbs, just add more spinach, I’m not sure why I made that optional!)
Whey Protein Powder
- Pros: Easy to absorb, mixes well, palatable taste and texture.
- Cons: It’s dairy and many people do better without dairy (raises hand.)
Soy Protein Powder
- Pros: Texture, may help with menopausal symptoms, vegan.
- Cons: Hard to digest, not great for kids, funky aftertaste.
Rice Protein Powder
- Pros: Hypoallergenic, vegan.
- Cons: Rice often contains arsenic, if you get a lot of other rice in your diet it may be best not to choose this one.
Egg Protein Powder
- Pros: Good texture, very little taste.
- Cons: I haven’t been able to find egg protein powder from free ranging chickens locally and I don’t like the idea of eating eggs from chickens that are commercially raised (due to ethical concerns regarding treatment of commercially raised chickens.)
Pea Protein Powder
- Pros: Easy to absorb, mild taste.
- Cons: Can be a bit chalky.
Hemp Protein Powder
- Pros: Your friends will consider you a legit hippie!
- Cons: It’s not as high in protein as some other kinds of powders.
Hydrolyzed Collagen Protein Powder
- Pros: Mixes into everything, even cold water, and pretty much disappears. Very mild taste. No texture at all. Please note the photo below is my giant 5 lb bag of hydrolyzed collagen (Custom Collagen brand). I don’t mess around.
- Cons: Not suitable for vegetarians. If you get the wrong kind, the one that is not hydrolyzed, it will turn your smoothie into snot. You’ve been warned.
Drink type protein powders
- Pros: easy meals that taste good.
- Cons: often they contain sweeteners and I really want you to get your sugar from real food…such as fruit! Also, the teeny tiny amounts of other ingredients such as herbs or nutritional boosts are often not enough to make a difference or do anything. So watch out for marketing.
Mixed types of Protein Powder
See each type above for pros and cons. There is one that I really like that is a combination of pea and brown rice protein, for instance.
The take home:
All of that said, I do think eating real food is better than drinking a smoothie in most cases (the exception might be right after or before a workout) but still, it’s a legit way to supplement your diet with protein.
Yours in Health,
PS I did a Facebook Live a while back on protein in general and answered a bunch of questions about protein powder. You can find that HERE. 🙂