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“What’s the best protein powder?”

Protein powders, like everything else, exhibit variations in quality and effectiveness. It's clear that some stand out above the rest, and others are a waste of your hard earned money.


protein powder tubs of various sizes sit on top of a mountain of white powder

[Image Description: protein powder tubs of various sizes sit on top of a mountain of white powder]


Yet, in a market flooded with seemingly endless options – possibly numbering in the hundreds or even thousands – identifying the ideal protein powder can feel like navigating a maze. This task is further complicated when considering the unique aspirations, bodily responses, and personal inclinations of each individual.


Indeed, every person is a universe unto themselves, with distinct goals, physiological requirements, and taste preferences. Consequently, there cannot be a universal protein powder that reigns supreme for all.


Nevertheless, there exists a protein powder that is ideally suited for you!


In this blog post, you’ll learn:

Click the points above to get taken to the exact section you're looking for

 

Determining the Ideal Protein Intake


The primary motive for incorporating protein powder into your routine is rooted in the pursuit of achieving your protein goals. However, before we explore this aspect further, I'd like to explain why protein holds such a paramount role.


Undeniably, insufficient protein intake can set off a series of undesirable consequences, ranging from physical to emotional well-being. A lack of adequate protein can potentially lead to:


- Loss of muscle mass, which in turn can trigger a dip in metabolism

- Manifestation of issues related to skin, hair, and nails

- Slower healing of cuts and bruises

- Mood swings that can impact your emotional equilibrium

- An increased vulnerability to bone fractures


However, it's important to note that this concern doesn't apply to the majority of individuals.


The truth is, most people adhering to the average Western diet do not suffer from protein deficiency.

At the absolute bare minimum, the protein requirement is estimated at 0.8 grams per kilogram (kg) of body weight, or equivalently, 0.36 grams per pound. To put it into perspective, a person weighing 160 pounds needs approximately 58 grams of protein to avert protein deficiency.


For context, employing the hand portion method, a palm-sized serving of protein amounts to about 20 to 30 grams. Therefore, by consuming 2 to 3 palm-sized portions of protein sources such as chicken breast, tofu, Greek yogurt, or legumes each day, you can meet this requirement.


Nevertheless, I'm sure you're here to distinguish between consuming the bare minimum protein and achieving an optimal protein intake.

scientist studying protein

[Image description: a scientist wearing a white lab coat is using a tablet. There are sinks and beakers in the background]


In general, individuals with an active lifestyle can fulfill their optimal protein intake by including 1 to 2 palm-sized servings of protein in each meal.


Unless specific medical considerations necessitate a lower protein intake, the vast majority of people stand to gain from increasing their protein consumption.


So what does protein do?


1. Appetite Levelling: A diet rich in protein has shown the potential to enhance satiety, contributing to better appetite management.

2. Body Composition Management: Elevated protein intake may facilitate reduced calorie consumption during fat loss efforts, increase calorie expenditure through digestion (known as the thermic effect of food), and aid in maintaining muscle mass during weight loss.

3. Muscle Growth or Maintenance: Combining higher protein levels with regular exercise can lead to the acquisition and preservation of crucial muscle mass, especially as individuals age.

4. Enhanced Strength: The synergy between exercise and increased protein consumption can also result in noticeable improvements in strength.

5. Improved Immune Function: Proteins are integral components of antibodies and serve a variety of functions in the immune system. Those lacking in protein are more susceptible to infections.

6. Accelerated Exercise Recovery: Amplified protein intake plays a pivotal role in repairing exercise-induced tissue damage and recovery post-injury.


In essence, protein's multifaceted benefits encompass not just physical health but also holistic well-being. As you journey through the intricate landscape of protein, remember that optimal protein intake is a cornerstone of vitality and vitality knows no bounds.


The Pinnacle: Whole Food Protein


The allure of whole food protein stems from its holistic composition that no supplement can replicate. The symphony of nutrients in whole foods orchestrates synergistic effects that can't be emulated. As food undergoes processing to create protein powder, there's a possibility of certain nutrients being stripped away while others are artificially added back in. This process can sometimes confer benefits, yet at other times, it might not align with our well-being goals.


Admittedly, protein powder boasts quicker digestibility compared to whole foods. This feature could be advantageous when aiming to rapidly infuse protein into muscles post-workout.


This practice is known as nutrient timing – strategically consuming specific nutrients at particular junctures. Back in the early 2000s, nutrient timing emerged as a popular trend. Swiftly chugging a protein shake immediately after exercising was heralded as the ultimate strategy. However, with the evolution of research, the significance of this post-workout protein rush dimmed. Its prominence turned out to be less substantial than once believed.


Unless you’re an elite athlete or pursuing extreme fat loss or muscle gain, you don’t need to worry too much about when you get your protein.

Drink a shake when it is convenient in the context of your daily life. For example, you don’t don't like solid food for breakfast, it’s going to be many hours before your next meal, or it’s an easy meal during your commute.


"How much protein powder should I have each day?"


When it comes to protein powder, a recommended intake of 20-40 grams daily (equivalent to 1-2 scoops) is a sound starting point. For those aiming higher, capping supplemental protein at 80 grams per day (about 3-4 scoops) is generally considered a prudent upper limit. However, these figures are guidelines, not rigid rules, designed to strike a balance.


Why the emphasis on balance? Consuming over 80 grams through protein powder can often overshadow essential whole food sources, depriving the body of vital vitamins, minerals, and nutrients. Nevertheless, individual exceptions exist, particularly for those striving to gain weight or under specific circumstances.


