With all the different protein powders available on the market, picking the right one for you can be not only challenging, but stressful as well, especially if you’re just getting familiar with these supplements. As a beginner, you’re probably interested in a powder that’s able to provide the best value for money, but how can you make sure you’re not paying more than a product is actually worth?
Choosing a powder that’s not able to meet your requirements in terms of taste and mixability, budget and nutritional needs might leave you disappointed and create the false impression that protein powders are nothing but scam products meant to make producers rich. With dietary supplements, things are a bit more complicated than with other products: you don’t get the chance to try the powder and see if it “fits” before paying for it, and you don’t get free trials.
Yet, with a bit of research and a good purchasing strategy, you can easily identify those products that could be a good fit for you. Given below are the basic steps you should follow in order to find your ideal protein powder:
1. Familiarize Yourself
Before you can identify the best product, you have to get familiar with the different types of protein powders on the market , and learn what each of them can do for your body, in terms of weight management, body composition, energy levels and so on. Also, it’s important to know the differences between organic and non-organic powders.
2. Check The Ingredients
Once you identify the best type of powder for your goal, take a look at the ingredients. Ideally, you should opt for a protein powder that contains fewer chemicals, flavors and coloring agents, and a higher percentage of protein (isolate is always better than concentrate).
3. Calculate The Value
Your list of alternatives should already be a lot shorter, so now it’s the perfect time to decide how much you want to invest in your supplement. Calculate the price per gram of protein, not per package, as sizes vary.
4. Taste and Mixability
Before placing the order, think about the taste you prefer and the mixability options – some protein powders go nicely with milk, while others are better with water.
5. See What Others Are Saying
Last, check for reviews. This step is really important, as even the highest qualitative protein powders can have their drawbacks, and it’s always useful to hear what other people have to say about the product you’re about to purchase.
Ready to learn more? Start here, then come back to find out what each protein powder can or cannot do for you.
1. What type of protein powder should I use?
Although the main ingredient of all protein powders is protein, each product comes with added ingredients, and these extra compounds can make a product more or less suitable for a certain fitness goal.
Whey protein powders are considered the best for weight loss, as they’re easily digestible, come with very little fat and can be found in very pure forms, isolates providing 90-95% pure protein. They make perfect post-workout shakes, as whey stimulates protein synthesis.
Also, you can easily find low-calorie whey isolates, and these add few carbs to your menu, so they’re excellent for dropping some pounds without losing lean mass. Yet, they’re not suitable for people with lactose allergy, nor for vegans. Read more here.
Casein protein powders are considered the best before bedtime, because they sustain an anti-catabolic environment while you sleep, and reduce the protein breakdown. They’re better for overnight recovery and for enhanced energy levels throughout the day, as they’re digested slower.
These powders aren’t suitable for vegans, nor for people with milk allergy. Casein powders aren’t as effective as whey powders in rebuilding the muscles after a workout, but they provide a positive protein balance that lasts for longer. Learn more here .
Egg protein powders are usually more expensive than other products, and tend to be higher in calories, but provide more minerals (vitamin E, B, D, A). These powders are good for people who are intolerant to lactose, but they taste harsh when mixed with water.
Most importantly, egg protein can be contaminated with pharmaceuticals, antibiotics or hormones, and it’s generally recommended to be served cooked, to deactivate any potential pathogens. Read more here .
Soy protein powders promote bone health and boost the immune function, have cardiovascular protective effects and reduce the risk of developing certain forms of cancers. However, they might alter the hormone levels.
Given the low cost of soy protein, these powders are usually more affordable, but they can also be less qualitative than casein and whey powders. Read more here .
Hemp protein powders offer anti-inflammatory ingredients, are high in fiber and more fulfilling than other powders, and they’re good for vegans and vegetarians. They help with weight loss, but are usually the most expensive products out there. Learn more here .
Pea protein powders prevent carbs from being stored as fats, are absorbed fast and are good for weight loss, but they’re considered less tasty by some, and can cause bloating in more sensitive people. Read more here .
