The Only Checklist You Need for Selecting a New Protein Powder
Suppose you’re a loyal Supplement Superstore blog reader. In that case, you know that we’re tried and true supplement lovers who believe most people can benefit from the addition of sports supplements to their daily nutrition.
While we use them ourselves, supplements are certainly not a one-size-fits-all solution, but there are a few supplements we believe can benefit just about everyone. Those supplements are:
- protein powder
Protein powder and creatine are two supplements that can be helpful to an individual’s health and fitness regardless of fitness level or goal. This is because protein powders help you to meet the necessary protein intake for normal body support and functions. In addition, protein powders support recovery processes and help to improve body composition by increasing the amount of lean muscle mass.
Creatine is helpful for a similar reason—it is scientifically proven to support muscle growth in people, regardless of their activity level. There aren’t many supplements that work regardless of whether the user is working out or not. Creatine is one of a kind.
While we’re huge advocates for these two supplements, this article isn’t meant to convince you to take either—we have plenty of articles for that, though! Today, we’d like to talk to individuals who have already decided they want to use a protein powder and are following our other frequently remarked piece of advice: use quality supplements! In this piece, we offer a convenient checklist for picking the right protein powder for you.
At its conclusion, we hope you feel confident in your knowledge about the various powders we offer and in choosing a supplement you feel good about.
Does the Supplement’s Protein Content Match Your Needs?
The first point on our checklist is the most obvious: protein content. If a protein powder doesn’t fall into an acceptable range for you, personally, you should move on right away.
Appropriate protein content varies from person to person, based on their goals. To determine this, you first need to have an idea of your protein intake goal and a rough estimate of how much you consume with food or by any other means.
How Much Protein Do You Need?
- For Active Adult Women: 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight
- For Sedentary Adult Women: 1.2-2.0 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight
- For Active Adult Men: 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight
- For Sedentary Adult Men: 1.2-2.0 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight
Once you’ve calculated how much daily protein you require and added up an estimate of your typical intake, you can see if there is a gap that a protein supplement can fill. How big that gap is determines the protein content you’re looking for. For example, a sedentary individual may need only 10-15 extra grams of protein, while an active woman who is trying to gain muscle mass might require 30 grams or more.
You can find protein powders with anywhere from 10 to 40 grams of protein, with most sitting right at 20 grams per serving.
Is the Protein Source Appropriate for Your Needs?
Next, you will want to consider the source. Forty grams of protein might sound great, but if it’s coming from beef and you’re a vegan athlete, it’s not a good fit.
While whey protein powders are certainly the most popular and traditional, these days, protein powders are available from a variety of sources. As a result, there is an option for everyone, regardless of their allergies or restrictions.
Some of the most common protein sources are:
- brown rice
- pumpkin seed
Is the Protein Quality Acceptable?
After you’ve found an appropriate source for your protein powder supplement and the content is a fit for your needs, you’ll want to make sure the protein quality is acceptable to you.
Beyond the sources we’ve mentioned above, there are different processing methods that each protein powder goes through. The protein source could be an isolate, a concentrate, or a hydrolysate. All protein supplements are extracted from animal products or plants through high heat and enzymes or acid.
After the initial process, protein isolates are further filtered and processed to remove the fat and carbohydrates, so the result is greater than or equal to 90% protein. Isolates are quicker to digest than the other processes and have fewer calories and less fat and carb content.
Protein concentrates are processed the least. Technically, the protein content can range from 35-80%. The remaining 20-65% is the other macronutrients—carbohydrates and fats. The additional carbs and fats mean that the calorie content is higher along with the macros than with other processes.
As with isolates, hydrolysates undergo further processing after the initial extraction process. The purpose is to break down the protein structures into short peptide chains, resulting in a more easily digested protein source. In theory, this makes a superior protein powder, but the science isn’t there to back up the theory. The other downside is that a side-effect of this process leads to a bitter taste, requiring extra sweeteners to offset the flavour.
In addition to deciding between isolates, concentrates, and hydrolysates, you should understand that some protein sources are digested and utilized by the human body more effectively than others. The PDCAAS (Protein Digestibility Indispensable Amino Acid Score) is a scale to measure how much of a protein source is digestible. The higher the number, the better the quality protein source. The highest number is 1.0.
Here are some of the most common scores:
- Whey Protein Isolate: 1.00
- Whey Protein Concentrate: 1.00
- Milk Protein Concentrate: 1.00
- Micellar Casein: 1.00
- Egg White Protein: 1.00
- Hydrolyzed Collagen: 0.0
- Beef Protein Isolate: 0.0
- Soy Protein Concentrate: 0.99
- Soy Protein Isolate: 0.98
- Pea Protein Concentrate: 0.89
- Rice Protein Concentrate: 0.37
- Hemp Protein: 0.63
- Rice/Pea Protein Blend: 1.00
Is this Protein Powder a Complete Protein?
