Which Protein Powder Should You Choose? Some Things to Consider.
This post is sponsored by Allo. As always, my opinions are my own…in this case, my opinion is that Allo makes an amazing protein powder. Allo is hydrolyzed whey that mixes seamlessly into hot beverages without clumping or grittiness.
I get asked a lot about protein powders. My stock answer is that you should always try to get your protein through food first, but some of you, for any number of reasons, find that hard to do.
Maybe you’re not into eating solids in the morning, but you still want to get a hit of protein first thing.
Maybe you’re sick of eggs and yogurt, so you want an alternative source of protein for breakfast.
Maybe you’re looking for a post-workout shake, because your next meal is typically not for a few hours after you leave the gym.
Whatever your reason, protein powders can definitely help fill the holes in your diet where you might not be getting enough protein.
Benefits of protein.
We know that protein helps build, repair, and maintain muscle mass. As we age, we tend to lose muscle, so giving our bodies the building blocks to make more, is super important (as is strength training).
Protein is also great for satiety. You may have noticed that when you have a meal or snack that’s entirely carb-based, like a bowl of cereal or a piece of fruit, you’re probably hungry soon after. If you have a protein-rich meal or snack, it can help keep you fuller for longer. That’s the beauty of protein: it stimulates production of hormones GLP-1 and PYY, which help us feel full. Protein consumption also causes a decrease of ghrelin, which is the ‘hunger hormone.’
Protein is often cites as a ‘fat burning food,’ but that’s not accurate. No food actually burns fat, but protein’s TEF – thermic effect of food, which is the amount of energy the body uses to metabolize it – is higher than carbohydrates or fat. In simple terms, we use more calories digesting protein than we do digesting carbs or fat.
I talk in depth about this in my metabolism post here
Essentially, I recommend 20-30 grams of protein per meal, or around 1.2-1.5 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight, daily. If you weigh 150 pounds, or 68 kilograms, that equals around 82-102 grams of protein per day. You don’t have to count grams of protein, though. Just make sure you have a high-quality source of protein at meals.
I wrote more about daily protein needs in depth, here.
Protein powder breakdown.
Protein powders can be a convenient choice to add protein to your meals or snacks. There are a lot of protein powder options out there, so I’m going to highlight some of the more popular ones:
Whey protein is often considered the gold standard, due to the fact that it’s a high quality protein that’s easy to digest. Whey is also one of the best proteins for muscle synthesis (building muscle).
Whey protein isolate goes step beyond whey concentrate (concentrates have carbs and fats in them as well as protein), to take out the carbs and fats. This filtration step gives whey isolate a higher protein content per weight, which can be beneficial, but does add an extra expense.
Hydrolyzed whey is an even more broken-down form of whey protein. Allo, a company that I’m working with that makes protein powder for hot coffee, hydrolyzes their whey so it can dissolve easily into coffee or any hot beverage. If you’re someone who struggles to get protein at breakfast, Allo can definitely help – each packet has 10 grams of sugar-free high-quality protein, and the product comes in a variety of flavors, with protein powder or creamer styles. Order Allo here, and use my ABBY20 code for 20% off!
People who are allergic to dairy can’t use whey protein, since it’s derived from milk. Even if you’re sensitive to dairy, you may have an issue with whey.
Soy protein powder is a good alternative for people who can’t consume whey due to allergies or food preference (if you’re vegan, for example). Like whey protein, soy is also a complete protein, meaning that it has all 20 amino acids.
Some people are worried about soy and health. Soy protein, which is frequently found in both food products and in soy-based protein powders, has allegedly been linked to thyroid issues, breast cancer, and elevated estrogen/low testosterone in men. Soy is also a GMO crop, so there’s that.
Let’s address each one of these concerns. GMOs haven’t been shown to have any negative effects on human health.
I wrote about organic vs conventional food, here.
Recent research disproves the estrogen/testosterone claim in men. There was one case where a man was drinking gallons of soy milk a day, and did experience breast growth. But it’s extremely unlikely that anyone is going to consume that amount of soy.
Soy and thyroid. A 2019 review of studies showed no link between soy consumption and thyroid function.
Breast cancer. According to the American Institute for Cancer Research, soy protein powder or isoflavones “show no effect on markers of breast cancer risk such as hormone levels, markers of breast cell growth, or breast density, in randomized controlled clinical trials. And likewise, such studies show no effect on prostate-specific antigen (PSA) levels or hormones related to the risk of prostate cancer.”
A relative newcomer, pea protein burst onto the scene to add one more plant-based protein option to the mix.
This high-quality protein powder is made from yellow peas. While it is limited in the amino acid methionine, it does contain all 9 essential amino acids, which we must get from food.
Unlike soy, which may cause gas in some people, pea protein is easily digested. It’s typically also more affordable than whey.
This chart from Precision Nutrition is perfect to really get a visual on how protein powders stack up against each other:
Oh, hello, Jennifer Aniston.
Collagen is having a moment (or several) right now. Beloved by celebrities for its alleged effects on skin, hair, and nails, this protein is in everything from popcorn to energy bars and bottled water.
Collagen is not a complete protein, meaning that it’s low in one or more amino acids (in this case, tryptophan). As far as protein for muscle building, collagen is not the best choice. As far as anti-aging and strong hair and nails, the jury is still out on those. Science tells us that when we consume protein of any type, the chains of amino acids are broken down, reconfigured, and shuttled by the body to where they’re needed most. In other words, collagen that you take for wrinkles is probably not ending up in your face.
Newsflash: nothing helps wrinkles except surgery and Botox.
I wrote about collagen and the claims around it, here.
Protein powder sweeteners.
Sugar. Protein powders can contain sugar, which can add up quickly in your diet. Look for a protein powder with as little sugar as possible.
Artificial sweeteners. In a bid to avoid sugar, many protein powders contain sugar alcohols, which can cause gastrointestinal distress.
‘Natural’ sweeteners like stevia are often used in protein powders.
At the end of the day, you should be looking for the following in your protein powder:
How it tastes. This is number one, since if something tastes like death, you’re just not going to eat it.
How it mixes into foods. Again, if your protein powder is grainy or chalky in liquid, you’re not going to be happy with it. This is why I love Allo – because it’s hydrolyzed, it mixes into my coffee (and hot chocolate) without a trace. Consider other foods you might want to use protein powder in, besides shakes. Will it mix into oatmeal? Baked goods?
The amount of sugar and type of sweeteners it contains. If you’re trying to lose weight or, if your diet already contains enough sugar, you probably want to find a protein powder that doesn’t contain sugar. In terms of sweeteners, you’ll want to ensure that you’re buying a powder that contains sweeteners that taste good (see point #1) and that doesn’t cause GI distress.
The amount of protein you get for your money. A more concentrated source of protein may be more expensive, but you’ll use less. Hydrolyzed protein is also faster absorbed and easier to digest, which should also be a consideration if you’re looking for a protein source for muscle gain.