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  • Taylor Richter, RDN, LD

Selecting Your Ideal Protein Powder: A Practical Guide

Protein powders have become a convenient way to increase protein consumption throughout the day. As you may know, the market is saturated with options. It can be hard to know where to start and what brands to trust! Between whey proteins and pea proteins, premade shakes and powders, the options are endless. Let’s delve into what makes a good protein powder, which ones are our favorites, and how to choose the best one for you.


Whey Protein Powders


Whey protein is a concentrated form of protein extracted from milk. It has gained widespread popularity as a dietary supplement due to its high protein content and essential amino acids. Whey protein is known for its rapid absorption and is commonly used to support muscle building, enhance recovery after exercise, and meet increased protein requirements.


But not all whey is the same. Quality matters and the products produced by grass-fed cows have been shown to have more benefits than just in whey protein alone [1,2].


Grass-Fed Whey Protein Powders

  • Nutrient-Rich Composition: Grass-fed whey protein, derived from the milk of grass-fed cows, offers more than just protein. It's loaded with β-Carotene, conjugated linoleic acid (CLA), and unsaturated fatty acids, known for their health benefits. CLA, in particular, has demonstrated anti-carcinogenic properties and immune system regulation.

  • Mineral Boost: Comparing labels reveals that grass-fed whey concentrates surpass their non-grass-fed counterparts, especially in essential minerals like calcium, iron, phosphorus, and manganese. Cows grazing on perennial ryegrass pastures contribute to the elevated mineral content, making grass-fed whey protein a nutritionally robust choice.

  • Heart-Healthy Fats: Grass-fed dairy doesn't just provide protein; it's also rich in heart-healthy fats. Polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs) and monounsaturated fatty acids (MUFAs) found in grass-fed whey contribute to reducing heart disease risk and improving blood pressure [2].


Vegan Protein Powders


Vegan protein powders are plant-based alternatives to traditional animal-derived protein supplements like whey. These powders cater to individuals following vegetarian or vegan lifestyles, as well as those seeking allergen-friendly and sustainable protein sources. Typically made from a variety of plant sources such as peas, rice, hemp, or soy, vegan protein powders offer a complete amino acid profile, essential for muscle building and overall health.


The quality of vegan protein powders is crucial as it determines the nutritional value and absorption efficiency. High-quality options not only provide the necessary protein content but also offer additional benefits such as fiber, vitamins, and minerals. Ensuring the absence of artificial additives, preservatives, and excessive sugars is key for those aiming to optimize their nutritional intake. Also, choosing a pea protein dominant blend is one great way to amp up your consumption of necessary amino acids to promote muscle building [3,6].


Pea Protein Dominant Blends:

  • Plant-Powered Protein: Pea protein, extracted from yellow peas, has gained recognition as a complete plant-based protein. It offers all essential amino acids necessary for muscle growth and repair, making it a solid option for those pursuing a plant-centric diet.

  • Allergen-Friendly Appeal: Pea protein is a clean option for individuals with dietary restrictions, and is naturally free from dairy, gluten, and soy. It provides a nutrient-dense protein source without compromising on allergen concerns.

  • Digestive Support: Pea protein is known for its ease of digestion and gut-friendly properties. Its high fiber content supports digestive health and contributes to a feeling of fullness, making it suitable for weight management.


Collagen


Collagen is the most common protein naturally found in your body. It’s essential for the structure of your bones, skin, muscles, tendons, and cartilage. Collagen supplements, including protein powders, are animal-based [4].


Collagen can be helpful for reducing joint pain and improving muscle recovery. It is also found to be beneficial for your hair, skin and nails. Collagen clearly has some great results, it is important to remember that it is not a complete protein [5].


Our Favorite Brands for Whey Protein


  • Vital Proteins Vital Performance Whey + Collagen: Combining whey and collagen, this brand delivers a protein blend that packs a punch to support muscle protein synthesis and connective tissue integrity.

  • Tera's Whey: Renowned for its commitment to quality, Tera's Whey offers organic whey protein without unnecessary additives.

  • Naked Whey: Staying true to simplicity, Naked Whey provides pure whey protein without added ingredients.


Our Favorite Brands for Pea Protein Dominant Blends


  • OWYN (Only What You Need): A plant-based option focused on delivering allergen-friendly and tasty protein.

  • Garden of Life Sport: A trusted choice for athletes, blending plant-based nutrition with organic ingredients.

  • Orgain: Offering organic, plant-based protein options for those seeking quality on a budget.

  • Sun Warrior: A brand emphasizing plant-based nutrition with protein powders that align with health and sustainability goals.

  • Naked Pea: Keeping it straightforward, Naked Pea provides pure pea protein without unnecessary additives.

  • Aloha: Bringing a premade option to plant-based protein options, Aloha delivers on flavor without compromising on quality.


How to Choose Your Own


Now that we've explored the benefits of grass-fed whey and plant-based protein powders, let's delve into practical tips for choosing the right protein supplement tailored to your needs. Whether you're a fan of whey or prefer the plant-based route, the following guidelines can help you make informed decisions:


  • When choosing a plant based powder: look for options that are a pea protein blend or have pea protein as the first ingredient

  • When choosing a whey protein powder: look for a protein that comes from grass-fed cows

  • Mind your net carbs: The ideal protein powder will help you balance your blood sugar. Aim for the powder to have 10 grams or less of net carbs. Calculate this by subtracting grams of fiber from grams of total carbohydrates.

  • Uses sweeteners like: stevia, monkfruit, sugar and coconut sugar. Did the dietitians say it's ok to have sugar? It is when there is less than 10g of total carbs. This ensures that the sugar content will be low!



Conclusion


Choosing a protein powder goes beyond ticking a box on your checklist; it's about making informed decisions that can impact your health and well-being. The seemingly endless options, from grass-fed whey to vegan protein powders, show that there is more to these powders than meets the eye. Finding a quality way to easily add protein to your day is the key to choosing what is best for you.


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