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Shopping Guide for the Best Protein Powders

Are you looking to add some extra protein to your diet?

Perhaps you want to build muscle or recover quickly from a workout.

Or perhaps your doctor has placed you on a low-fat diet, and you’re concerned that you won’t be getting enough protein on your new eating regimen.

A protein powder supplement can help you with all of these concerns.

Whatever your situation, one thing is certain: you want a protein powder that’s safe and effective.

If you’re not a health supplement aficionado, choosing the right protein powder can be a daunting process.

What exactly sets different protein powders apart? And which aspects should matter most to you?

The correlation between an overindulgence in carbs and weight gain is supported by numerous studies. Those looking to combat weight gain by building muscle mass look to protein powder as an intriguing option.

At BestReviews, our goal is to provide thorough, unbiased product reviews you can turn to again and again.

To that end, we do not accept free product samples from manufacturers. Instead, we rely on diligent research, product testing, and expert interviews for our information.

We’ve compiled a guide that provides the key information you need to make a decision about protein powders. Don’t worry if you’re a newbie; the information we’ve collected is aimed at helping everyone make a smart shopping choice.

If you’re ready to buy, please check out the top five protein powders in our product matrix, above. If you’d like to learn more about protein powders in general, please read on.

Why Use Protein Powder?

Protein occurs naturally in lots of foods, so why would anyone want to use a protein power?

Honestly, most nutritionists suggest that you obtain the necessary proteins through your regular diet. But for those times you need extra protein, using a powder supplement is smart.

You may choose to use protein powder if you:

  • Want to build muscle mass

  • Want to recover fast from a workout

  • Lack protein in your regular diet
DID YOU KNOW?

A meal replacement powder product is different from a protein powder. The meal replacement will include nutritional fats and carbs.

Types of Proteins

Proteins come from different sources, and each source offers its own set of advantages and disadvantages.

We won’t list every source of protein here, but we’ll touch on the primary ones that are likely to end up as a protein powder supplement you can buy.

Because absorbing large amounts of protein can be difficult, some powders contain digestive enzymes.

Staff
BestReviews
Types of proteins

Beef Protein

  • Source
    Beef protein comes primarily from beef gelatin. Gelatin sources include bones, skin, meat, and ligaments.

  • Advantages
    Creatine is an amino acid derivative that the human body naturally produces. It’s also a key player in the building of muscle. Beef protein boosts the body’s creatine levels; that’s why bodybuilders often favor been protein powder. What’s more, beef protein powders have almost no carbs or fats.

  • Disadvantages
    Beef protein powders don’t taste as good as some other options. Furthermore, this product is relatively new to the market, so it’s not as well studied or understood as some other protein supplements.

DID YOU KNOW?

Beef protein powders are primarily sourced from byproducts of the beef packing industry.

Types of proteins

Casein Protein

  • Source
    Casein protein is made from liquid milk. During production, the proteins in the milk are separated from fats and carbs.

  • Advantages
    The body absorbs casein protein powders slower than other types. In fact, some people take casein protein powder before going to sleep so the body has several hours to absorb it.

  • Disadvantages
    Those who have difficulty digesting milk will have the same issues with casein protein. And you wouldn’t want to use this as a post-workout supplement because it’s absorbed so slowly. It doesn’t taste great, so manufacturers often add other ingredients to cover the flavor.

DID YOU KNOW?

Casein protein sometimes is labeled as calcium caseinate protein powder by manufacturers.

Types of proteins

Egg Protein

  • Source
    When manufacturers dehydrate egg whites, they’re able to create an egg protein that can be converted to powder.

  • Advantages
    Unlike some other proteins, egg proteins naturally possess numerous vitamins and minerals. Beneficially, these important components do not become separated from the protein during the manufacture of the powder. And because egg proteins are naturally low in carbs and fats, they are considered to be healthier overall than some other protein types.

  • Disadvantages
    Egg protein powders cost more than other types of protein powders. Those who suffer egg allergies will experience the same problems with egg proteins.

EXPERT TIP

Egg proteins are naturally low in both carbohydrates and in fats.


Staff  | BestReviews
Types of proteins

Soy Protein

  • Source
    After soybeans are made into soy flour, soy protein can be extracted.

  • Advantages
    Soybeans are a great source of amino acids. In fact, soybeans are one of just a few known plants that provide all of the essential amino acids. Vegetarians prefer plant-based protein powder to the more common animal-based protein powder sources. Soy protein is fairly inexpensive, and it tends to have more fiber than other protein types.

  • Disadvantages
    Soy is a common protein used in processed foods. This means you may want a different source of protein powder as a supplement, just to give your body variety.

DID YOU KNOW?

You should know that some soybeans are genetically modified. Also, it’s difficult to mask the natural taste of soy proteins with flavors or sweeteners; so some manufacturers won’t even try to create a flavored version of soy protein powder.

Types of proteins

Whey Protein

  • Source
    This is a dairy-based protein that’s primarily sourced from milk. Whey protein is the most common type of protein used in protein powder.

  • Advantages
    Whey protein powder works well for those looking to build lean muscle while also burning fat. It’s quickly absorbed by the body, so it’s great for ingesting after a workout. And whey protein powder is routinely considered to have the best taste of all protein powders.

