protein powder guide

Protein powder has become a modern pantry staple in almost every wellness-oriented diet. Since so many of us use it daily, its key to use a powder that’s clean and tailored for our body type. This comprehensive guide by registered dietician, Rachel Link from Dr. Axe will help you understand the difference between each of the protein sources and which one is right for you. 

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Although once considered a supplement solely for bodybuilders and professional athletes, protein powder has gained widespread popularity among those looking to gain muscle mass and increase protein intake while also improving their health. In fact, the potential benefits of protein powder extend way beyond the gym; research shows that this superstar supplement may help with everything from improving skin health to enhancing immunity and more.

Produced from both plant-based and animal sources, there are many types of protein powders available to tailor to any diet plan, taste palate or personal preference. So what are the best protein powders and how can they impact your health? Let’s take a look.

What Is Protein Powder?

Protein powder is a common supplement that provides a concentrated amount of dietary protein from both plant and animal sources. Some popular examples include whey, casein, hemp and bone broth protein powder.

Most people take protein powder looking to build muscle mass and maximize fat burning, but protein powders can also be a useful way to increase protein intake for those who may have difficulty meeting their needs, such as vegans, vegetarians or older adults. You can also use protein powder to increase your caloric intake if you’re wanting to gain weight in a healthy way by using it to supplement your meals and snacks.

And in addition to supplying an extra bit of protein to your daily diet, protein powder benefits many other aspects of health as well. In fact, several types are high in fiber, vitamins and minerals and have been linked to a wide range of health benefits such as lower cholesterol levels, better blood sugar control and improved skin health.

Plus, protein powder is available in a wide array of different flavors and can be incredibly versatile. Although most commonly mixed with milk or water, it can also be incorporated into recipes like breakfasts and baked goods to add a punch of protein to your favorite foods.

Common Forms of Protein Powder

Protein powders can be derived from many different plant-based and animal sources. Some of the most common types cropping up on the market today include: Whey, casein, soy, bone broth, rice, pea, collagen, egg, hemp, mixed plant protein. There are also several different forms of protein powder, each of which vary based on their nutrient profile and the way that they are processed. The three most common types include:

Protein concentrates: This type of protein powder is made by extracting protein from whole food sources, resulting in a final product that contains 60–80 percent of calories from protein with the remaining calories from fat and carbohydrates.

Protein isolates: Protein isolates are further filtered to remove much of the fat and carbohydrates, resulting in a more highly concentrated form of protein powder. In general, protein isolates typically contain between 90–95 percent protein.

Protein hydrolysates: This form of protein powder undergoes a process that breaks the bond between amino acids, creating a type of protein that is more easily absorbable by your body.

Quality Protein Powder vs. Protein Powder with Fillers

Not all protein powders are created equally. And not only are many pumped full of fillers and added ingredients, but they often contain misleading labels, making it impossible to tell what you’re really getting in each serving. In fact, a slew of recent lawsuits have found that many popular brands of protein powders actually contain less than half of the amount of protein listed on the label.

These lawsuits allege that many companies use a practice called “amino spiking,” meaning that they use cheap filler amino acids like glycine, leucine and taurine and then count these amino acids towards the total protein content on the label. The problem is that these amino acids are incomplete proteins and don’t contain the same health benefits as the complete proteins found in organic protein powder. Lab results even showed that MusclePharm’s “Arnold Scharzenegger Series Iron Mass,” one of the most popular brands of protein powder, delivered just 19 grams, which equates to less than 48 percent of the amount listed on the label.

So how can you skip the scams and make sure you’re getting the best bang for your buck? Take a closer look at the ingredients label and skip the supplements that add extra amino acids or fillers like maltodextrin or artificial sweeteners. Instead, opt for organic, naturally sweetened protein powders with minimal ingredients and be sure to always purchase from reputable retailers.

7 Best Protein Powders

Bone Broth Protein Powder | Bone broth is made by simmering different parts of animals, including bones and connective tissues, into a nutrient-rich broth, which can then be dehydrated and concentrated into a protein powder. Not only is bone broth protein powder highly nutritious, but it’s also available in an assortment of flavors, which is why it’s often dubbed the best tasting protein powder for baked goods and recipes. Bone broth protein powder is ideal for those looking to improve their health, optimize immunity and combat the signs of aging while also increasing their daily protein intake.

Rich in Collagen. As the most abundant protein in your body, collagen plays a central role in the health of your hair, skin, joints and nails. Getting enough of this protein is key to many aspects of health, especially as you start getting older.

Promotes Skin Health. Collagen levels drop as you age, resulting in symptoms like saggy skin and wrinkles. Studies show that supplementing with a collagen-containing supplement like bone broth protein powder could improve skin elasticity and skin moisture in older adults.

