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Whether you are trying to lose weight, build muscle or just eat a better balanced diet, protein is part of the equation. But do you really need to supplement with protein powder and if so, which protein powder is right for you? Let’s discuss below.
Protein is essential to the human body. Made up of amino acids, protein helps build our muscles, bones, cartilage, skin, hair and blood. And since it can’t be stored in the body like fat and carbohydrates, we need to replenish the supply every day. Most of us need about 0.5-1.0 grams of protein per pound of body weight per day. For example, if you weight 140 pounds, you’ll likely want to be in the range of 70-140 grams of preotein per day. Now, the exact number of grams ultimately depends on what your goals are and how active you are. For athletes and those trying to gain muscle, 1 gram per pound of body weight may be the goal. And while you can obtain the recommended amount of protein per day from your regular diet, many choose to supplement with protein powder to more easily meet their needs, especially when trying to reach a higher number.
Protein powder supplements are part of the daily routine for many people. I carry protein powder in my gym bag, in my brief case, and keep it in my kitchen cabinet. It’s a great way to supplement my protein intake. But, with all the different types of protein powder out there, how do you know which protein powder is right for you? Here’s a guide to help you select the right option for you.
It’s also worth mentioning that no matter what protein option you choose, if you’re using it for post-workout recovery, the recommendation is to take it within 45 minutes to 2 hours after your workout for best results.
Whey protein powder is a fast-absorbing source of protein derived from milk to support lean muscle. Whey protein is a complete protein containing all of the essential amino acids and is very low in cholesterol and fat, relative to other protein sources. It has the reputation as being the best post-workout choice and in fact, studies have shown that your body absorbs and uses whey protein more effectively than other protein sources due to a higher concentration of the BCAA amino acids: leucine, isoleucine and valine. Leucine in particular is beneficial when it comes to muscle recovery. Another bonus? Whey protein curbs hunger and keeps your cravings at bay. Whey protein powder is my #1 choice for supplementing since I usually ingest it for breakfast or after a tough workout. My pick: BiPro Whey Protein. First off, it’s a whey isolate which is better than a concentrate. BiPro Whey Protein Isolate goes through an advanced process that filters out fat, lactose, sugar and carbohydrates. In addition, it’s clean, it’s easy to digest and BiPro claims to have the highest concentration of Leucine among whey brands. I use it in my smoothies, oatmeal, pancakes, yogurt and lots of other recipes.
Casein protein powder is the other protein derived from milk but has a slower absorption in the body than whey. It’s often labeled the “bedtime” protein, due to it’s slow absorption, providing hours of repair and maintenance. My pick: Optimum Nutrition 100% Whey Casein Chocolate Protein. Mixed with water or almond milk, it tastes good at bedtime.
Collagen makes up 30% of the body’s protein making it the most abundant protein in the body. It’s responsible for connecting everything together and is found in the bones, muscles, tendons, skin, hair and nails. Collagen protein contains a high amount of glutamic acid , hydroxyproline and proline. These particular amino acids primarily benefit your hair, skin and nails which is typically the more popular benefit collagen users are looking for. My pick: Vital Proteins Collagen Peptides or Neocell Collagen Powder – I like and use both!
Egg protein is a high quality lactose-free protein source and in the world of protein, egg albumen is nearly perfect! Egg protein powders also mix well and can be used in baking. My pick: Jay Robb Egg White Vanilla Protein Powder. The egg white protein raw material is derived from chickens not treated with growth hormones.
Now if you are a vegetarian or vegan, you are going to go with another protein source like organic soy, hemp or rice protein powder, so let’s discuss some plant-based options.
Related: How Much Protein Do We Really Need?
Plant-based proteins such as rice, pea and hemp are suggested for vegetarians, vegans and those with allergies to dairy, fish, nuts or eggs. Some say plant-based proteins are an acquired taste, but I think they are delicious when mixed with fruit, almond milk, and/or juices. Some are a blend of plants, others are just one source but they deliver protein, vitamins, minerals and often Omega 3 fatty acids. My pick: Omega Nutrition Pumpkin Seed Protein Powder. Pumpkin seed protein powder is super creamy and delicious. I mix it with almond milk and ice. I love the flavor and it only has 1 gram of fat per 10 grams of protein.
Another option that plant-based protein seekers often look to is soy protein powder. Soy protein is derived from soybeans, one of the only types of plant-based foods that are a complete protein source, containing all of the essential amino acids the human body needs but can’t produce on its own. Organic soy powders are popular among vegetarians and vegans, however, the health benefits of soy in general continue to be controversial. In the U.S. and Canada, almost all soy that is not listed as organic on the label has been genetically-manipulated, which again prove to be controversial. It is also recommended to avoid hydrolyzed soy protein and eliminate the use of soy protein isolate/concentrate where possible. My advice: check out www.soyinfo.com and www.cspinet.org to make informed decisions on soy.