  • Disadvantages
    If you’re lactose intolerant, whey protein will cause digestive problems. Manufacturers often create sweetened versions of whey protein because it mixes well with sugars. Although these sweetened products taste good, they do add calories that you may not want.

Although both whey and casein proteins are made from milk, casein protein is often called milk protein. Whey protein is not called milk protein by manufacturers.

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BestReviews
Types of proteins

Mass Gainer

We must mention one other option you might see on store shelves next to protein powders. If you’re looking at an extremely low-priced protein powder, it may be a mass gainer powder. These types of products may be marketed as protein powder, but they contain a much higher concentration of non-protein nutrients than the protein powders we’ve already mentioned.

Mass gaining powders are high in calories. Be sure to read the label of any protein powder carefully to understand what it contains.

Those with allergies to certain types of foods likely will experience the same problems with proteins sourced from that food, such as a milk allergy and casein.

Categories of Whey Protein

Because whey protein powders are the most popular on the market, they’re worth investigating a little further. You can split whey protein powder into two categories: whey protein concentrate and whey protein isolate.

Categories of whey protein

Whey Protein Concentrate

Whey protein concentrate yields a powder with 70% to 75% whey protein. The other 25% to 30% is made up of additional nutrients, including fats and carbs. The human body typically absorbs this type of protein slowly over time. Due to this fact, whey concentrate makes a better daily supplement than it does a workout supplement.

EXPERT TIP

Whey concentrate is one of the cheapest and most popular protein powders available.


Staff  | BestReviews
Categories of whey protein

Whey Protein Isolate

If you’re looking for a higher percentage of protein in your powder, this category provides it. Whey protein isolate is comprised of 90% to 95% protein. The manufacturer achieves this by applying an isolation process to whey protein concentrate. (Other nutrients make up the remaining 5% to 10%.) Because your body can absorb isolate quickly, this is a good protein powder to take after a hard workout.

What’s more, some manufacturers are able to make lactose-free whey protein isolate. This means that those who have problems digesting milk may be able to ingest isolate whey protein powder.

DID YOU KNOW?

Whey protein is a byproduct of the process of turning milk into cheese.

Top Protein Powder Brands

It’s smart to stick to the best brands in a product category. But you may not be as familiar with the top protein powder brands as, say, brands like Ford and Nissan.

Here’s our list of the best brand names to know for protein powder supplements:

  • BSN

  • Dymatize

  • JYM

  • MusclePharm

  • NAKED

  • Nature’s Best

  • Optimum Nutrition

  • XPI
EXPERT TIP

Plant based protein powders tend to be more easily digested for people with lactose intolerability.


Staff  | BestReviews

How to Compare Prices

When you look at different protein powders, you’ll see a variety of price points.

So how do you compare them? Do you have your calculator app handy on your smartphone?

Good, because you’re going to need it to compare prices wisely.

FOR YOUR SAFETY

Read the label carefully of any protein powder. Make sure it has only the ingredients that you want and nothing extra.

Price comparison

Price Per Pound

When looking at bottles of protein powder, you’ll notice that bottle sizes vary.

Check out the label to see how many pounds a bottle contains, then divide the price by that number to determine price per pound. This gives you a basic starting point for comparing prices.

EXPERT TIP

The ideal product delivers muscle-building protein without the unwanted calories.


Staff  | BestReviews
Price comparison

Price Per Serving

If you want to go a bit deeper, you can calculate the cost per serving.

You may find that one bottle requires three scoops to achieve the number of grams of protein you need, whereas another bottle requires only one scoop.

Before comparing products this way, however, make sure the serving size of each product offers the same number of protein grams.

Some manufacturers add artificial flavorings to protein powders. If this bothers you, look for those that add only natural flavorings.

FAQ

Q. What is protein?

A. Protein is a nutrient made up of amino acids that occur naturally in many types of foods. It exists naturally in meats, nuts, beans, and dairy. Protein is a key nutrient your body uses for healthy growth of muscles, hair, skin, and bones.

Q. What are essential amino acids?

A. You’ll often see protein powders that contain all of the essential amino acids. Essential amino acids are those that the human body needs to function but cannot produce itself. Humans must obtain essential amino acids from food — primarily protein. For humans, there are nine types of essential amino acids.

Q. I’m a vegetarian. Are there any types of protein powder I can use?

A. A few different protein powders are created from plants. Soybean, rice, pea, and hemp protein powders are easy to find. Protein powder derived from sprouts, grains (like quinoa), and seeds (like millet) are a bit less common.

Soy and hemp proteins provide all of the essential amino acids.

Q. What is included in a protein powder?

A. The primary ingredient in a protein powder is one of the types of protein listed above. A few other ingredients may be included as well, such as fat or carbs. A manufacturer might add flavoring or sweetener, too.  And some powders have minerals and vitamins added to them to boost health even further.

Q. How do I know if I’ll like a certain type of protein powder before I buy it?

A. Some manufacturers offer a money-back guarantee for taste and tolerability. Others offer trial sizes that you can receive for a low price — or for free. Just check with the manufacturer to see what’s available.

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