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How to Choose the Best Protein Powder for You

If you’ve recently been told you need to add a protein powder to your diet, you’re probably feeling confused about which one is best for you. When doctors and trainers suggest it, they can sometimes forget that selecting a protein powder can be intimidating for newcomers.

Whey protein? Egg protein? Plant-based vegan protein? Which source is the best? Is 15 grams of protein enough? Can I just choose the cheapest protein powder off the shelf in my grocery store? These are questions all who are new to protein powders face.

This guide will be your go-to for choosing the best protein powder for you. We’ll help you:

  • understand why protein is important
  • determine how much protein you need, how much you already consume, and how much your protein powder should have
  • learn about the most common protein sources like whey protein and vegan protein
  • discover which is the best protein powder for you, based on your goals

Why Do I Need Protein?

Foods that are high in protein

Protein is one of the three macronutrients that comprise food. Macronutrients are those needed in relatively large quantities. Proteins are made up of a chain of amino acids, and these chains create the physical structures of your body.

Every single cell within your body contains protein. The body also uses protein to repair minor and major damage to cells and create new ones. In addition to maintaining health and creating new structures, protein is also a source of energy. So, you see, protein is about more than just gaining new muscle—though, that’s the context you hear about most.

How Much Protein Do I Need?

How much protein your body requires is dependent on several factors. These factors are:

Unfortunately, the Canadian government doesn’t give much guidance about how much protein we need. For example, Health Canada’s website states that “… most people get enough protein …” But a 2019 study shows that many people fail to meet minimum protein needs, and women and older adults are the most at risk.

To give you a general idea, the average sedentary individual should consume roughly 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight per day. That means a person who weighs roughly 75 kg needs about 60 grams of protein, minimum.

Person holding a protein scoop in one hand and a shaker bottle in the other

To support a higher activity level, athletes (by our definition: anyone who exercises five or more days per week for more than a year) should consume between 1.2 and 2.0 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight per day. This excess is to account for the extra energy, repair, and build needs required of an athlete’s body. That means a person who weighs roughly 75 kg needs between 90 and 150 grams of protein every day.

How Much Protein Do I Already Eat?

If you’re a big meat-eater, you might easily hit these requirements. There’s only one way to find out, and that’s to take note of the protein sources you consume on a regular basis and add them up.

Be aware that while you might think of chicken, beef, and eggs as the main sources of protein, just about every food you eat contains some protein. For your reference, use the chart below to get a rough idea of what you’re already consuming: 

Rough Protein Content

3 oz Chicken

28 grams

3 oz Steak

26 grams

3 oz Turkey

25 grams

3 oz Pork

22 grams

3 oz Ham

14 grams

1 Egg

6 grams

3 oz Salmon

22 grams

3 oz Tuna

22 grams

3 oz Shrimp

20 grams

3 oz Lobster

16 grams

3 oz Scallops

14 grams

½ c Pinto Beans

11 grams

½ c Lentils

9 grams

½ c Edamame

9 grams

½ c Black Beans

8 grams

½ c Kidney Beans

8 grams

½ c Chickpeas

7 grams

½ c Quinoa

4 grams

½ c Peas

4 grams

½ c Spinach

3 grams

1 oz Pumpkin Seeds

9 grams

1 oz Peanuts

7 grams

1 tbsp Peanut Butter

7 grams

1 oz Almonds

6 grams

1 oz Pistachios

6 grams

1 oz Sunflower Seeds

6 grams

1 oz Chia Seeds

5 grams

1 oz Cashews

4 grams

6 oz Greek Yogurt

18 grams

4 oz Cottage Cheese

14 grams

8 oz Milk (skim)

8 grams

8 oz Soy Milk

8 grams

1 oz Mozzarella

7 grams

 

By adding up the approximate grams per serving of these common foods you might be eating every day, you’ll be able to gain some insight into how much protein you’re typically consuming daily. Then, we have a better idea of how much protein the best protein powder for you should contain! 

How Much Protein Does the Best Protein Powder Have?

Protein scoop on its side with protein powder spilled out

When you’re evaluating the best protein powder for you, you should have an idea of how much protein you’d like it to contain. Now, if you’re someone whose goal is to eat 100 grams of protein per day and, upon review, your food is only getting you to about 70 grams, you know you need about 30 grams of added protein to meet that goal.

Another consideration when evaluating the best protein powder for you is how many times per day you’re willing to use it or how many servings you can take. So, for example, if you’re looking to add about 30 grams of protein to your diet, you don’t necessarily need a protein powder with precisely 30 grams if you’re willing to do a serving-and-a-half or two servings spread through the day. 

Why Should I Avoid Cheap Protein Powders?

By now, you should have a better idea of why you need a protein supplement and how much you’re looking for in the best protein powder for you. But before you head to the grocery store and pick the cheapest one off the shelf, there are some things you should know.

While cheap supplement powders might be the more budget-conscious option, they’re likely not the best protein powder option for you. That’s because with protein supplements, as with most things in life, you get what you pay for.

Cheap supplements often include harmful or low-quality ingredients we typically talk about avoiding. In addition, cheaper brands often don’t pay for third-party testing or verification certifications, which means the supplements could be easily contaminated with banned substances or worse.