Enhanced Immune Function. Some research suggests that protein powder made from bone broth can reduce inflammation to give your immune system a hearty boost and reduce the risk of conditions like leaky gut syndrome.

Relieves Joint Pain. Supplementing with collagen, one of the primary ingredients found in bone broth protein powder, has been shown to reduce activity-related joint pain in athletes.

Collagen Protein Powder |
As the most abundant form of protein in the body, collagen is found in the muscles, skin, bones and blood vessels. However, collagen levels begin to slowly decline as you get older, resulting in symptoms like joint pain, wrinkles and hair loss. Taking a collagen supplement is an effective way to boost collagen levels and reverse the symptoms of aging to improve health and quality of life. The best form of a collagen protein includes several types, including from chicken collagen, bovine collagen, fish collagen and egg shell collagen. Collagen is a good option to help combat signs of aging and enhance overall health. It can be especially beneficial for those with autoimmune disorders or conditions like arthritis, leaky gut syndrome or liver problems.

Decreases Joint Pain. Collagen can help increase the synthesis of cells in the extracellular matrix to reduce joint pain and improve symptoms of arthritis.

Prevents Leaky Gut. Leaky gut syndrome is a condition caused by increased intestinal permeability resulting in symptoms like inflammation, decreased immunity and nutritional deficiencies. One study in Food & Function found that collagen can improve intestinal barrier function and protect against leaky gut syndrome.

Promotes Hair and Skin Health: As the building block of the hair, skin and nails, some studies show that collagen supplementation could be therapeutic against hair loss and skin-related conditions.

Improves Liver Function: Collagen is rich in a type of amino acid called glycine, which has been shown to preserve liver function and protect against liver injury in some animal studies.

Whey Protein Powder |
Whey is a type of protein found in milk. More specifically, it is the liquid that separates from the curds during the cheese-making process, resulting in a final product that is high in protein. However, it may also contain lactose, a type of sugar found in milk that can be difficult for certain people to digest. Whey protein isolate is the best whey protein option if you have lactose intolerance, as the lactose content is significantly decreased during processing. Whey protein may be the right choice for you if you’re looking to increase muscle mass and improve muscle recovery after an intense workout. Whey protein is also sometimes considered the top protein powder for weight loss because it can help curb cravings and improve body composition.

Supports Muscle Growth. Whey protein is quickly digested, making it an ideal choice for a post-workout smoothie to gain muscle mass fast. In fact, multiple studies show that whey protein can help speed up muscle recovery and enhance muscle growth.

High in BCAA. Whey protein is rich in branched-chain amino acids (BCAA), which help promote muscle recovery and support muscle synthesis after exercise.

Controls Appetite. Some research also shows that whey protein could decrease appetite and may help reduce levels of certain hunger hormones to a greater extent than other protein powders, including casein or soy.

Improves Body Composition. For those looking to lose weight and kick up fat burning, whey protein may be the way to go. Studies show that supplementing with whey could help decrease fat mass and waist circumference — overall belly fat — in people who are overweight or obese.

Hemp Protein Powder |
Hemp is a variety of Cannabis sativa, a type of flowering plant indigenous to Asia. Although most well-known for its association with marijuana, hemp actually contains little to no tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, which is the cannaboid responsible for the psychoactive properties of marijuana. Instead, hemp is actually jam-packed with protein, and hemp protein used to make one of the most popular plant-based protein powder options on the market today. Hemp protein powder is perfect for those looking to boost protein intake to gain muscle mass and strength while also reaping the nutritional benefits of the hemp seed, including its high fiber and omega-3 fatty acid content.

Easily Digestible. Hemp protein powder is an easily digestible form of protein, meaning your body is able to metabolize and utilize more protein to get you closer to your goals.

Contains Heart-Healthy Fats. Unlike other protein powders, hemp protein powder stands out because it contains a hearty dose of omega-3 fatty acids, a type of heart-healthy fat that’s been linked to decreased inflammation, improved heart health and better brain function.

Plant-Based. Hemp protein powder is often considered one of the best vegan protein powder options because it’s totally plant-based and can be enjoyed on nearly any diet.

Rich in Fiber. Hemp seeds are loaded with beneficial fiber and each serving of hemp protein powder packs in a good chunk of fiber as well. Besides supporting regularity, fiber can also lower cholesterol levels, stabilize blood sugar and even enhance weight loss.

Pea Protein Powder |
Tiny but packed with protein, pea protein is a relatively new form of protein powder that’s been gaining popularity fast. Derived from the yellow split pea, pea protein powder contains a good amount of nearly all of the essential amino acids and has been associated with a number of health benefits thanks to its stellar nutrient profile. Pea protein works well for those looking to increase muscle growth while also curbing cravings and decreasing appetite, making it a contender for the best protein powder for weight loss. When paired with a healthy, well-rounded diet, it may also benefit other aspects of health, such as heart health.

