Tips for Picking out the Best Protein Powder

There are a large number of protein powders available on the market, and as a result it can be difficult to choose the best protein powder for what you are trying to accomplish. Brand name powders are clamouring over each other for your attention, claiming this or that benefit to get you to buy theirs instead of their competitor’s. Ultimately, brand name does not matter that much. What you need to know are some basic facts, and then you can look for the ingredients that you need the most. The exact protein powder to look for will depend on your needs, specifically, if you are trying to lose weight, gain lean weight, take it after a workout, or take it before a workout. Getting these facts straight will give you a checklist, and then actual brand name won’t matter very much.

Types of Proteins

Protein powders generally include protein from dairy sources, which includes whey and casein. Whey is a quicker acting protein, broken down and absorbed by the body faster than casein, and makes up about 20% of the protein in milk. Casein on the other hand is a slower-acting protein, and makes up the remaining 80% of protein in milk. These are the two most popular types of protein available in powder form and the most useful for those who need it. There is also egg and soy proteins, each with their own benefit and drawbacks. Soy would be good for those who are vegetarian or vegan, but it is an incomplete protein and may not contribute as many benefits. It also contains isoflavones, a type of plant hormone that increases the amount of estrogen in male bodies and thus might have undesirable side effects.

What Type Do You Need?

Post-Workout

After a workout, your body will need quick nutrients to absorb into the bloodstream. Whey protein is great for this, as it is broken down quickly. Sugar and other carbs are good after a workout as well, as your body is screaming for quick energy. Look for a protein powder that is  high in just whey (not casein), and possibly dextrose or any other carbohydrates as well, and low in fat, which can interfere with protein absorption. This is not the type of powder you will want to drink all day long, as the extra carbs can increase fat weight.

Daily Maintenance

If you are trying to gain lean body weight, you will want to add a protein powder for daily drinking throughout the day. To gain weight you need to take in more calories than you are burning. Although there is plenty of debate about this, generally you will want to eat about 1 to 1.5 grams of protein per pound of body weight. So if you currently weigh 180 pounds, try to get in about 180 to 270 grams of protein per day, which will work out to about 700 to 1000 calories of protein every day. For this type of daily maintenance, the best protein powder is casein instead of whey. Casein acts slower than whey, and helps maintain steady lean gains. Get a casein powder that is low in sugar and other carbs, although fat is OK and may help out a bit.

Losing Weight

If you want to lose weight, you can also use protein powder as a meal replacement by keeping the carbs low. Once again, pick a protein powder of casein and possibly fat, but low in sugar and carbs. Obviously, to lose weight you will need to keep your total caloric intake lower than maintenance.

Extra Ingredients

Some protein powders come with extra ingredients that may interest bodybuilders and weigh trainers, such as creatine. Discussion of these supplements are beyond the scope of this article, so be sure you know about any extra additives before you buy anything.

Reading the Labels

Knowing the above will help you pick out the best protein powder for your needs, but labels can still be confusing. Learn the above tips about whey vs casein and carbs and fat, and then learn the following terminology so you know what you are looking at when you see the labels:

  • Isolate: A pure protein, easier to mix in with liquid, but more expensive. You don’t need to go pure isolate if you don’t want to.
  • Concentrate: The cheaper form of protein. Makes mixing more difficult. This will still work fine as a protein powder, and is a good choice if you are on a budget.
  • Hydrolized Isolate (or hydrosylate): A protein that is pre-broken down, to facilitate faster absorption into the body. Obviously, if you are using casein as a daily maintenance protein this is exactly what you don’t want. Hydrolized is good for post-workout powder, when fast absorption is critical.
  • Milk Protein: Just a general dairy-based protein, which will contain the above portions of whey and casein, in 20% to 80% ratio. Good for a general-use protein powder, not specific to post-workout or maintenance. Can be used for either or both.
  • Egg Protein: Another good protein, especially if you are vegetarian and would like to avoid dairy but do not want to deal with the above-mentioned issues with soy protein.


Conclusion

No particular brand name is better than any other, as they are all required to provide accurate information on their nutritional labels. Decide what you want to do with the protein, and learn the above information specific to your need.

Resources

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17416779

http://academic.evergreen.edu/curricular/scienceofsport/Protein.htm