As I related in my “Big Mama” blog, I thoroughly enjoy exercise. While my weight is often a mystery wrapped in an enigma, some things are consistent: cardio, weights, sweat, aches and pains, and nutritional supplements.
I’ve gone through a lot of protein powders over the years. Some I used and repurchased, others I stopped using almost immediately. With each brand I’ve tried, I became a little more savvy in finding my optimal, supplemental requirements. Not all protein powders are created equally. Not by a long shot. It’s shocking how many are sold at top dollar and are little more than fillers.
You have to do the research. Narrowing down the protein madness means understanding what you are trying to get from your powder.
I find it surprising though, my opinion on the subject is almost always sought out by women. For instance, my sister once expressed confusion, stating she only understood men to use protein powders and, “doesn’t that stuff jack you up?” No. No it does not. I mean it can, if I were to consume 4 to 6 times – daily – the amount of protein my body actually needs, and I worked out about 6 hours a day.
Regardless of sex, the human body needs protein, more so if you make physical demands on your body (i.e. exercise, daily hard labor, etc). Protein is needed to repair muscles as well as keep them going – just in the general sense. The more you demand from them, the more you should consider supplemental nutrition. It seems obvious, but it’s not and for a lot of people.
*General “good” qualities of a superior protein powder:
High Yield (protein) vs Filler (fillers may be good or bad)
- Very few powders are %100 protein, 96% at most. For better, and sometimes worse, components are added to either enhance the product (amino acids and fiber) or to cheapen the product and for a variety reasons (reducing consumer costs and flavoring are the two big reasons). You need to know what additives are actually beneficial vs the filler crap. That requires research your part…
- Ex: One serving may breakdown as 75% protein and 25% filler. Filler may be BCAAs / EAAs, or some percentage of fiber (very good stuff) OR that 25% may be sugar fillers, additives and worse, added to make the product more tasty, but ultimately less than nutritious (not good stuff).
The inclusion of BCAAs and EAAs
- Branch Chain Amino Acids and Essential Amino Acids. These are very important. Higher quality protein powders will include these. You can read up on amino acids and how they benefit the body by clicking on the links above.
Wide range of protein sources offered by one company line
- The most well known and used source for protein nutrition is Whey, Whey is the protein king simply because it is more readily available. The better companies will offer a range of protein supplements outside of Whey, such as Egg, Soy, and plant-based protein powders. Obviously, Whey and Egg protein powders are not vegan friendly.
- Here is an excellent list of best animal-based and best plant-based protein powders. They also include a list of the worst.
- Some Whey products are better than others. This is the difference between WPI and WPC. Whey Protein Isolate is faster acting and is generally considered superior to Whey Protein Concentrate, which is a larger molecule and slower to digest or burn. The smaller the molecule, the faster the protein is digested and is not a burden on the gut. The larger the molecule, the longer it takes to break down and feels like it’s “sitting” on the stomach. Some bodybuilders prefer the slower acting as their powder works longer, throughout the day, but most people prefer a faster acting protein.
- Here is an article that breaks down the different source types of Whey.
*General “bad” qualities found in inferior protein powders:
- The most common include: SUGAR, flavor additives, corn syrup, hydrogenated oils, all of which are counter to the point of being healthy.
- HOWEVER, small amounts of sugar substitutes are generally okay (truvia, stevia, and the like) The odds of you finding some sugar substitute, even in the highest quality protein powder, is very likely.
Toxic Fillers (people don’t know or aren’t paying attention)
- Cadmium, arsenic, mercury, and more. These have actually existed in some top selling protein powders.
- On that note, read the first and second points of Simple Truths below.
- It’s garbage. Pick up any container that states it’s a protein powder was made using the Ion Exchange method, do yourself a favor and put it back down and walk away. It will be cheap! But an inferior product. The Ion method basically strips many of the essential sub-components of a quality protein powder.
*There are many factors to take into consideration when investing in a protein powder. YOU HAVE TO DO YOUR RESEARCH. I simply cannot cover all the factors.*
1. Higher quality protein will cost you more. The cheaper, the less effective. High quality protein undergoes rigorous treatment in order to maximize – per serving – the amount of protein yielded balanced with necessary sub-benefits like BCAAs and EAAs.
2. On that same note, companies are more than happy to charge you a great deal more for a crap product b/c it is understood by consumers that “the good stuff” costs more. That’s why it is imperative that you know how to read the label. Don’t just buy the first expensive thing you see on the shelf, READ THE F*CKING LABEL. Remember, the labels can be pretty, and slick, and modern but that doesn’t mean that 5-gallon protein bucket has much nutritional benefit to it.
3. So why all that sugar and flavor additives? I’ll tell you – taste. For some reason, people will base their expensive, nutritionally-based decisions on taste. People essentially would like to drink a protein product that tastes like a dessert and are surprised when a month later, they end up questioning the usefulness of their product. A lot of articles on “best” protein powders will factor in flavor as a pro or con – I don’t. It’s non-sense. Taste does not determine the product’s effectiveness.
- A good quality protein powder will likely taste awful, or at best, not-that-bad. The more it tastes like a tasty treat, the higher the bad kind of fillers. Get over the flavor factor, people. You’re looking for a healthy, nutritional supplement, not a drinkable dessert.
- To refer to the ‘bad list‘ again, 3 of the 5 mentioned as “worst” are actually top sellers if for no other reason than brand recognition, and people raving about the “taste.”
- With a little work, a little trial and error, you can craft some very tasty smoothies. If you’re thinking ‘milkshakes’ you’ve already lost. You need a blender and willingness to blend fruits and vegetables and healthy, base-line fluids to make your protein drink. I’ll tell you later what my current favorite recipes are.
