Protein powders are a quick way to help ensure that your body is nourished and satisfied. People use them for a variety of reasons—to lose weight, to improve sports performance, build muscle mass, and for overall wellness. But look around, and the protein powder options are endless.
So, how do you know what type is best for your personal health goals? It’s important to know the difference between available protein powders, as well as how they stack up against whole food protein sources. Below we break it all down for you.
What’s the difference between whole foods and protein powder?
You can meet your body’s daily protein requirements whether you drink shakes or eat only whole foods. However, they don’t offer equal nutrition. What you may find surprising is that shakes generally contain fewer nutrients than whole foods. For that reason, shakes may help you lose weight, but whole foods can offer a bigger nutritional punch.
What are the different types of protein?
Whey protein is one of the most commonly used proteins and is best for day-to-day use. It contains all of the essential amino acids and is easily digested. It helps boost energy and can reduce stress levels. Whey isolates and concentrates are best to use after a workout. Soy protein is another common choice. It helps reduce high cholesterol and can ease symptoms of menopause for some women. It can also help with osteoporosis by helping build bone mass.
- Egg protein is released more slowly than whey, can be taken throughout the day.
- Milk proteins help support immune function and enhance muscle growth.
- Brown rice protein which is 100% plant-based, is a good choice for vegetarians, or for people who don’t consume dairy products. It’s also gluten-free.
- Pea protein is highly digestible, hypo-allergenic and economical.
- Hemp protein is also 100% plant-based. It’s a good source of omega-3 fatty acids.
So, what factors should I consider?
Depending on what you want to achieve in your fitness journey, different proteins can help in different ways. Below are just some factors to consider.
For muscle growth, choose a protein powder with a high biological value (measures how well the body can absorb and utilize a protein). Whey protein and whey isolates are your best options.
For weight loss, choose shakes with no added sugars, or dextrins/maltodextrins (sweeteners made from starch). Don’t choose those with added branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs), as they help promote muscle growth and weight gain.
Stay vegetarian or vegan
If you’re vegetarian or vegan, don’t choose milk-based protein shakes (like whey, milk proteins), instead, use 100% plant proteins—soy, pea, or hemp.
Go low-sugar with diabetes
Patients who have diabetes should choose protein shakes without added sugar (don’t choose protein powders with sugar listed as one of the first three ingredients). It’s also best to look for a shake that’s low in carbohydrates ( 5-15 grams per serving).
Limit protein for kidney disease
People with kidney disease can’t tolerate a lot of protein at one time. Stick with powders that have a lower-range protein content (10-15 grams per serving).
Avoid gastrointestinal problems
Patients with irritable bowel syndrome or lactose intolerance should choose powders that don’t contain lactose sugars, artificial sweeteners or dextrins/maltodextrins. If you have a gluten allergy or sensitivity, don’t choose powders that contain gluten.
Stick to your budget
To save money, buy tubs of protein powder instead of ready-to-drink protein shakes, which are more expensive because they’re convenient.
To recover after exercise
An athlete or avid exerciser should consume protein within 60 minutes of a workout. That’s when your muscles are most responsive to the use of protein for the repair and growth process.
To control your weight
It’s best to consume a steady supply of protein at each meal and snack to help keep you full.
Although there’s no magic number for how much protein to consume at one time, it’s best to aim for at least 3 ounces or 20 grams of protein per meal.
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