There’s a pretty stereotypical image of protein powders or supplements in that most people assume you’ll grow muscle simply by drinking a protein shake ever day and wind up like the guys on the packaging. In reality protein powders can be used for simply gaining bulk, but they can also be used for cutting fat too – it all depends on the type of powder you buy and how you use it. Proteins are the basic building blocks for all life and the reason you need them is for when you “tear” muscle during a workout – the protein is then used to repair that muscle, making it bigger in the process.
Over the years the most popular sources of protein for bodybuilders have been eggs, chicken, fish and steak but not everyone can afford to eat these 3 to 5 times per day to get their protein. So vegetable based proteins are a cost-effective alternative to getting great protein, at a much lower cost but which your body can absorb and metabolize quickly too. Just remember that most companies don’t manufacture their own protein, instead they buy it from other companies and rebrand it – usually from cheese manufacturers of all places.
So what we’re going to take a look at in this guide are the different types of protein powders on the market and how to choose one that will suit you. As you’ve come to expect from our guides we also provide several short reviews of different protein powders towards the very end of this guide.
|Protein per Serving
|Isolate or Concentrate?
|Optimum Nutrition 100% Whey Gold
|1 – 10 pounds
|Mixed (no soy)
|Nutiva Organic Hemp
|30-ounce – 3-pound
|BSN True-Mass Ultra-Premium
|Mixed (contains soy)
|Garden of Life
|Sprouted brown rice
|22 – 23 ounce
Types Of Protein
As far as most people are concerned protein is protein and that’s that, but in reality there are several different types of protein a supplement powder can be made from:
This protein comes from cow’s milk or goat’s milk, with cow’s milk being the most popular choice. That being said goat’s milk is actually a better source of clean, low-fat protein. Whey protein is ideal for consumption early in the day, or just after your workout for its quick absorption and muscle repair properties.
Another milk-based protein, casein is usually taken nearer your bedtime or when your body is at rest. The reason for this is that a casein-based protein supplement takes roughly 6 – 8 hours to be absorbed properly, although it does give you that “full” feeling in the process.
With this protein source you can choose between liquid egg whites or a powdered substitute instead. Egg whites provide you with a different amino acid spectrum to other protein sources and are quickly absorbed by the body. Despite all the different protein powders you’ll find on the market egg whites remain one of the most popular, and healthy, sources of protein you’ll find anywhere on this planet.
Soy is one of those rare things when it comes to protein sources because it’s a complete one, which is normally only something you’ll find in proteins which are animal-based. Of course vegetarians and/or vegans won’t consume any animal-based protein source, so soy is an ideal alternative here. You can also buy protein powders which are made from peas, rice and even hemp if you wish.
Why Use Protein Supplements?
As we mentioned earlier not everyone can afford to use chicken, steak and fish as their primary source of protein, so a protein powder is a great way to supplement your protein needs. Plus you won’t always be in a position where you can eat several small meals per day due to work or personal reasons, so being able to drink a protein-rich shake instead makes perfect sense. Again protein supplements shouldn’t be your only source of protein, and you can and should use whole food (animal or vegetable) protein sources too. Just remember that you need to carefully monitor your protein intake because any excess protein you don’t use will be stored as fat instead- this is why you see some people who hammer down protein shakes every day gaining pounds of fat instead of muscle.
What Are Your Goals?
There are a couple of reasons why you might want to use a protein powder and they include getting a rapid post-workout protein intake boost, as a way for replacing entire meals or just as a way to supplement your whole food protein intake. Different protein powders can help you achieve different goals, so if you’re looking to shed weight for example then you’ll wind up using an MRP (Meal Replacement Powder) which has a balance of protein, carbs and fats. Or if you just want to boost your protein intake, but not your carbs and fats, then a pure protein powder will be far better suited to that purpose. Basically don’t just rush out and buy the first, and most expensive, protein powder you find – there’s a good chance it’s completely wrong for your goals. Read the labels carefully!
Although it’s nice to be able to buy protein in bulk you should be paying as much attention to the quality of the protein you’re using as much as the actual quantity. Your protein powder shouldn’t have a lot of ingredients in it, so if you find yourself reading through a hit list of additional ingredients besides just whey/casein/soy protein then move on – it’s probably loaded down with other crap you don’t need. You’d also be wise to avoid any hype around “muscle boosting qualities” in the powder you’re considering buying – a good protein powder won’t need to use hype to convince you to buy it. There’s also the fact that the muscle “enhancement” aspect of these powders is trace at best -there’s definitely not enough in the powder to actually promote muscle growth.
You also need to pay really careful attention to any hidden sweeteners in the product – a lot of manufacturers are adding sweeteners to mask the flavor of some of the less tasty protein powders. If you can’t find an unsweetened powder than look for one that uses a natural sweetener like Stevia instead because at least that way you’re not eating empty calories and chemical junk your body is better off without.
