5 Rules for Choosing the Right Protein Powder

Some people feel that using protein powder to get protein levels up is cheating. I disagree.

Given that getting enough protein is an important part of steady energy, even mood, and stable blood sugar, I personally feel that it is often a great option for a boost.

You can check out another post I wrote about getting enough protein if you like but TL;DR the lion’s share of my patients and clients think they are getting enough protein but would do better with significantly more. I’ll add that people tend to be pretty resistant to this idea but over the last 20+ years of my practice I’ve seen it to be true more often than not.

My approach to individualized care is always- ‘let’s try it and see how you feel’. Almost all the time people feel better from increasing protein. 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 the vegetarian foods that we think of as protein (such as beans and nuts) 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 a boost to their diets, I suggest protein powder.

When I started my practice twenty years ago there were only a few options for protein powder—soy and whey. And usually they tasted terrible.

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.

My 5 rules for selecting a protein powder:

Rule #1: Don’t buy protein powder with a half naked weightlifter on the bottle.

Rule #2: Avoid protein that has a sweetener that ends in –ol.

Rule #3: Avoid protein powder 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.

Now let’s look at the benefits and drawbacks to the different types you can buy:

Remember, plain protein 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!) Just skip the ones with added ingredients!

I’ve linked some of the brands I like here. Please note they are affiliate links but of course you don’t need to click there…just included so you can see what I’ve vetted! You can get most of these at your local health food store, or even Costco or big box stores for those of you who do your shopping ther.e

Whey Protein Powder
  • Pros: Easy to absorb, mixes well, palatable taste and texture.
  • Cons: It’s dairy and many people do better without dairy because of allergies or sensitivitis (raises hand.)
  • Pointers: Look for organic…cows that are raised commercially for dairy will be fed hormones and antibiotics as well as kept in conditions that stress the animal. Commercially raised dairy cows will also be more likely to be sick and will have a higher amount of pus in the milk (yes, it’s gross, but I thought you should know…)
Soy Protein Powder
  • Pros: Texture, may help with menopausal symptoms, vegan.
  • Cons: Hard to digest, not great for kids, funky aftertaste.
  • Pointers: Look for non-GMO or organic.
Rice Protein Powder
  • Pros: Hypoallergenic, vegan.
  • Cons: Rice often contains arsenic, if you get a lot of other rice in your diet it’s probably best not to choose this one.
  • Pointers: Some rice proteins are mealy so try different brands to find one you like.
Egg Protein Powder
  • Pros: Good texture, very little taste.
  • Cons: Lower concentration of protein.
  • Pointers: There are very few brands that use egg whites from free range chickens. If animal welfare is important to you be sure to look for this!
Pea Protein Powder
  • Pros: Easy to absorb, mild taste.
  • Cons: Can be a bit chalky.
  • Pointers: Some pea proteins are mealy and have an odd taste to try different brands to find one you like.
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
  • Pros: Mixes into everything, even cold water, and pretty much disappears. Very mild taste. No texture at all. Please note this photo is my giant 5 lb bag of hydrolyzed collagen powder. I don’t mess around. (Note this is available from beef or fish.)
  • 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.
  • Pointers: Look for collagen from grass fed grass finished cows if possible. I’ll be writing a post on this soon.
Drink type protein powders
  • Pros: Easy meals that taste sweet.
  • Cons: Most 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. Some of the vegan health food versions of this can be rough on the digestion.
  • Pointers: If you must get these please watch for fake sweeteners, high sugar or carb content, and unrealistic claims.
Mixed types of Protein Powder.

See above for pros and cons.

The take home:

Without a doubt eating real food is better than drinking a smoothie in most cases (the exception might be right after or before a workout) but they are a great way to supplement your diet with protein.

See my favorite smoothie recipe post for a great macro balanced smoothie recipe! 

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🙂

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