Boosts Muscle Growth. One study in the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition found that pea protein was equally effective as whey protein at increasing muscle thickness when combined with resistance training.

Reduces Hunger. Some research shows that pea protein can help increase the levels of specific satiety hormones to keep you feeling full and decrease hunger.

Lowers Blood Pressure. In addition to kicking up your protein intake, pea protein may also help keep your heart in tip-top shape by keeping blood pressure in check. A 2011 study showed that supplementation with pea protein was able to significantly lower systolic blood pressure levels after just three weeks.

Casein Protein Powder |
Casein is a type of protein found in milk. Unlike whey protein, however, it’s digested much more slowly within the body, helping to decrease muscle breakdown. Because it’s derived from milk, casein protein is also rich in several essential nutrients, including calcium. Casein can help increase fat loss and build muscle for those looking to tone up. It can also increase metabolism, allowing you burn more calories throughout the day to help the weight slide right off.

Slows Muscle Breakdown. Casein has anti-catabolic properties, meaning that it slows the breakdown of muscle tissues during resistance training and supplies the muscles with a steady stream of amino acids to promote muscle growth.

Enhances Strength. Some research indicates that casein protein may be even more effective than other types of protein like whey at stimulating muscle growth and increasing strength.

Improves Body Composition. One study comparing the effects of whey protein and casein found that supplementing with casein doubled the amount of fat loss, lean body mass gains and chest strength compared to whey protein.

Boosts Metabolism. Casein tops the charts as potentially the best protein powder for women looking to lose weight because it’s been shown to ramp up energy expenditure and keep your metabolismrunning.

Brown Rice Protein Powder |
As its name implies, brown rice protein powder is made from brown rice and contains all of the essential amino acids that your body needs. It’s plant-based, high in fiber and contains additional micronutrients like iron, calcium and vitamin C, all of which provide it with an added boost of health benefits. If you’re looking to lose weight and improve your body composition, brown rice protein powder is a good plant-based alternative to whey protein. It also comes with several added health benefits for those who may want to simultaneously improve heart health and lower blood sugar as well.

Aids in Weight Loss. Adding a scoop of brown rice protein powder into your smoothie can do double duty by increasing your protein intake and kickstarting weight loss as well. According to an animal model out of China, brown rice protein includes specific peptides that were shown to reduce weight gain in hamsters.

Promotes Muscle Building. One study in the Nutrition Journal showed that brown rice protein powder was as effective as whey protein powder at improving body composition and exercise performance.

Regulates Blood Sugar. Thanks to the high fiber content of brown rice nutrition, brown rice protein powder has been shown to help regulate blood sugar levels in some animal models.

Lowers Cholesterol. High levels of cholesterol can build up in the bloodstream, causing arteries to narrow and thicken, plus upping the risk of heart disease. Some animal studies have found that brown rice protein could cut cholesterol levels to reduce your risk of heart disease.

How to Use Protein Powder

The possibilities of protein powder extend way beyond sticking a scoop in your morning smoothie or shake. In fact, you can easily add protein powder to everything from baked goods to oatmeal dishes to smoothie bowls and more. Stick to a single serving right after working out to maximize muscle gain, or enjoy it throughout the day in your favorite snacks if you’re looking to increase your caloric intake and use protein powder for weight gain.

Protein Powder Side Effects + Precautions to Take

Adding protein powder into your routine can enhance your results at the gym and make it easier to meet your protein needs throughout the day. Certain protein powder supplements may also come with other benefits, such as better heart health, improved immunity and a decreased appetite.

Protein powder should not be used as a replacement for protein from whole food sources, however. Protein foods like meat, fish, eggs and legumes not only supply a good amount of protein in each serving, but they also pack in tons of other important vitamins and minerals that your body needs to thrive.

Additionally, it’s important to keep in mind that more is not always better when it comes to protein powder. Overdoing it can lead to protein powder side effects like weight gain, bone loss, kidney damage and liver problems.

Finally, remember to always buy from a reputable retailer and look for organic products with minimal ingredients and fillers to make sure you’re getting the best protein powders possible. Coupled with a healthy diet and lifestyle protein powder, using a few of these best protein powders help you reach your fitness goals, increase your protein intake, manage your weight and enhance your overall health.

The Chalkboard Mag and its materials are not intended to treat, diagnose, cure or prevent any disease. 
All material on The Chalkboard Mag is provided for educational purposes only. Always seek the advice of your physician or another qualified healthcare provider for any questions you have regarding a medical condition, and before undertaking any diet, exercise or other health-related programs. 

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