I’m asked literally everyday what protein powder to buy. Instead of simply recommending a particular powder, I’d like to explain to you guys the basics of what to look for so you can make that decision yourself, based on your own goals and health needs! I know this is an extremely basic explanation of what to look for in purchasing a protein powder, but I hope it will help alleviate stress for some of you who have expressed how overwhelming it can be at first. I promise it gets easier the more you practice! =)
Types of Protein Powder
There are a variety of protein powder types, which include: whey, casein, rice, pea and soy to name a few. Some people may have allergies to certain protein powders. You can often get sample packets of protein from most supplement stores to test them out. This is a good way to experiment with taste, as well, so that you don’t wind up with a 2 pound jug of the stuff!
The Purpose of The Powder
An important aspect to consider is the purpose of the protein powder. Is it a meal replacement, a weight gainer, a post-workout or a pre-bed time shake? You can purchase meal replacements and weight gainers, or you can simply create your own by adding things like old-fashioned oats, fruit, nuts, nut butters, healthy oils or other healthy carbs and fats to your regular protein powder. Post-workout is the best time for a fast absorbing protein powder like a whey isolate or a whey hydrolysate. Before bedtime, casein is a great choice due to its slow-digesting nature.
Taste & Mixability
Taste and mixability are important to some people. If you are new to purchasing protein powder, my best advice is to stick to the classics like vanilla or chocolate to be on the safe side. As I mentioned before, many supplement stores offer samples so don’t be afraid to ask!
Nutrition Facts & Ingredient List
When I personally look for a protein powder, I check out the macronutrients on the Nutrition Facts label first. I usually opt for a whey protein powder with 110-130 calories per scoop. I look for that protein to also have low fat, carbs and sugars. Lastly, I always choose a powder with over 20 grams of protein per scoop.
The second thing I look at is the Ingredient List, which is typically found below the Nutrition Facts. When you look at an ingredient list, keep in mind that the ingredients listed first are the most prominent. The lower on the list the ingredient, the less of it there is in the product. (This rules applies to regular foods as well). When examining the ingredient list, I try to find a product that doesn’t have a laundry list of chemicals. I will also choose a protein without sucralose or artificial sweeteners whenever possible. (For example I would choose one with Stevia over one with Sucralose).
How to Compare Products
I found this comparison so we will use this as an example. Please keep in mind that I am not affiliated with either company. I don’t use either product… this is simply an example of two popular protein powders for the sake of this article. If you are in the supplement store, don’t be afraid to put a few jugs side by side and compare like this!
In case the picture is hard to read, this is what the macronutrients break down to for each product (you can also look them up online):
Herbalife Chocolate Protein Mix
- Serving Size 2 Scoops (29grams)
- Calories: 120
- Total Fat: 3.5g
- Total Carbohydrates: 6g
- Fiber: 1g
- Sugars: 1g
- Other Carbs: 4g
- Protein: 15g
Jay Robb Chocolate Whey Protein
- Serving Size 1 Scoop (30grams)
- Calories: 110
- Total Fat: 0g
- Total Carbohydrates: 1g
- Fiber: 0g
- Sugars: 0g
- Protein: 25g
Notice that the protein on the right is spot on with the macronutrients I look for (mentioned above). In addition, the ingredient list is short and sweet! Nothing I cannot pronounce and nothing I haven’t heard of before. In this situation, I would go with the protein on the right, as it is clearly the superior product.
Quantity is Important as Well!
Another thing to consider is whether you’re getting your money’s worth in QUANTITY as well as quality. Yield is an important concept to consider. “Yield” refers to the actual percentage of protein per serving that you are getting. The way to calculate this mathematically is very simple. The equation is as follows:
(Grams of Protein Per Serving x 100) / Serving Size in Grams
Let’s take our Herbalife & Jay Robb example above. First, we will calculate the Herbalife Protein Yield:
(15 x 100) / 29 = 51%
Now let’s calculate the Jay Robb Protein Yield:
(25 x 100) / 30 = 83%
So what does this mean? This means that if you are buying the Herbalife Protein Mix, you are paying for 51% protein and 49% other ingredients. If you buy the Jay Robb protein, you are getting 83% protein and 17% other ingredients. Again, the Jay Robb protein powder is clearly the superior purchase. If you want protein, you should pay for protein, not other ingredients and fillers.
The Take-Away From All of This?
EDUCATE yourself so you don’t fall victim to clever marketing ploys or sales gimmicks! Knowledge is POWER. When you have the knowledge behind you, it is much harder for people to sell you on crummy products. I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve walked into a supplement store, only to have a pushy salesman try to sell me a product that is less than “satisfactory”. This example applies not just to protein powder, but to life as well. Always do your research before investing in something. Your health is important and should be treated that way! =)