With so many protein powders available on the market, it can be very confusing to perform an analysis of which powder will be the best quality for your body. Add into that the fact that many protein powders are expensive, so you don’t want to invest in a powder that will fall short of good for you, let alone taste terrible.
In this blog post, I will simplify the process of choosing a quality protein powder, explain a few basics to empower you in your decision-making, and provide a list of powders that I usually recommend to my clients with an explanation as to why they are recommended.
What You Should Know As A Consumer
As the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) does not regulate the supplement industry, there is no barrier in place to prevent the faulty claims made by many protein companies. One of the ways a protein label may lie on the label about how much protein is in the powder is through ‘nitrogen spiking.’ This is a method used to make protein powder cheaper, resultantly, more attractive for a greater population of consumers.
Every amino acid contains nitrogen, and nitrogen is used to measure the amount of protein in a powder. The problem occurs when protein companies ‘spike’ their protein powder by adding additional, unnecessary amino acids in order to boost the protein grams per serving. Jim Stoppani explains this below:
Most amino acids, such as taurine and glycine, are much cheaper than whey protein, casein protein, milk protein or egg protein. Even highly beneficial amino acids, such as BCAAs and glutamine, are cheaper than protein powders. So by adding a bunch of cheaper amino acids to their protein powders, supplement companies can boost their nitrogen content, which technically means they boosted the amount of protein per serving – at least according to the nitrogen test.
Because the added amino acids are not complete proteins, though, the protein content of a protein powder with added aminos is not what the test claims it to be. For example, a whey protein powder may claim to contain 20 grams of protein per one scoop serving. If they added 5 grams of glycine per serving, then you are only getting 15 grams of actual whey protein and 5 grams of glycine, which would read as 20 grams of protein per serving in the nitrogen test. At least glycine is one of the 20 amino acids used as the building blocks for protein. However, having an extra 5 grams of this non-essential amino acid is not going to do you any real benefit when it comes to muscle growth. So that serving of whey protein is really only 15 grams of actual whey protein per serving.
How can you avoid purchasing a Protein-spiked Powder?
- Avoid protein powders that have taurine and glycine listed in the ingredients list.
- Avoid protein powders that list BCAAs (branched chain amino acids): glutamine, beta-alanine, betaine, and/or creatine
- Don’t be seduced by price alone when choosing protein–you will get what you pay for without exception!
- Look for transparency in labeling and companies that list out the amount of protein coming from each source in proprietary blends.
Artificial vs. Natural Sweeteners
Artificial sweeteners are often added to powder to make it taste better, thereby getting you to actually make your daily protein shake. Some of the most commonly-used artificial sweeteners include sucralose and acesulfame potassium. The addition of these sweeteners also helps keep the sugar content listed on the Nutrition Facts label at 2, 1, or even 0 grams of sugar–very appealing for somebody trained to know sugar spikes aren’t helpful to body fat loss goals.
While artificial sweeteners are not demonized here at the Power Foods Lifestyle and added to a ‘forbidden’ list, I encourage you to be moderate in your intake, as well as listen to your body to see what type of reactions you may have. We all have different bodies that might detect ‘artificial’ and send strong signals that we are not to ingest these (think headaches, diarrhea, stomach aches, etc.). If your body does not send you adverse reactions and you would like to use an artificially-sweetened powder, please do so in moderation.
The PFL recommendation is to ingest no more than two servings per day of artificial sweeteners. This means if protein powder is a 2x/day convenient snack for you, there should be no artificially-sweetened soda, drinks, gums, ice creams, etc. in your day to keep your intake moderate and chance for long-term consequences low.
Stevia is a much better sweetener to see listed in the ingredient label as it is natural. Some companies, however, list stevia early in the ingredient list, while listing artificial sweeteners farther down the label. Always read the ingredient list in its entirety!
Another better-for-you sweetener will be sugar alcohols like erythritol, xylitol, or mannitol. While these sugar alcohols are also naturally extracted, anecdotal evidence points to the need to limit the intake as well or digestive distress can ensue.
A Simplified Process for Choosing A Quality Protein Powder
- Look at the Ingredients first
- Read the entire list of ingredients looking for nitrogen spiking, proprietary blends of protein, unclear protein sources, and artificial or natural sweetener sources. This is also how you will know the type of protein you are looking at.
- Look at the Macros
- At the PFL, we look at macros to see where the peak ranges fall. For your protein powder to truly be constituted as a ‘P,’ the protein grams per serving need to be between 15-30 grams. While most protein powders will easily fall in this range, nitrogen spiking awareness may help you look at a source differently.
- Carbs should be fewer than 5-7 grams per serving to ensure there is not much maltodextrin, a cheap carbohydrate that is derived from corn, mixes easily, but can spike insulin. If choosing a Meal Replacment shake, then of course, the carbs are fine to be 15-30 grams or so, but know that mostly these carbs will not be from wholesome sources–they’ll be from maltodextrin.