What type is the best protein powder for you?

Besides ethical considerations—such as whether you prefer a plant or animal source—you might also want to think about food intolerances and sensitivities here. Whether or not taste is important could have a drastic effect on your choice. Some protein powders have powdery tastes or textures.


Whether you are using it as a pure protein boost mixed with water, or will be blending it with other liquids, fruits, nuts, or vegetables, to make a meal replacement, will also have an effect on the final taste.


Within milk based proteins, there are some that use Whey, Casein or a combination.

Personally I'm sensitive to dairy, but only when it has Casein as an ingredient. You might find that you're the same, or the opposite.



Plant Based Proteins

Soy protein emerges as a formidable ally in the realm of muscle growth, offering a dual advantage – it's a complete protein. Remarkably, scientific investigations reveal that soy protein supplementation generates comparable strength and lean body mass gains to whey protein in response to resistance training.


Yet, soy's journey hasn't been without controversy, particularly regarding its potential impact on hormonal health. However, an extensive body of research consistently indicates that both soy foods and isoflavone supplements (bioactive compounds within soy) do not influence testosterone levels in men. This dispels lingering concerns about its hormonal effects.


Moreover, the scrutiny extended to soy's influence on breast cancer risk in women. Intriguingly, the available evidence suggests that soy consumption does not elevate the risk of breast cancer. While further exploration in this domain is warranted, emerging insights also indicate that soy does not wield detrimental effects on thyroid health.


Pea, Rice, & Hemp are incomplete proteins. This is because they each lack one or more of the essential amino acids.


Blends are common among plant-based protein powders. Often, they’re used to create a more robust amino acid profile, since different protein sources contain various levels of each amino acid. For example, rice and pea protein are frequently combined.



chart comparing protein sources

[This image belongs to Precision Nutrition. It shows approximately how much protein is in a scoop of each type of protein powder and has a column for pro's, and a column for con's next to them.]



Protein Extraction: Concentrates VS Isolates


Let's talk protein extraction. It's the process of getting protein from animal or plant-based foods using heat, acid, or enzymes. Now, concentrates are the least processed pals. They can be anywhere from 35 to 80 percent protein by weight, with 70 to 80 percent being the norm, especially in plant proteins.


The rest of the percentage plays host to carbs and fats. So, if you're okay with some extra non-protein calories hitching a ride, protein concentrates might be your choice.


Now, let's meet isolates. These go through an extra filtration step, dialing down fats and carbs. They end up as 90 percent or more pure protein. This makes them speedier digesters, but here’s the scoop – there's no proof this zoom in digestion translates to better muscle growth, recovery, or fat loss.


There is a third player, called Hydrolysate, which claims to be the fastest to be digested. However this is yet to be proven.


Typically, the more processed a protein powder is, the more expensive it is.


Other ingredients - what you need to know


Sweeteners, flavoring, and thickeners are common in protein powders, especially those with enticing flavours. However some contain more than others.


  • Ideally choose a powder that has less than 5g of sugar per serving.

  • Avoid sugar alcohols (like sorbitol, maltitol, erythritol, etc) if you are sensitive to FODMAPs.

  • Seeing thickening agents on the ingredient label shouldn’t cause concern as they are safe in small amounts.

  • Avoid trans fats as much as possible since they can have adverse health effects, such as increased low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol and decreased high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol

  • Manufacturers often include additional supplements in inadequate amounts. E.g. creatine, BCAAs, Probiotics. So it’s generally better to seek out an additional supplement rather than looking for it in your protein powder.


Protein powder usage for different goals


Weight loss / fat loss: You should pay attention to the protein-to-calorie ratio of your protein powder. The best protein powder for weight loss will be higher in protein and lower in carbs and fat. It will be more satisfying getting carbs and fat from whole foods.

Muscle gain: Look for a protein powder with a high protein-to-calorie ratio, as the main goal is to consume enough overall protein. If you’re struggling to get adequate overall calories, a protein powder that’s also high in carbohydrates can be helpful around workouts.

Weight gain: For those who are looking to gain any type of weight—consider powders that are high in protein, carbohydrates, and fat. Particularly if you won’t be getting much other nutrition, it’s important to get as much variation as possible.

Meal replacement: If you are wanting a meal replacement, it’s important to get some other nutrients in there, too. While there are protein powders that come with additional nutrients built-in, I recommend making your own Super Shake instead by incorporating fruit, vegetables, a source of healthy fats, and possibly more. That way, you get all the whole-food benefits of these ingredients.

Recovery/athletic performance: There are a myriad of suggested ratios of carbohydrate and protein intake post-exercise to maximize recovery, but no particular ratio is optimal. Ultimately your total macronutrient and calorie intake for the day is the most important determining factor in athletic recovery.

 

In essence, the realm of nutrition is ever-evolving, illuminating both the benefits and limitations of various approaches. The saga of protein unfolds as a testament to the intricate interplay between science, human physiology, and the pursuit of optimal health.


It is important to recognize that the quest for the ideal match may require a period of experimentation. See how it makes you feel, how your body reacts, and if it even tastes good! Is the post-workout appetite subdued? These shifts can serve as beacons, guiding you closer or leading you astray from your goals.


This principle extends beyond the realm of protein powder, serving as a guiding ethos for the realm of nutritional decision-making. May your endeavors be characterized by wisdom and fruitful outcomes!


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