Checking out the PDCAAS (protein digestibility-corrected amino acid) score for the protein powder you’re thinking about buying can also help you eliminate products that sound good but are short on high-quality protein and a broad amino acid spectrum too.
Isolate Vs Concentrate
One of the most commonly asked questions about any protein powder is whether or not an isolate or a concentrate is a better choice. You can keep this really simple by remembering that an isolate will contain at least 90% protein where a concentrate can vary between protein content of 40% and 80%, depending on the brand of concentrate you purchase. Basically you’ll find that an isolate is easier to mix into a shake and usually tastes better, but a high-quality concentrate can be just as good.
Some protein powders are ludicrously expensive, and for no other reason than they’re from a major brand name. Remember that the protein in the powder can only come from one of a small number of sources, so there’s no magical powers involved here. What you’re looking for is a powder which gives you a balance of something which tastes nice, you can afford and, most importantly, delivers results. Protein powders sold in bulk tubs at unrealistic prices are usually best avoided by the way.
Key Protein Powder Features
Here’s a few key features you need to watch out for in any protein powder you’re considering buying.
Protein Per Serving
A good protein powder will have 28+ grams of protein in every serving, whereas a poor one will have 20-grams or less of protein in each serving.
Some protein powders taste like ass, so because you’re going to be drinking/eating it on a daily basis make sure your protein powder tastes at least passable. Most of the powders come in chocolate, strawberry or variations of those flavors, with enough variety to suit most tastes. Taste is hugely important in choosing your protein powder, but taste is also a very subjective thing.
Carbs and Fats
Ideally your protein supplement would contain nothing other than protein, but most do contain at least a trace amount of carbs and fats. The key here is to never simply assume there are only trace carbs and fats present in your supplement – always, always read the label!
Calories Per Serving
Getting extra calories isn’t something you necessarily want because empty calories don’t keep your stomach full or help with muscle gain. If you need to consume some extra calories you’re better getting them from whole foods instead.
Amino Acid Profile
Your protein powder should have a good balance of amino acids like L-Arginine, L-Alanine and others, which is known as a broad amino acid spectrum. You can take them separately but you shouldn’t have to.
How long has the protein powder manufacturer been in business? If they’ve only been selling their products for less than 3-years then forget about it – it’s too much of a risk until the benefits/side-effects of their products are actually known.
Our Top 5 Best Protein Powder Reviews
We have 5 protein powders lined up under our microscope for closer inspection – let’s see how they get on!
1# Optimum Nutrition Whey Protein Powder Review
The fact that this product has well over 2,000 positive reviews says more than we probably could about it, but we’ll try. With this powder you’re getting a 100% whey isolate, making it ideal for building or just maintaining mass. It’s also available in tub sizes from 1-pounds to 10-pounds, allowing you to buy as much or as little of it as you need. We also love the fact that it comes in literally dozens of different flavors, including everything from cake batter and chocolate to tropical punch. You can get a 5-pound tub of Optimum Nutrition 100% Whey Gold Standard for just over $50.
2# BSN Syntha-6 Protein Powder Review
Do you want a powder which combines several protein sources into one product? If so then this one from BSN might be perfect for you, combining whey, casein and egg in a single powder. This means you don’t need to worry about figuring out which powder you should take in the morning vs. the evening because BSN Syntha-6 contains a mix of proteins which metabolize properly at any time of day or night. You can get this powder in 16 different flavors, and a 2.9-pound tub of it costs just under $30.
3# Nutiva Organic Hemp Protein Review
If you’re just looking for a plain old bulk protein powder made from hemp then here it is. Because it’s lactose and gluten free it’s perfect for vegans, but it’s worth remembering that the amount of fiber contained in this powder is actually higher than the protein content – something you might want to factor in for when and where you’re taking it. You can use this powder in everything from a protein shake to just baking, and at a touch over $20 for a 3-pound bag it’s also pretty cost effective.
4# BSN True-Mass Ultra-Premium Protein Powder Review
Here we have another 24/7 BSN protein powder which combines milk, egg, wheat and soy protein sources in a single powder, providing for your protein intake requirements at any time during the day or night. You can use this powder for everything from meal replacement to boosting your recovery immediately after training. BSN True-Mass Ultra-Premium comes in 6 different flavors and a 5.57-pound tub costs a little under $50.
5# Garden of Life Protein Powder Review
This is a protein supplement ideal for anyone who has an intolerance to dairy or soy products, but needs a boost in their daily protein intake. What’s different is that this powder uses sprouted brown rice as its protein source, making it suitable even for bodybuilders following a raw vegan diet. You can buy Garden of Life Protein in 3 flavors and a 1.5-pound tub costs roughly $22.
Once you know exactly what you want to achieve with your protein powder the rest of the product selection process is pretty straightforward from there. If nothing else you can see from our reviews that regardless of what your personal dietary requirements are there’s a protein powder to suit you. Have fun bulking up!