If you’ve tried to navigate the world of protein powders on your own, you’ve probably asked yourself the following questions:
There are many types of protein powders you can choose from and we’re here to help you decide which one is best for you depending on your goals and personal needs.
First, a quick lesson on protein! You see, amino acids are the building blocks of protein. There are 20 different amino acids, nine of which are considered “essential” (meaning your body can’t make them and you need to get them through your diet). A protein source is considered “complete” when it contains all nine essential amino acids. Most amino acids are then transported by your blood to your liver where they are transformed into usable energy.
Let’s break down your options:
“Branched-chain” refers to the chemical structure of three essential amino acids: leucine, isoleucine, and valine. BCAAs are quickly absorbed and, unlike other amino acids, they can be used directly in your muscles for energy instead of going to your liver first. This makes them a popular supplement for before, during and after training sessions to promote muscle strength, growth, and recovery.
Your body breaks down this milk-based protein derivative quickly, which may improve performance and recovery. High-quality whey protein powders often contain all nine essential amino acids (including the three BCAAs) and provide quick protein to your muscles pre- and post-workout.
Casein is another milk-based protein but it is absorbed more slowly into your system because it makes a gel-like substance when it interacts with stomach acid. This means it is great to consume before a long period of “fasting” or before bed. Due to its slower digestion rate, casein has been shown to improve protein balance over longer periods of time, which improves overall recovery and strength gains.
If you’re lactose intolerant or want to try a dairy-free supplement, egg white protein is a great option. Like all animal products, eggs are a “complete protein,” which means they supply your body with the essential amino acids it needs to support optimal muscle health.
Pea protein, hemp protein, rice protein, and mixed-plant proteins are all acceptable protein powder options for vegans, vegetarians or those who prefer to limit animal protein consumption.
Pea protein is rich in BCAAs, but studies show that, in general, plant proteins are more slowly absorbed than whey protein supplements. Plus, depending on the brand, plant-based proteins may not contain all nine essential amino acids. To make sure you’re getting the most out of your protein powder, try pairing consumption with digestive enzymes, which studies show may help with the breakdown, absorption, and utilization of plant-based protein.
Insect protein has grown in popularity because of its rich amino acid profile and sustainable production practices. Crickets are most commonly used in the creation of insect protein and much like whey and casein, insect protein is considered a “complete” protein. Want to learn more about it? Check out this article!
Collagen makes up about 25–35% of the protein in your body, making it the most abundant. It is the building block of bone, skin, muscle, tendons, and ligaments. Thus, it is most commonly used to support joint health, decrease inflammation and improve the health of hair, skin, and nails.[8,9] Collagen has also been shown to improve gut health.
No matter which type of protein powder you decide is best for you, it’s important to remember that supplements are just that: supplements! They are meant to supplement your diet if you’re already opting for whole, healthy protein sources and still need a bit of extra help reaching your total protein goals.
If you’re curious if getting more protein in your diet would help you reach your goals, hiring a nutrition coach will help you learn more about what you’re currently eating. Your coach will guide you on deciding when and if supplementing your protein intake may be beneficial for you.