The best way to find your ideal protein powder is to know what questions to ask before buying it. Whether you want to lose weight and get slimmer, or to put on lean muscle and build a stronger body, there’s surely a protein supplement out there that fits your goals, taste and budget; but the challenge is to know how to identify the best protein powder for your specific needs.
Although they have been on the market for a while now, these supplements are still surrounded by misconceptions, one of the most common myths saying that women using such products will end up gaining weight and looking bulky. Yet, practice shows exactly the opposite: protein powders can help women lose the extra pounds and maintain a healthy weight and lean, feminine figure. So if you’re ready to discover the best protein powders for women, take a look at the table below.
Our Top 5 – Best Protein Powder For Women
If you’re looking for more options, then be sure to check out our Full Protein Powder Comparison Chart.
|NOW Sports Whey Protein Isolate||$$|
|Optimum Nutrition 100% Whey |
|Jay Robb Whey Protein Powder||$$$|
|BSN Lean Dessert Protein Shake||$$$|
|Dymatize Nutrition Elite Whey Protein Powder||$$|
The table above includes the most popular protein powders on the market in order to help you identify the ones that can support your weight loss efforts. But keep in mind that the benefits of these supplements go well beyond weight loss, and it’s worth knowing what else can protein powders do for your health and body.
However, if you’re new to this and just starting with protein supplementation, you might find it a bit overwhelming to choose a product based on a generic table. One size does not fit all in this case, and this is why we’ve put together the protein powders beginner’s guide below.
We’re here to help you choose the best product for your specific needs, based on your preferences, food tolerances and budget.
As their name implies, protein powders are nutritional supplements designed to provide additional amounts of dietary protein, in order to ensure an adequate daily intake of this nutrient and to create a balanced and healthy diet. The role of protein powders is not to replace food protein, but to supplement the amount of nutrients taken from animal or plant foods.
Although more commonly used by athletes, gym-goers and bodybuilders, these supplements can be taken by absolutely anyone who needs an extra source of protein in order to balance an incomplete diet. It’s therefore improper to refer to protein powders strictly as bodybuilding products.
The role of protein inside the human body isn’t limited to building muscle mass. This macronutrient is just as important as carbohydrates and fats for the overall health and functioning of the human organism. Made of amino acid blocks, protein can be broken down to these smaller molecules and used as fuel when no carbohydrates are available. They help in preserving muscle tissue and support the recovery after workouts, preventing the loss of muscle mass during diets as well.
Protein contributes to the immune function and are needed for the regulation of bodily fluids’ balance. They’re involved in almost all chemical reactions taking place inside the body, and without protein, hormone levels would be altered and the blood’s pH level would be affected.
Just like dietary protein taken from meat, legumes, dairy products or nuts, protein found in powder supplements can be used by the human organism for all these processes and functions, the only difference being the form in which protein is administered. It’s worth mentioning that the protein absorb-ability might actually be better for powders than for certain foods, thanks to the composition of these products. Moreover, with protein powders it’s easier to track the amount of nutrients you ingest, in order to meet your daily intake requirements.
Most protein supplements deliver between 20 and 30 grams of nutrient per serving, and depending on the brand you choose, they might also include other vitamins, minerals and carbs, so you can safely use these supplements as meal replacements, and even as ingredients for cooking protein-rich meals! There are numerous advantages in using these products, and the best part is that you can always find protein powders for women with different health and fitness purposes.
If you still doubt protein powders can be a good addition to your diet, take a look at the list of benefits below. These products can be useful for:
Improving your overall health – Protein keeps the body in the anabolic state, which allows it to preserve and construct muscles instead of destroying the tissue. They regulate the hormone production and maintain proper levels of growth hormone, which is required for healthy bones and muscles. Protein also helps in keeping insulin levels under control, so it’s needed for proper energy regulation and for preventing hypoglycemia.
Improving digestion – Unlike sugar, which results when carbohydrates are broken down, protein does not favor the development of harmful bacterial flora inside the digestive tract, thus it supports a healthier digestion.
Boosting metabolism – Protein take more time to digest, so the body burns more calories in order to metabolize protein than carbs or fats. A high protein diet helps in maintaining a faster metabolism and in burning more calories throughout the day.
Weight loss – Proper protein intake is a must for your body to efficiently mobilize the stored fat for energy production. Unless you consume the right amount of protein for your body’s needs, the organism will have a harder time drawing on fat stores, and this translates not only into lower energy levels, muscle weakness and a decreased athletic performance, but also in an increased risk of weight gain.
