First things first – I will always recommend that you try to get the majority of your nutrient intake in through eating whole foods. Protein powders just can’t compare to all the known (and unknown) vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and other nutrients that whole foods provide. That being said, protein powders are one of only a few supplements that I give the OK to go ahead and take (omega-3 oil being another). With all the various protein powders on the market, there are some things you need to keep in mind.
Calories, Not Protein Powder Determine Weight Loss
If you are buying a specific protein powder with the hopes that it’s better than some other protein powder in helping you lose weight, your efforts will be in vain. Can you lose weight eating/drinking protein powder? Of course you can, but it’s your calorie intake that is going to determine your weight loss – not the protein powder.
If you ever see a protein powder that makes a claim that it’s a weight loss protein, you should run the other way. That is pure marketing to unsuspecting buyers. In addition, when you think of buying protein powder, and you end up thinking of brands instead of the type of protein that’s in it, simply avoid them – they are usually overpriced and over-hyped.
Keep it Simple
Many of the branded protein powders contain all kinds of ingredients. I’ve seen some that have dozens of them. Why? The idea behind them is that they are supposed to be better than other protein powders. However, many of them are so heavily artificially sweetened and loaded with other unhealthy ingredients that it turns a health food product into a highly processed food.
When picking a protein powder, keep it simple. Look at the ingredients on the back. Ideally, there should be a single ingredient on the food label. Protein blends are nice in theory, but they are unnecessary and add to the cost of the protein powder.
Cheaper Actually Tends to Be Better
Because of the added ingredients and flavors for many protein powders, they tend to be more expensive than their simple counterparts. In addition, many companies brand their protein powders with spokespeople and models which adds cost to the product. This cost ends up being passed down to you.
Many times you can find a basic protein powder for half the price of a popular brand, and the differences are negligible. The simple protein powder will still have the same main ingredient – protein powder, but it will be in very simple, plain, inexpensive packaging. If this bothers you, feel free to spend twice as much on fancy packaging. It’s just going to go in the trash anyways.
My Personal Choice
My protein powder of choice is whey protein isolate. Whey protein has a very favorable amino acid profile. I choose the isolate over the concentrate because the isolate has a bit less lactose in it. The isolate is basically a purer form of whey protein. I also make sure “whey protein isolate” is the only ingredient on the package (soy lecithin is usually a second, but nearly every protein powder on the market has it).
This means the protein powder is going to be unflavored. But don’t worry, there are plenty of ways to flavor it naturally yourself. As for when to use protein powder, I would limit its use to pre and/or post-workout. Whey protein is insulinogenic, which means it causes an insulin spike . Because of its processed nature, it’s very quickly digested, and is best suited to be taken around your workout.
Various Protein Recipes
You can do all kinds of things with protein powder. Not only can you drink it, but you can mix it into food too. Here are just a few ideas.
- My favorite is mixing 50 grams of protein, 1 frozen banana, some frozen berries, a handful of spinach (can’t taste it), and some water/milk into a blender. Makes a nice naturally sweetened protein smoothie.
- You can also mix some protein powder, all natural peanut butter, cocoa powder, and ice into a little water and blend. Makes a nice low-carb peanut butter chocolate slushy.
- Last but not least, you can add it to food products as a food enhancer. Add it to milk for more protein. Add it into your baked goods for a little extra protein (not that I recommend you eat baked goods). There are also many healthy baking recipes that use protein powder as the main ingredient. Protein pancakes, and protein muffins/brownies are just a couple.
The best protein powder is going to be the one that helps you build muscle so that you are creating a better metabolic environment that is conducive to weight loss. Use the protein powder to build muscle and help you recover faster. Then, once you create a calorie deficit, the majority of your weight loss will be fat loss – which in the big scheme of things should be your ultimate goal. Don’t fall for the protein powder hype. Make smart choices that will save you money. Put your savings towards healthy food, instead of into the pockets of marketers.
I Use and Recommend NOW Foods Whey Protein IsolateAfter spending years researching and sorting through close to 100 different protein powders, I finally settled on NOW Foods Whey Protein Isolate. The reasons are severalfold:
- Whey protein isolate has the highest biological value of any protein powder, with a BV of 104.
- NOW Foods Whey Protein Isolate has no artificial colors, flavors, or sweeteners.
- At under $10/lb (for the 10lb bag), it is one of the cheapest whey isolates on the market.
- There is no over-priced marketing or gimmicks involved.
- It has 1 single main ingredient - whey protein isolate.