Choosing the Right Protein Powder, Part 1

As evidenced by the success of the supplement industry, protein powders seem to be gaining popularity; if you’re one of the people taking one, or you’ve thought about it, I’ll give you a brief description of what is available to you.

I know some of you will say that you don’t need protein powder, and that’s true, but that doesn’t mean you can’t take it. As a trainer and strength coach I have to say that first and for most you should focus on food to meet your dietary requirements. However, if you’re training and really looking to make body composition changes, meeting protein requirements can be really tough with a hectic schedule. Also, taking nutrients in liquid form speeds up absorption, so having a shake immediately post-workout is a great strategy to get optimal results. Protein powders are made from natural sources, are easy to consume and are fairly cost effective. So with that being said, let us begin!

The first thing you need to know before you step into your local supplement store is what categories you will find. This will help you narrow down what you’re looking for. Part 2 will go a little further into the types of protein in the powders.

Straight Protein Powder – This is best for most people and general day to day use. This is JUST PROTEIN. You will generally see things on the label like “low carb” and “low fat” which is not especially surprising since you’re buying protein powder. Most popular sources are Whey, Whey isolate, Casein, Egg, and soy, although if you look hard enough you can find vegan sources like brown rice or pea protein as well as beef protein for meat eaters. What’s important to know is that every protein source has a different amino acid profile, meaning that they all contain different amino acids in different amounts. For those that are looking for natural, they also sell them with natural sweeteners like stevia. Protein is an important part of daily nutrtition requirements so having a protein powder on hand makes it easy to add some anytime of the day.

Meal Replacement – This is where you will find things like Myoplex, Muscle Milk and the like. These are meant to fit a nutrient profile to allow you to have as a complete meal. They generally contain protein, carbs, fats and have a number of vitamins. This can also be used as a post workout shake as it gives you both protein and carbs. If you are not trying to gain, but rather lose, you’d be better off with fewer calories post-workout.

Weight Gainer – This is essentially whey protein plus a TON of simple carbs. This should only be taken directly after your workout and even still you probably don’t need a full serving, unless of course you are a notorious hard-gainer looking to get a huge calorie boost. Taking this at any other point in the day will simply result in body fat gain. This isn’t the best source of carbs and protein but can be very effective for getting a lot of calories right after your workout.

Post Workout Mix – This will be similar in breakdown to the meal replacement or weight gainer but will usually contain more performance enhancing supplements like creatine, glutamine or beta alanine. Generally over priced in my opinion but many brands have done a very good job of giving you exactly what you need in one easy drink.

If you’re just looking for something to help supplement your diet to get more protein then the simple protein powder is best for you. It can be taken before or after workouts, as a snack with some vegetables or nuts or even added to baking. Realistically, you can make any of the other categories by yourself since the protein powder is the base for all. A smoothie with fruit, vegetables and healthy fats (nut butter, oil, avocado) can be a much better meal replacement at home or on the go.

So whether you’re looking to get more protein in your diet, a meal on the go, or an optimal post-workout shake, use this guide to help you find what you’re looking for!


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