PROTEIN POWDERS I’VE TRIED
Everything I’m about to discuss is strictly my opinion, based on the impression of the product as I’ve experienced it.
I had two goals when I first started purchasing protein powder: to reduce muscle stress as I exercise regularly, and reduce water retention, a lifelong issue for me. I started out completely ignorant on the subject and I made very rookie mistakes from the start.
All products have been consumed at a rate of one serving per day of exercise, not daily.
The first protein powders I’ve used: Now Sports Whey Protein Concentrate and Isolate
Let me tell you, I was miserable. That stuff sat on my stomach for hours. I looked it up to see if this reaction was normal and that’s when I learned about Concentrate vs Isolate.
Which led to:
Obviously, this was significantly less stressful on my stomach. I bought this label a few times, and the extra protein did reduce my water weight, by nearly 10 lbs as I recall. But, my body was still overly sore between exercise days. I decided to keep looking. By this time I added a third goal: meal replacement.
My next venture was Optimum Nutrition Gold Standard:
This guy is a top seller on Amazon, it’s in nearly every store that sells Whey products too. It’s good but there’s better. In my experience, it kept my water weight down, and at the start, did act as a meal replacement. Over time, as my body got used to it, I was still hungry after consuming a serving. Muscle recovery was similar. There was improvement in experiencing less general achiness, but that didn’t last.
I found this guy by accident at my local Central Market (H-E-B):
By this time I had learned about the importance of BCAAs and this powder was the first product I found that was all organic, non-gmo, and with a robust amino acid profile. I repurchased this particular powder the most and it worked well with me for a long while. It did not meet the meal replacement goal but it did reduce the general feeling of bodily stress from intense exercising. I was happy with this one for a long time.
I tried this one b/c my favorite was out and wouldn’t be restocked at my local store for awhile. I still regret this purchase. The guy who was in the health supplement aisle sold me on it b/c he said all his customers raved about the taste. I wished I had known better, but I did not: BSN Syntha-6
This is powdered dessert in a jar. It did nothing for me and I ended up throwing the remainder away. After basic research, this is a classic “junk” powder. It’s slick packaging, and sells like hotcakes (tastes like em’ too) but the nutritional payoff is not substantial. There’s a reason they offer 9 or so flavors like: cookies and cream, chocolate and peanut butter, chocolate cake, etc.
By this time, I had added a new goal into what I wanted from my protein powder: fiber. My appetite has changed drastically over the past year as my doctor fine tunes my medications for hypothyroid and high blood sugar (non-diabetic type, just a little high). I eat less now, and I had seen for myself how liquids are an excellent way of consuming calories while not feeling overburdened. I needed more fiber, but didn’t want what appetite I had to be strictly dominated by eating greens.
My requirements for a protein powder (today) include: muscle nutrition support, water weight management, meal replacement, and fiber inclusion.
Only this guy fits the bill and to date is my favorite protein powder as it takes care of all four of my requirements: Vega All-in-One
The nutritional profile on this bad boy is breathtaking. Also, I know it’s the best b/c it tastes like sh*t, lol. No, but really though, be prepared to mix this with something…the taste is just…it’s just bad.
I am not a vegan, plant-based protein had never even entered my mind until I started researching protein powders with a fiber component. I am so GLAD I did. I saw real reviewers who were tired of trying to decipher all the sugar-laden monstrosities out there and went plant-based instead. This powder is ALL ORGANIC, NON-GMO, NO SUGAR ADDED, GLUTEN FREE (if that’s a concern for you). But man! Just look at the nutritional profile! And a decent serving of protein per scoop (I wouldn’t want less than 20 grams).
This powder actually inspired a fifth factor in my preferred powders: energy boost. I’ve never experienced “energy boosting” qualities in any powder I’ve ever tried. It never occurred to me look for it either. Vega One, b/c it’s all plant-based, green nutrition, I actually get a little, gentle energy boost from it. It’s mild, but it’s there and it’s awesome, especially before a workout.
To date, I have tried all the flavors of Vega’s All-in-One powders and the ones that are easiest to manipulate via fruits, vegetables, and fluids are the chocolate version and the coconut almond version (my favorite).
A simple recipe for the chocolate version
- 4 oz water and 8 oz of Silk’s Unsweetened Coconut & Almond (or combination milk, water, or milk alternative) – Vega One is a vegan product, naturally, they are not going to recommend the use of animal milk on their label – and they don’t – but that doesn’t mean you can’t.
- 1 whole banana
- 1-2 tablespoons of PB2. You can find this with the protein powders, made for them actually. PB2 is an easy way to offset the less than pleasant taste of some powders. Unless you’re allergic to peanuts.
- 1 scoop of the protein powder
- Blend until smooth.
My favorite recipe for my favorite powder, the Vega’s All-in-One Coconut, Almond:
- 4 oz water and 8 oz Silk’s Unsweetened Coconut & Almond (my favorite milk alternative, very tasty)
- 1 scoop of the protein powder
- Shake until smooth. The end. It’s actually very good with just the unsweetened coconut and almond milk.
I can’t stress enough the importance of two things when considering a protein powder:
1) Your willingness to research ahead of time. Understanding the different types and what they do. Knowing what a powder should include vs what it should not include.
2) Understanding what you want from a powder based on that research, and your own personal goals.
Some people do want to bulk up. Others just want to stay lean. Others want to reduce their muscle stress b/c they exercise often. Others might want a little more protein in their diet. There are so many reasons.
I hope this was helpful.