Sustainable Nutrition

The Ultimate Protein Powder Guide

Written By: Kripa Jalan

The Ultimate Protein Powder Guide

You’re probably dabbling with the idea of taking a protein shake and are unsure of where to begin and how to navigate the mixed messages about supplements out there.

You’re in luck because we’re breaking it all down for you.

What is protein?

Protein is an essential macronutrient that helps our body rebuild muscle and makes for a vital part of our daily nutrition. You can get this from several sources:

  • Chicken
  • Seafood
  • Red Meat
  • Eggs
  • Legumes
  • Dairy Products
  • Tofu

And of course, protein shakes. However, it’s important to prioritize getting most of your protein from real whole foods, rather than supplements. Mainly because foods come packed with several nutrients (depending on the source.) No supplement will be able to imitate those combinations exactly.

That being said, it’s not always possible to get the protein you need from whole foods. That’s where supplements and shakes come in.

Why use protein powder?

#1 It’s a convenient source for those who simply don’t have the time (or simply don’t want) to plan 4 square meals a day!

#2 It works as a great source for those transitioning to a plant-based diet and are struggling to meet their daily needs

#3 It can help athletic performance and recovery – for those who don’t necessarily want to eat a whole meal post-workout.

Building on #3: If you are training and eating the right way, consuming enough protein will help you build muscle and perform better!

But, enough protein is a relative concept.

If you’d like to figure out how much protein you need daily – check out our calculator!

How much protein do I need?

Calculate your daily requirements here!

What’s the best supplement to buy?

Besides ethical considerations—like whether you prefer a plant or animal source—you might also want to think about food here.

Animal Based Powders

  • Whey (Comes from milk) - is the most popular, readily available, quick digesting, and cheapest protein supplement out there. It comes in the form of an isolate, hydrolysate, and concentrate.
  • Casein (Comes from milk) - is often touted as the best type of protein powder to have before bed, since it digests more slowly. 
  • Collagen (Comes from bovine hide or fish) – largely used in the space of skin, joints, and gut health; collagen also offers up as a protein source for those looking to boost their intake.

Plant-Based Powders **

  • Pea Protein (Comes from yellow split pea) – Rich in a host of amino acids, pea protein is hypo-allergenic, usually inexpensive, and probably the most widely consumed form of plant protein powder.
  • Rice Protein (Comes from well, rice) – Also a good hypo-allergenic protein choice, and tends to be relatively inexpensive. However, it is an incomplete source of protein.
  • Hemp (Comes from hemp seeds) – Like rice protein, hemp protein is an incomplete source. However, it’s high in fiber and rich in Omega 3 fats.

** Blends are common among plant-based protein powders – because mixing up different sources tends to complete the amino acid profile; thereby offering up a complete protein.

When should I drink protein?

Unless you’re an elite athlete, you needn’t worry about when you should consume a shake. Drink it when it makes the most sense in the context of your everyday life. The amount of protein you consume over the course of the day matters more than when you take it!

What should I watch out for?

It’s extremely important to be aware of what you’re putting into your body and what ingredients are lurking in the supplement. If you have a quick look at the label, you’ll probably see some familiar ingredients, such as whey, pea protein, brown rice, soy, or casein. But as you skim through the list, you may also come across stuff that’s essentially manufactured in a lab and doesn’t fall into the real food category. For example, fillers, food thickeners, and artificial sweeteners are some of the most common ingredients you’ll find in a typical protein powder. However, these are best kept at bay.

The Takeaway:

Supplements are meant to add value to your diet, not replace real food. More so, you don’t require protein powders to stay healthy – they’re not an essential food group. To put it plain and simple, if you need supplements take them, if you don’t need them don’t take them. I think if you can meet your needs naturally, you don’t need to add a supplement. But, if you struggle to eat balanced meals, need convenient sources, or are looking for highly bioavailable sources of protein – you could consider adding a high-quality powder.