What is the best protein powder? This is one of the most asked questions that we receive in our online community and from our coaching clients.
In this NutriWiki article we are going to cover two major questions: 1) do you need to take a protein supplement, and 2) what protein powder should you choose.
What is the Best Protein Powder?
Firstly we’ll preface this article by saying you do not have to take a protein supplement. As long as your daily protein intake is met, there is no need to take protein via a supplement powder. However, in modern society where life can be hectic and planning your daily nutrition can be difficult, a protein powder can help you reach your protein targets.
If you are going to supplement, there are a few things to consider. First, whey protein is considered the “gold standard” for high quality protein or the best type of protein powder for almost all people. This protein has the highest rate of muscle protein synthesis and is often the most easily digestible (hydrolyzed whey protein is the most digestible, but it can have a weird, slightly bitter taste).
After whey protein, casein is also very effective, but digests a bit slower and may cause some stomach discomfort for some people.
Plant based proteins are slightly less effective for stimulating muscle growth, but they are effective. If you are looking for a plant based protein, soy protein powders can be of very high quality, as well as some hemp, pea, brown rice, and other plant based proteins. It may be beneficial to find blends of plant based proteins or rotate them out each time you buy one.
However, if you do not enjoy the taste of your protein, the best type of protein powder is one you enjoy.
Best Protein Powder For Weight Loss
If you’re looking to lose weight or body fat, a calorie deficit (taking in fewer calories than you expend) is paramount. This equation is complex, but the sole determinant of whether or not weight loss occurs.
When in a calorie deficit, ensuring the energy density of foods is low is helpful for increasing satiety and not using all your daily calorie budget on one meal! For this reason, a lean protein powder is essential.
Look for whey-isolate protein as the main ingredient, which is the most complex form of this bioavailable protein source. Carbohydrates should be few to none, with minimal added sugars. Ideally, the protein would be sweetened (or not!) with natural, non-caloric sweeteners like monkfruit or stevia.
Here are some protein powders that are good for weight loss:
Best Protein Powder For Muscle Gain
If you’re looking to gain weight or muscle mass, a slight caloric surplus (taking in more calories than you expend) can be a helpful edge for maximum muscle growth.
Just how much of a calorie surplus will vary based on activity, training age (how many years you’ve been lifting), gender and more. But in general, aiming for a 250-500 calorie surplus can put you in a prime anabolic state when resistance training.
Higher energy-density foods may be needed to ensure adequate calorie intake without feeling uncomfortably full. This doesn’t mean you can eat only junk food, though. Micronutrients are essential for cellular reactions that build lean tissue.
Including carbohydrates in your protein blend can increase energy density while providing fuel to your cells to build and repair muscle tissue.
Look for whey-concentrate protein with at least 200 calories and 30 grams of protein per serving. Some blends may even include creatine, an added bonus!
Here are some protein powders that are good for building muscle.
Best Protein Powder For Recovery
Perhaps you’re not looking to lose OR gain weight, but instead, maintain your body weight and perhaps support athletic or body composition goals. In this case, eating a wide variety of nutrient-dense foods at a calorie maintenance point is essential.
Even without body weight goals, protein is still an essential nutrient that enhances immunity, recovery and performance. Including a daily protein drink can ensure adequate protein without too much effort.
Look for a concentrated protein source that could include a variety of protein sources (either within or between protein powders for maximum variety). Minimal carbohydrates can be included for flavor.
Here are some protein powders that are good for muscle recovery:
Plant Based Protein Powders
You may have heard that whey protein is the most bioavailable form of protein that can be readily absorbed and put to good use, growing and repairing tissue. And it’s true that whey protein is a great source!
But with a plant-based diet, non-dairy protein options are required – and can still provide all essential amino acids for maximum muscle repair, growth or maintenance, regardless of your goals. Look for a blend of two or more sources such as pea, rice, soy, or potato protein to ensure you’re not missing any amino acids.
Carbohydrates are already readily available in your diet, so aim for a low-carb variety if you’re not looking to gain mass. Options include:
The options above are not a comprehensive list, so don’t worry if you’re not a fan of the initial protein you try. There are other options, and working with a nutrition coach can be helpful for finding the right blend for your digestion, preferences and goals!
And when it comes down to it, the most important thing is that you enjoy your protein and can stay consistent with it. That is what will result in the best success!
See Protein Quality for a detailed answer with sources.