If we’re discussing the best protein powder options, you’re going to want to avoid the cheap options. This is not a hard and fast rule—there are certainly good supplements that don’t cost a fortune. Read this blog to learn more about ensuring you’re picking a quality supplement brand.

The Best Protein Powder Sources

Diesel Protein Powder, Strawberry

Now, let’s talk more specifically about all the different sources from which the protein in your supplement can come. Of course, whey protein is by far the most widely used, but is it the best protein powder for you?

Whey Protein

Whey protein is derived from cow’s milk. Manufacturers use enzymes to separate the milk into its two main parts—liquid and curdles. The liquid is whey protein.

Once the whey is separated, it goes through further processing to create the end product.

The main types of whey protein include:

  • Whey protein isolate
  • Whey protein concentrate
  • Whey protein hydrolysates
  • Whey protein matrix

Shop Whey Protein Isolate Powder

Why Isolate Rule One ProteinWhey Protein Isolate

Whey protein isolate is ultra-filtered to remove virtually all lactose and fat so that all that remains is pure whey protein.

Whey protein isolate may be the best protein powder for you if you’re looking for the lowest calorie option because there is no additional caloric content from fats or carbohydrates.

Other benefits of whey protein isolate are that it digests quickly and is put to work in the body as quickly as possible. Whey protein shakes may also be the best protein powder for you if you’re looking for something that doesn’t fill you up or make you feel bloated.

Lastly, whey protein could potentially still work even for those individuals who are lactose intolerant, as whey protein isolate doesn’t contain lactose.

Whey Protein Concentrate

Jacked Factory Authentic Whey Protein, Vanilla

Whey protein concentrate is less processed than isolate. Less processing and filtration means that more of the natural nutrients are left intact.

Whey concentrates are typically a little less expensive and might be the best protein powder for you if you don’t need quite as high of protein content and don’t mind a few extra carb and fat grams and the calories that come with them.

Concentrates may not be the best protein powder for you if you are sensitive to lactose, as they do contain more than their isolate counterparts.

Whey Protein Hydrolysates

Nutrabolics HydroPure Whey Protein, Vanilla Milkshake

Whey protein hydrolysates are even further processed than whey isolates. After isolation, the whey protein is exposed to enzymes, which “pre-digest” the protein. The result is smaller chains of amino acids, which digest and absorb even faster.

Whey protein hydrolysates are typically more expensive but have similar benefits to isolates. The difference is the speed at which the body can put the amino acids to work within the muscles

Whey Protein Matrix or Mix

Finally, while rare, finding a protein powder with a mix of all of the above whey protein forms is possible. These matrix sources might be the best protein powder option for you if you’re looking for the benefits of all these sources plus casein protein benefits.

Casein Protein 

ON Gold Standard Casein

Casein protein is the other milk-derived protein powder. When we talk about the milk separating process, the resulting liquid is whey protein, and the curdles are casein protein.

Casein protein is a slower-digesting option, ideal for long periods without food, like bedtime or if you must skip a meal. The mixed source mentioned above often contains casein protein to provide the body with readily available whey protein and the more sustaining casein protein. 

Beef Protein

Beef protein powders are certainly not as popular as some other options and are created by boiling beef until it becomes liquid. Then, the liquid is skimmed to remove the fat and carb content and is dried much like the other protein sources.

Beef protein may not be the best protein powder option as the quality is dependent on the quality of the meat, and it is less bioavailable for use in the body.

Vegan Protein

Now, if you’ve read this far and feel like protein powders may not be for you because you don’t eat animal sources or you’re allergic to milk or severely lactose intolerant, don’t despair.

Quest Nutrition Protein Powder, Vanilla Milkshake

Vegan protein sources might be the best protein powder option for you. There are many plant-based sources from which to choose.

Soy Protein

Soy protein powders are made from soybean meal after it’s dehulled and the fat is removed. They’re an excellent vegan protein option.

Soy protein is a good option because it’s naturally a complete protein source, meaning it contains all nine essential amino acids. However, for some reason, soy has become a controversial food item.

This is mainly because soy naturally contains phytoestrogens, a chemical compound that binds to estrogen receptors in the body. But this is unfounded nonsense for two reasons—one, the process of creating soy protein powder removes most phytoestrogen content, and two, science doesn’t support the claim that soy affects hormone levels in men or women. In fact, you might be interested to know that dairy products affect hormone levels in humans more than soy products.

Vegan Protein Matrix or Mix

North Coast Naturals Brown Rice Protein

When you’ve decided on a vegan protein and are trying to determine the best protein powder for you, there are many other plant-based sources from which to choose besides soy.

Some of those sources are brown rice, hemp, pea, pumpkin seed, and more. However, aside from soy, the best protein powder from a vegan protein source is a mix or matrix.

This is because while heart-healthy and low in calories, most vegan protein sources are not, by themselves, complete proteins. Instead, multiple sources must be combined to create the amino acid profile necessary for the best protein powder.

Shop Vegan Protein Powder

So, Vegan Protein Powder or Animal-Based Protein Powder (Like Beef or Whey Protein)?

Now that you’ve learned about the various protein powder sources, it’s time to decide which source best fits your needs.

If you have a dietary restriction, this will be an easy decision. However, if you don’t, you’ll need to consider the pros and cons of each. Most people select whey protein if they don’t have a specific reason to choose a vegan protein powder. But vegan protein sources can be a great, effective option as well. It’s all up to you.

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