Protein Powder Buying Guide

Protein powders are a convenient way to boost protein intake in a healthy and consistent manner. They help athletes maintain and repair muscle, provide fuel for workouts, and boost nutrition for people on the go. Protein powders can be made into tasty shakes or even mixed with other foods. Unlike meal replacement products, they do not contain extra carbohydrates, vitamins, or minerals and are intended to add quality protein to a healthy diet.

Choosing Protein Powder

The ingredients in most protein powders are protein, flavorings, and sweeteners. Some products contain enhancements meant to add benefit. The buyer has many options, particularly in type of protein: Each protein has unique characteristics that make it ideal for certain needs and preferences. As most products are flavored for palatability, it is also worth considering the kinds of flavorings and sweeteners used. For example, some formulations are high in sugar while others rely on artificial sweeteners such as stevia.
Protein powders are an investment in health and performance and should be chosen carefully. If possible, try samples or small sizes to find the most suitable product. Once a product is selected, larger sizes are often the most economical. As a guide to cost per serving, use the number of servings per container rather than the total amount of product. Products vary by serving size, depending on the type of protein and other characteristics.

Types of Protein

The protein used in powders comes from either animal or vegetable sources. Animal proteins include whey, casein, and egg white. They provide a complete protein source with all of the essential amino acids the body needs. Whey and casein are derived from milk, so they are considered dairy products. However, while many people who are lactose intolerant can tolerate the small amounts of lactose found in these proteins, buyers wishing to avoid dairy altogether should consider egg white protein.
Vegetable proteins provide a vegan alternative for buyers wanting to avoid all animal products. Most vegetable proteins do not provide all essential amino acids even though soy is considered a complete protein for adults. Additionally, vegetable proteins have other health benefits that interest consumers. Most vegetable protein powders should not be relied on as a complete daily protein source but can be useful in a diet that contains a variety of other protein-rich foods.

Whey Protein

Whey protein is derived from milk. Whey is popular among serious athletes and strength trainers because it is a quality complete protein that helps repair and maintain muscle. The body absorbs it quickly, making whey an excellent overall choice to aid muscle recovery after a strenuous workout. It also contains beneficial antibodies and may help support the immune system.
Products may contain whey concentrate, whey isolate, or a combination of the two. Whey is nearly tasteless and makes a good base for flavorings and sweeteners; the typical serving size is 25 to 30 grams.

Whey Concentrate

Whey concentrate has a small amount of lactose, fat, and carbohydrate. It costs less per gram than isolate.

Whey Isolate

Whey isolate is free of fat and lactose but can cost somewhat more than concentrate. It can be a good choice for the lactose intolerant. Isolate has a thinner consistency than concentrate and has a milder taste.


Egg White Protein

Egg white protein is ideal for buyers who want the complete amino acid benefits of an animal source in a dairy-free product. Egg white is also very low in cholesterol and fat. It is not as filling as whey or casein powder, but it is still quite versatile. The average serving size is 20 to 25 grams of protein.


Protein Powder Enhancements

Many protein powders contain added ingredients meant to improve product benefit or palatability. Popular enhancements include enzymes, amino acids, and thickeners.

Amino Acids

These may be added to increase the amounts of certain amino acids already present in the protein. Glutamine is a popular additive as it reportedly may boost immunity in endurance athletes.

Digestive Enzymes

These enzymes are intended to aid protein absorption.

Lecithin

Lecithin is a fat derived from soy. While it does not contain soy phytoestrogens, it does retain other purported health benefits. It also improves the consistency of protein shakes.

Protein Powder Flavors and Sweeteners

Many products contain sweeteners and flavorings to improve taste. These additives do not affect protein content and quality, but buyers may have a preference for certain ingredients over others. Products range from pure protein powder without additives to products that are artificially flavored and sweetened. Check the product label for a complete list of ingredients.

Sugar

Some products contain quite a bit of sugar. If this is a concern, check the ingredient list for the amount of sugar in grams per serving. Other ingredient names for sugar include sucrose and fructose.

Artificial Sweeteners

The same artificial sweeteners that are available in common foods are also used in protein powder. Many powders that claim no added sugar use artificial sweeteners instead. If preference matters, check the product label to see which sweetener it contains. Stevia and aspartame are popular additives.

Artificial Flavors and Colors

Artificial ingredients are cheaper for manufacturers to use and may lower the cost of products containing them. These products also offer more flavor choices than natural ingredients.

Natural Flavors and Colors

These powders provide an all-natural product. Flavor selection is more limited due to natural sourcing. Vanilla and chocolate are popular options.

Unflavored and Unsweetened

These powders are ideal for baking or combining with other flavorful ingredients such as fruit.


Conclusion

Protein powder can be a healthy part of an active lifestyle. When choosing a protein type, consider specific dietary and performance needs. Also be aware of other ingredients such as sweeteners and find a product that tastes great as well. The right protein powder will soon become a daily essential.