There are a ton of protein powders on the market, with both animal and plant based options available, but which ones are better than others? Good question, and although I am a big proponent of getting nutrients from eating whole foods that have been minimally processed, there are times when protein powders can be supportive options. I have a lot of clients (and family members) who use them, and I do too once in a while, so I did some research and came up with a few options that I think are better than others based on the quality and type of ingredients used. First, some general info about protein:
- Protein is a macronutrient made up of amino acids
- The amount of protein each person needs is very individual
- Our bodies can make some amino acids and some of the amino acids we cannot make, referred to as essential amino acids, so we have to get them from our food
- The protein in food consists of different combinations and quantities of amino acids, so some sources of protein may be higher or lower in certain amino acids, or may only have some amino acids, which is why it is important to eat a variety of protein foods
- Animal sources of protein have a complete set of amino acids, but still vary in amounts for each amino acid
- Plant sources don't have all of the amino acids, so it is important to include a variety of plant proteins in a day to get the complete set
- Our bodies break down protein into the amino acid building blocks during digestion, and then use these amino acids to build different proteins that are needed throughout the body, for things like:
- Body tissues ~ Muscles, Blood, Hair, Skin, Nails, Tendons, Bones, Ligaments, Organs
- Digestive Enzymes, Hormones, Neurotransmitters
- Immune cells
- Being used as a source of energy
Tips for what to look for in a Protein Powder ~
- Look for the cleanest protein sources:
- Try to find just pure protein without a lot of other ingredients
- Opt for organic sources of plant proteins
- Unsweetened options are great, because there are no added sugars or flavors, and can get mixed in with the other ingredients you may use in a smoothie, for example
- If using flavored powders, it is important to check the ingredients and see what type of flavors are added and what type of sweetener and how much is used, and to make sure that there are no artificial sweeteners, flavors, colors or preservatives
- If using whey protein (which is a protein from milk), I recommend using a whey protein from grass-fed and pastured cows (or goats); ideally one that has been cold processed
- If using collagen peptides, I recommend using one from grass-fed and pastured cows
- I recommend NOT using soy protein for the following reasons:
- Non-organic soy protein isolate is usually processed using the toxic chemical, hexane. Hexane is a neurotoxin and not something you'd want to consume or have your kids consume.
- Soy protein isolate usually comes from genetically modified soybeans and is just not a health promoting option.
- I don't even recommend organic soy protein isolate. Soy can look like estrogen in the body, so consuming a bunch of soy, taken out of context from the whole food, can increase estrogen in some people.
- I have seen different things about casein protein powder. Casein is one of two proteins found in milk - whey being the other. Some people like it better than whey and I read that if you do use it, it may be best to consume it at night. Having said that, I am not a big fan of using casein protein on its own because it can be difficult to digest for a lot of people, and when you don't digest it well, it can create problems and even lead to an inflammatory response in the body. Generally speaking, I don't think it is a good idea to take casein out of context of the whole food where it is countered by the other milk protein, whey, that is typically easy to digest for most people.
Animal protein powder suggestions*:
- Collagen peptides ~ easily digested; complete set of amino acids; dissolves in cold or hot substances (as opposed to gelatin that requires something hot); composition of amino acids is supportive of connective tissue (so things like bones, joints, hair, skin and nails) due to concentration of the amino acids glycine and proline
- Whey protein ~ easily digested; complete set of amino acids; is a nice source of branched chain amino acids (leucine, isoleucine, and valine) that stimulate muscle synthesis, and may aid in the recovery of muscle after intense exercise; whey protein "concentrate" may have some residual lactose and dairy fat; whey protein "isolate" is filtered a step further, and is just whey protein without any residual fat of lactose, so some who may be sensitive to lactose may tolerate this form
Plant protein powder suggestions*:
- Pea protein ~ one of the plant proteins that has a very good amino acid profile, but it does have a flavor, especially when it is on its own
- Hemp protein ~ Nutiva Organic Hemp
- Mixed plant protein powders ~
- I am sure there are many other brands out there that are just as good as those I recommend, but I wanted to provide options that I have tried and/or researched the ingredients.
- For those who use protein powders regularly, I think it is a good practice to mix up the variety of powders by having a few in rotation, so maybe whey one day, and hemp and/or pea protein on another day, etc, because they provide different amino acid profiles for your body.
References and Resources:
Dr. Axe Website. Is Soy Bad for You? Retrieved from: https://draxe.com/is-soy-bad-for-you/
PlenteousVeg.com Website (2016). What is Soy Protein Isolate and is it Safe? Retrieved from: https://plenteousveg.com/soy-protein-isolate-safe/
The Be Well Blog (2011). Got tummy troubles? Retrieved from: https://www.bewell.com/blog/got-tummy-troubles/
Wellness Mama Website. What is Collagen Powder. Retrieved from: https://wellnessmama.com/3058/collagen-hydrolysate/
The Be Well Blog (2012). Whey To Go! Retrieved from: https://www.bewell.com/blog/whey-to-go/
Balanced Bites Podcast. Retrieved from: http://balancedbites.com/podcast-episode-273-all-about-protein/