Next, an important question to ask before deciding on the protein powder supplement that is right for you is whether the supplement is a complete protein. A complete protein contains enough of all nine essential amino acids that the body cannot produce on its own (you can learn more about EAAs here).
All animal proteins are complete by nature, so you don’t need to think very hard about this question if you’re considering whey, casein, or egg. Plant proteins, on the other hand, may or may not be complete proteins. So, if you’re considering a plant-based protein powder, this question is relevant.
While many plants offer a complete EAA profile, many do not, and while this is no longer a concern for vegans and vegetarians (because we know that if you consume all nine EAAs over the course of a day, your body uses the protein the same), when we’re talking about protein supplements, we want a complete protein.
These days, most “plant-based” protein powders come from various plant sources to ensure they are a complete source. Still, it’s worth double-checking before you hit that buy button—especially if you’re looking at a single-source supplement.
Does this Supplement Have a Suitable Caloric, Fat, and Carbohydrate Content for Your Needs?
After you’ve closely examined the protein source, content, quality, and completeness, you next need to consider the other macronutrients and calories.
As we previously explained, whey protein isolates remove most of the other macros, so these are typically much lower in fats, carbs, and calories. Other dairy protein powders contain more of each. Plant-based protein sources might contain more carbs and fats than whey isolates, but they typically stay calorically low.
There is no right answer for the macro breakdown of a protein powder; you just have to make sure whatever it is, it works for you. Some people are concerned with fewer carbs and more fat because they follow the keto diet. Others prefer nothing but protein in their protein powder.
Is it Free from Personal Allergens or Restrictions?
Next up is ensuring the protein powder you select is free from things you can’t or don’t want to eat. Many Canadian adults suffer from sensitivities, allergies, and other restrictions.
Some of the most common ingredients that people may want to avoid are:
- animal products
- artificial sweeteners
Now that you’ve gotten this far, it’s time to closely inspect the ingredient list for those ingredients you wish to avoid. Many supplements do a good job of separately calling out and listing common allergens, and hopefully, soon, this will be a requirement.
Is the Protein Powder Free of Artificial Flavours, Sweeteners, or Colours?
While more important to some people than others, we recommend that your protein powder be free from artificial sweeteners. While science doesn’t support that these chemically made flavours and dyes are as harmful as their sweetener counterparts, they can cause allergic reactions in some people and hyperactivity in some children.
On the other hand, artificial sweeteners have been proven to cause brain tumors, bladder cancer, weight gain, and other dangerous health conditions. Some artificial sweeteners are still approved for use in Canada, and while some are more dangerous than others, it might be easier to avoid them altogether. On the other hand, you can Google anything you’re unsure of if you find a protein powder that otherwise fits the bill—some artificial sweeteners, like sucralose, are considered safe.
Here are some artificial sweeteners you might find on your label:
- acesulfame potassium
Is this Supplement Sweetened with Your Preferred Method? Is the Sugar Content Acceptable?
With the above being said, you should make sure the protein powder is sweetened with a method you deem acceptable. For example, it could be naturally sweetened with cane sugar, but then the sugar content might be high—we recommend as little as possible, but certainly under 10 grams of sugar.
Because many people want to avoid excess sugar in their diet (you should, too), many supplements utilize alternative means, such as:
- sugar alcohols
- natural sweeteners
- nutritive sweeteners
Sugar alcohols can be synthetic or natural but are typically considered safe. They are sweeter than sugar and do affect blood glucose. They also have fewer calories than sugar, but they are not zero-calorie like many people believe.
Natural sweeteners, like stevia and thaumatin, are favourites with supplement companies, too, as they are low-calorie and very sweet, with a more negligible effect on blood sugar.
Nutritive sweeteners are things like honey and agave. These things contain sugar and a few vitamins and minerals or additional health benefits.
Is this Brand GMP Certified?
Now that you’ve selected a protein powder that aligns with your needs and goals, it’s time to take a closer look at the supplement company.
In Canada, supplement brands are required to be GMP certified. Good Manufacturing Practices is a means of independently verifying and ensuring that a company follows minimum safety guidelines to limit the risk of contamination or mix-ups in the products.
Your supplement should be GMP certified and will likely have a reference on the label.
Is this Supplement Informed-Choice or Informed-Sport Certified?
This is especially critical for professional or student-athletes or anyone who undergoes drug testing. One of the worst things that can happen to an athlete is testing positive for a banned substance they were unwittingly consuming in their dietary supplements.
There you have it—this protein powder checklist covers you from A-Z to ensure that your supplement is not only safe and effective but that it will help you feel your best and achieve your health and fitness goals.
This article is just one way we hope to create more educated supplement consumers. In this way, you can be knowledgeable about the industry and your nutritional needs. For more free education, tips, and tricks, make sure to check out our blog regularly!