Improving your body composition – Protein helps in maintaining lean mass, building stronger muscles and repairing the damaged tissues after a workout. Muscles, as you probably know, burn more calories than fats, so if you focus on building lean muscles, your body fat percentage will be reduced and you’ll achieve a slimmer and better looking body.
Improving your overall appearance – Better digestion means a better absorption of nutrients, which leads to a better nourished skin and hair. Moreover, a balanced intestinal bacterial flora is linked with a lower risk of acne outbreaks and skin problems.
Boosting your energy levels – Protein is digested slower than carbs, so energy is released over a longer period of time, and energy levels are on an even keel during the day.
Improving your athletic performance – By supporting the muscle building and recovery processes, and ensuring higher energy levels, protein contributes to a better athletic performance.
Strengthening your immune system – The immune system uses different types of protein to produce immune responses. An adequate intake of these nutrients ensures a strong immune function.
Improving your mood and cognitive performance – Unlike carbs, protein doesn’t trigger sugar cravings, nor spikes in blood sugar, which are often the culprits behind moodiness, mental fog and concentration problems. A proper intake of protein can help in staying focused, preventing hunger pangs and cravings for unhealthy, sugary foods.
Speeding up recovery – Protein is vital for muscle recovery, whether you’re a professional athlete or practice physical activity at a moderate intensity. When you do physical exercises, muscles are depleted of glycogen and fibers get damaged, so after the training session you need to replenish the glycogen stores (by eating carbs) and to provide the muscles with amino acid blocks (by eating protein).
Now, keep in mind that protein powder by itself does not cause weight loss, muscle growth or anything similar, unless it’s part of a balanced diet, and is taken as a supplement, and not as main source of protein. Although you can substitute protein completely with such products, this isn’t recommended, as food is still more fulfilling and provides additional nutrients, fiber, vitamins and minerals. Protein powders are just a quick and convenient source of protein for people who need to supplement their daily intake.
Then, if you overeat and take in a lot more calories than your burn, you will gain weight, regardless of how much protein powder you consume. This product is not a weight loss supplement, and can’t reverse the negative effects of an unbalanced diet or of overeating. Also, there’s a good reason for protein powders’ labels to recommend a maximum intake of 2 servings (scoops) per day. Eating too much protein, just like skipping this nutrient, can alter your body’s balance and overall health.
Having said that, here’s one more reason to consume protein powder: food sources are divided into complete and incomplete protein. Animal protein is complete, as it contains all the essential amino acids, while plant protein is incomplete. Unless you eat enough meat, eggs, cheese, milk, fish and seafood, it’s likely that you don’t provide your body with enough complete protein. Powders can help with this.
2. Different Types of Protein Powders
With so many to choose from, how can women find the best protein powder that meets their needs? We break down the most common types of protein powders to help find the best one for you.
Whey Protein is the most popular and common supplement, proven to promote muscle growth and fat loss and to improve the cardiovascular health and metabolism. It’s extracted from milk, whey being a by-product in the production of cheese. Quickly absorbed, being effective in speeding up recovery post-workout, and it’s affordable, so it can be purchased even on a tighter budget. Plus, it’s usually available in various flavors and mixes well with water, milk and fruit juices.
This short video explains how whey protein powder aides in weight loss.
Casein Protein is also extracted from milk, during a process that isolates protein from fats and carbs. This powder is similar to whey, but digests over a longer period of time, so it’s more recommended before bedtime than after a workout, when the body needs a quickly absorbable protein.
Egg Protein is obtained by separating the out yolks and dehydrating the egg whites. It’s a complete protein and usually provides additional vitamins and minerals.
Soy Protein, although obtained from a plant, it’s a complete protein, so it’s a good option for vegans. It’s extracted from dried soy beans, but doesn’t taste as good as whey or casein powders, and might be produced from genetically modified soy. In this particular case, it’s preferably to buy the isolate, as the concentrate can be loaded with unnecessary and unhealthy chemicals.
Hemp Protein is often referred as a superfood, because it’s a complete protein that also provides essential fatty acids, and has been proven to boost the metabolism, enhance circulation, brain function and even treat a series of ailments. It’s obtained from the cannabis plant, being a vegan-friendly, hypoallergenic powder with a high content of fiber, and great for weight loss.