Rice protein powders are easily digested and good for people with milk or soy intolerances. They provide vitamin B and fiber, which are useful for your overall health, but are also higher in carbs, which isn’t always a good thing, especially if you’re trying to lose weight. Read more here .
1.2 Grass-fed cows / Organic / non-organic powders?
Organic powders, made with protein obtained from grass-fed cows, tend to be more expensive than non-organic products, but it’s not only the price that is different in this case.
A powder labeled as “organic” comes from a cow that was fed an organic diet, free of pesticides and other harmful chemicals. In organic powders you won’t find hormone, antibiotic or chemical traces, and these products are sugar-free, gluten-free and usually lower in carbs than non-organic powders.
However, note that high quality regular powders are also extensively tested for antibiotic residues, so if you stick with a renowned brand, you’re likely to get a very good protein powder even if it’s not organic. Also, quality powders usually contain extremely small amounts of hormones, which are unlikely to cause significant health effects.
So if you want to invest in an organic powder, that’s a smart choice for sure, but if your budget doesn’t allow this, don’t worry: high quality non-organic protein is, in most cases, good enough to do the work of an organic powder. The only difference will probably be in taste, as non-organic powders tend to have a slightly more artificial taste.
For reviews of organic, high-end protein powder powders, read our “Best Organic Protein Powder” article.
2. Ingredients’ quality
Protein powders that are made with natural ingredients and consumed responsibly will not harm your body, on the contrary: they’ll serve you up complete protein, so they’re a good addition to your menu. However, not all powders on the market are high quality, and some contain potentially harmful ingredients.
Take a look at the good and bad components of protein powders, and make sure to check the labels before you buy a product.
Protein concentrate (regardless of protein source)
As for protein isolate, some say it is unhealthy because it is more processed than the concentrate, and ingested in high amounts can acidify the body. Yet, this effect can be countered by eating enough foods with an alkaline pH. Moreover, eating too much protein from whole foods can have the same effect, so it’s not a particularity of protein isolate. Basically, anything that’s eaten in excessive amounts will alter your body’s pH and bacterial flora.
2.1 Ingredients to avoid
Although avoiding all these compounds may not be possible, it’s still good to know them, and to look for a product that contains the smallest number of ingredients from the following:
- Food coloring
- Polysorbate 80
- Propylene glycol
- Ethoxylated mono-diglycerides
- Corn syrup and its derivatives (HFCS, dextrose)
- Artificial sweeteners like aspartame or acesulfame K
3. Price per gram of protein
To make sure you get the best value for money, you need to calculate the price per gram of protein. Easier way to do this is to first calculate the price per scoop (each package has the approximate number of scoops listed on the label), then to divide that price by the number of grams contained by one scoop.
If a scoop of protein powder provides 25 g of protein, and the package contains 60 scoops, divide the cost by 60 to calculate the price per scoop, then again by 25 to find out the price per gram. Use this value as indication for the best deal.
Here are some suggestions of protein powders to buy on a budget.
4. Taste and Mixability
If your goal is to lose weight, mix the powder with water, to cut calories and fats. This doesn’t alter the powder’s taste and is a safe strategy for vegans and people with intolerance to lactose or casein.
If you want to gain weight, put on lean mass or just look for a good recovery drink post-workout, mixing the powder with milk is also a good alternative. Still, keep in mind that the beverage will be richer in calories, carbohydrates and fats (unless you use skim milk).
Mixing protein powders with fruit juice is not a good idea as regardless of how healthy the juice is (no sweeteners, homemade), it still causes spikes in your blood sugar levels, and adds lots of carbohydrates to your menu. Plus, juices can really alter the taste of the powder.
Better alternatives are coconut milk, almond milk or soy milk, assuming you’re not allergic to these products and want to try something different than regular milk or plain water.
5. What other people say about …
Before you buy a powder, take your time to read other people’s reviews, as these often share tips on how to incorporate the powder in different foods or beverages, and they also share the negative and positive experiences. Reviews are useful for learning about the mixability of a powder, its most common side effects, its ability to increase energy levels and boost cognitive performance and so on.