- Fats should be fewer than 2-3 grams per serving unless it is a ready-made shake with MCT or other helpful oils in it. If the fat range falls between 8-12 grams, this would constitute as a PF protein in the PFL.
- Look at the Sugar content
- Look at the ingredient list for the amount of sugar in each serving. You should see no more than 2-3 grams if an artificial sweetener is used, and no more than 6-8 grams per serving if a natural sweetener is used.
- Look at the price per serving
- Look at the number of servings in the protein powder container you are considering purchasing.
Power Foods Lifestyle Recommendations
Bone Broth Protein (different than Bone Broth liquid) — Sun, Cow, Grass
- Protein per serving: 22 grams
- Sweetener: none
- My taste rating: 3/10. This powder is unflavored and unsweetened, so do not expect much more than a powder you need to blend well.
- Recommended Prep Style: I recommend using 4-16 oz. unsweetened almond milk per 4 rounded Tbsp. bone broth powder and adding a splash of vanilla extract. You might also try experimenting with other spices or extracts, like mint, cinnamon, or allspice.
- Additional Notes: This protein has absolutely no allergens in it, so is ideal for every person and every health condition. SO clean which is why I love it! This protein comes in a re-fill bag so it’s actually cheaper! Put yours in a large Tupperware and keep stored away from heat.
Egg Protein — Jay Robb
- Protein per serving: 24 grams
- Sweetener: Stevia extract
- My taste rating: 6/10. The Vanilla powder I usually use does not have much taste to it other than a hint of vanilla so it’s easy to neither love it nor hate it. Note this powder is also sold in Chocolate and Strawberry which may be perfect for your tastebuds.
- Recommended Prep Style: I recommend mixing this in straight water in a shaker bottle and drinking immediately. When blended, the protein can get fairly frothy so don’t be alarmed at that. I find myself shaking the bottle before each swallow to ensure the powder stays mixed well and does not clump.
- Additional Notes: This protein is often great for those sensitive to whey. If you do not have a sensitivity to eggs, this could be your ideal, clean protein.
Whey Protein (for Quality) — Pro JYM
- Protein per serving: 24 grams
- Sweetener: Brown Rice Syrup, Sucralose & Acesulfame Potassium
- My taste rating: 8/10.
- Recommended Prep Style: I recommend mixing this with either plain water in a shaker bottle for before/after the gym, or mixing with unsweetened almond milk 1/3 c. oat flour, and 1 Tbsp. almond butter for a full meal replacement. Be sure to add cinnamon extract for a little more flavor!
- Additional Notes: This protein is my #1 go-to for those interested in lean muscle gains and development in the gym! Jim Stoppani, the man behind this protein, is a valuable resource of knowledge so his formulations are prime!
Whey Protein (for Taste) — Dymatize Iso100
- Protein per serving: 25 grams
- Sweetener: Sucralose
- My taste rating: 9/10.
- Recommended Prep Style: I recommend mixing this with either plain water in a shaker bottle for before/after the gym, or this is the ideal protein to use in any of my PFL snacks/meal recipes for a better option.
- Additional Notes: Most people gravitate toward this protein due to its taste, but remember that it’s not our highest quality protein so it may be good to alternate with another protein, like the bone broth protein above.
Ready-To-Drink Protein (for Convenience) — Premier Protein
- Protein per serving: 30 grams
- Sweetener: Sucralose & Acesulfame Potassium
- My taste rating: 9/10. I love the chocolate flavor of this version, though many love the vanilla, peaches and cream, strawberry, etc. These are also sold at Costco.
- Recommended Prep Style: I don’t mind drinking this warm or refrigerated, but my favorite method is as hot chocolate for a soothing evening snack to keep me on track: combine with an additional 1/2 cup of unsweetened almond milk and a splash of vanilla extract. Heat up in the microwave for 60-90 seconds or until desired temperature is reached.
- Additional Notes: This protein is a decent macro-friendly option for those busy days where it’s either this, or a Big Mac for lunch. Note this is not an ideal protein for serious muscle gains as the greatest percentage of protein contribution is from milk concentrate, not from whey.
Plant Protein — Vega Sport
- Protein per serving: 30 grams
- Sweetener: Stevia Leaf
- My taste rating: 7/10. Flavors sold include Vanilla, Chocolate, Mocha, Berry, and Peanut Butter
- Recommended Prep Style: I don’t particularly care for this powder alone in water, but you might! Try mixing with 10 oz. unsweetened almond milk for a creamier texture.
- Additional Notes: This protein is made from pea and pumpkin protein.<a
While I could make this list quite extensive, I have chosen to keep it simple for quick reference. I hope that you have learned some principles that will empower you in your decision-making skills as a Power Foods Lifestyle strategist!
#PowerYourBody one meal, one workout, one day at a time!
~Kristy Jo Wengert