Pea Protein is extracted from yellow split pea, so it’s also vegan-friendly and hypoallergenic. It has a 98% digestion rate, but it’s an incomplete protein. This protein is high in glutamic acid, so it helps the body in quickly converting carbs and prevents their storage as fats. This means pea protein helps with weight loss and it’s also highly satiating.
Rice Protein, although incomplete, is a viable choice for vegetarians and vegans. Along with protein, this powder usually provides carbs, fiber and vitamin B, and it’s hypoallergenic, meaning that it is well tolerated and easily digestible even by people with allergies to lactose, soy or eggs.
When it comes to protein powders, good quality is worth paying for, so assuming that budget won’t be the main criterion in picking a product, here are some general guidelines for choosing a powder:
- If your purpose is to lose weight, opt for whey, hemp or pea protein.
- If you want to put on muscle mass, all types of protein powder are good, as long as you eat slightly more calories than you burn and workout regularly.
- If you’re a vegan who wants a quality protein in order to balance your daily menu, go for pea, rice, hemp or soy protein.
- If you’re using the powder as pre- or post-workout supplement, opt for a quickly absorbable powder, such as whey, rice or pea protein, as these provide quickly absorbable protein and carbs.
- If you’re allergic to milk, lactose or eggs, pick a hemp, soy, rice or pea protein powder.
3.1 Protein Isolate vs. Concentrate – Know The Difference
Protein concentrates are obtained by removing the non-protein part of food sources they’re derived from. If the product is derived from milk for example, in order to produce a “concentrate”, all compounds that are not protein are removed, and the final product is 70-85% pure protein. The remaining percentages are usually carbohydrates and fats, also needed for a balanced diet.
Protein isolates are obtained by removing a larger part of the non-protein ingredients, the final product being 85-95% pure protein, while the remaining percentages are usually carbs.
Of these, protein concentrates are usually a bit more affordable, but they also come with higher amounts of additional ingredients. If you opt for a cheaper powder, you might end up with a highly processed product that adds unnecessary chemicals to your diet. While it’s not necessary to buy the most expensive powder on the market, checking the ingredients before you purchase anything is crucial.
3. How Protein Powders Work
Protein powders work just like the nutrients you get from foods, but are more bioavailable and easier to digest. Once the powder gets inside the body, your digestive system processes it and breaks down the protein to amino acids, which are further used for various functions. Protein is a component of all major body systems and body fluids except for bile and urine.
Although the body can produce some protein on its own, it does not synthesize the amino acids referred to as essentials, so these need to be taken from foods or supplements. Proteins from powders are absorbed quicker than those from meat, dairy or nuts.
4. How Much Protein Powder Should I Take?
The recommended dietary allowance (RDA) for adults is 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight, or 0.36 grams of protein per pound of body weight, for a sedentary lifestyle. For recreational athletes who aren’t interested in putting on muscle mass, the recommended dose is 1 gram of protein per day, per kg of body weight.
If you practice intense workouts or general sports on a daily basis, you should consume a higher amount of this nutrient, usually between 1 and 1.4 grams of protein per kilogram of bodyweight, whereas body builders and strength athletes should consume between 1.4 and 1.8 grams of protein per kg of bodyweight.
If you’re trying to lose weight, stick with a daily dose of protein that represents 20%-40% of your daily calories (from 0.8 to 1.6 grams of protein per body weight), and eat your carbs and fats so as to create a caloric deficit at the end of the day. Reduce the carbs, not the fats, as protein and fats keep you full for longer, and do pay attention to your total calorie intake, as excess nutrients, be them protein, fats or carbs, are stored in the adipose layers, causing weight gain.
For a complete break down, check out the Journal of International Society’s article titled, “Position Stand: Protein and Exercise”.
4.1 What is The Best Time to Take The Protein Powder?
You can take the protein powder any time of the day, but if you work out, you’ll benefit from a post-workout protein shake made with protein powder and water, milk or fruit juice. Still, keep in mind that milk and juices add calories, carbs and fats, so if you’re trying to lose weight, the best is to mix your powder with water.
Protein powders can be used pre-workout as well, but in this case you’ll also need a source of carbs, so as to make sure your glycogen stores are full before starting the training session.
Regardless of your fitness and weight goals, it’s recommended to consume protein for dinner, and casein powder is usually the most indicated if you’re using supplements, as it’s released slower.
If you’re not interested in putting on mass or boosting your athletic performance and energy levels before and after a workout, you can take the protein at whatever hour you want, as it is or mixed with foods or beverages.