HOW TO ASSESS PROTEIN POWDER QUALITY
Protein powder is a perfect addition to your diet, as it's typically tasty and a convenient source of complete, high-quality protein. If you're finding it hard to hit your protein target or lack time to cook due to a busy schedule, it can be tricky to sift through the endless options to find the right one for you. This guide is here to help you choose the right one, get more out of your training, and get closer to your goals.
Protein Sources, Types & Amino Acid Profile
There are many different protein sources of varying quality. Animal sourced proteins such as milk, whey, egg, meat, and casein contain all of the essential amino acids and are, therefore, deemed 'complete.' Milk-based proteins such as whey and casein are optimal for muscle synthesis.
Most plant-based proteins, such as soy, rice, and hemp, aren't 'complete' since they don't contain all nine essential amino acids. Therefore, you should look for a plant-based option that includes multiple protein sources.
Whey and casein (milk) are both complete, high-quality proteins. Casein is slow-digesting and typically taken before bed, while whey is absorbed quicker and commonly consumed around your training. Whey comes as both concentrate and isolates, with the difference being how it's processed.
Protein Categories & Purpose
What's your goal here? Is it to gain weight, lose weight or build muscle? Do you want the protein to keep you full or use it as a means to sneak in some extra nutrients in your diet? For a meal replacement or a healthy snack option, you should look for a whey protein concentrate. These digest slower and will subsequently make you feel fuller than an isolate. A concentrate (70-80% protein) has less protein and typically includes more fat and carbs than an isolate (90% protein).
A whey protein isolate (WPI) powder is good before or after your workout as it's lighter. It will help fuel your training and support your recovery afterward. Isolates are rapidly absorbed and will make you feel less full than a concentrate. Isolates are especially good for repairing and building muscle since your body quickly utilizes the nutrients.
Casein, on the other hand, is a slow-digesting protein. It can take over 6 hours to fully digest and is, therefore, best to consume before going to bed. It's a good option if you're trying to increase mass as your body will absorb the protein while you sleep, giving you an advantage in terms of total protein intake.
*Note that ion exchange isolates and hydrolyzed formulas have the highest protein content, but does that make it the best one? No. However, many companies still market it as such. When you filter an isolate to the extent of an ion exchange isolate, you lose many peptides and healthy subfractions that reside in the complex whey protein.
Assessing the Quality
The Nutrition Label:
Understanding how to read a nutrition label is practical when comparing protein powders. Ingredients are listed in the largest to smallest quantity, so pay special attention to the first three. When comparing different products, look at the 100g column since the serving sizes might vary. Aim for over 75g protein per 100g. To assess if they've got added sugar, look for ingredients ending in 'ose' (e.g., fructose, lactose).
You can sometimes find ergogenic ingredients such as creatine, carnitine, or green tea in protein powders. This is added so that customers can get more out of a single protein powder.
Avoid fillers, artificial sweeteners, and sugars. These can cause gas or bloating and may harm beneficial gut bacteria. Carrageenan is another no-go ingredient used to create thicker, creamier products. Unfortunately, carrageenan can cause issues in your gastrointestinal tract. You may also find heavy metals in some products; avoid these.
Plant-based protein powders are an excellent option for those with dietary restrictions, such as vegans or those sensitive to lactose. If you're looking for plant-based protein powder, click here. When it comes to animal-based protein powders, your best bet is whey or casein. Casein is slowly digested and better consumed before sleep. Whey protein is more rapidly absorbed and a better alternative to fuel your training and post-workout recovery. Isolates are lighter than concentrates, contain a higher protein percentage, and digest faster. Concentrates may have more carbs and fats but are typically cheaper.
Think about your goals and choose your protein based on purpose. Read and understand the nutritional label—usually, the fewer ingredients, the better. Avoid fillers, artificial sweeteners, and sugars. Pay attention to how your protein powder makes you feel and if it's getting you closer to your goals. If not, it's time to try something new. Lastly, enjoy the convenience and reap the many benefits of a quality protein powder!