The wall of protein powder wraps half way around the supplement store. Your eyes try to process all the different kinds and claims. A broad-shouldered clerk notices the glazed over expression forming on your face and asks if he can help. You share your desire to start making protein shakes and smoothie bowls and inquire as to what kind of protein powder is best – whey or something else?
He shares how he uses whey after his workout but drinks a casein shake before bed. He starts spouting off facts about slow and fast digesting protein, the magic window to build muscle, how gross hemp powder is and how you have to use whey if you want those gains. When he finally stops sharing his particular routine of shakes and supplements you look him straight in the eye and say,
But which protein powder is right for ME?
In his brain, the one that he uses is the right one for everyone.
But…every BODY is different. Taste buds alone make choosing the best protein powder difficult. When you factor in the needs of your particular workout, goals, health conditions and dietary preferences it can seem a bit overwhelming.
I’m going to spare you the science lecture. I’m here to share when you should consider each of the main varieties of protein powder and why it might make sense for you.
The classic protein powders: Whey and Casein
Whey is the most common one and often the least expensive variety. Since it is milk based if you have issues with dairy you might not want to use it. You can put it in hot foods so it is perfect to pump up your oatmeal or to make protein pancakes, but I wouldn’t recommend baking with it. It makes a quick shake when blended in a shaker bottle with your liquid of choice. It is thinner in consistency so it’s not my favorite for smoothie bowls and really creamy protein smoothies. I personally think Designer Protein Designer Whey and True Athlete taste the best.
Casein is also a milk-based protein so the same warning applies as whey if you have diary issues. Casein is a thicker consistency so it is great in mug cakes and smoothie bowls. If you often wake up starving in the morning try a casein based shake or smoothie bowl before bed. As a slow digesting protein, casein promotes fullness longer. Casein before bed is also helpful if you’re doing especially intense workouts or training for an endurance event, like a marathon. Your body does its major repair work during sleep so a slow digesting protein like casein will provide a steady supply of the building blocks for repair. NOW Sports offers a no-sugar added unflavored casein that is perfect to add to a smoothie before bed.
Plant Based Protein Powders: Blends Are Best
Instead of reviewing ALL the different types of plant protein powders, I’ll suggest you refer back to a post I did explaining the benefits the more popular plant based protein powders. What I can tell you about plant-based powders is this; they don’t taste so great on their own. Single protein versions can be great for cooking and may be your best option if your main goal is making protein pancakes or pumping up your veggie burger. Many of the recipes in my new favorite cookbook, Protein Ninja, use either pea protein or brown rice protein. I love the NOW Sports Unflavored Brown Rice Protein Powder and Source Naturals Pea Protein Powder.
Blends are better if you do not want milk based or meat based (yes, they make beef protein powder) for post workout shakes, meal replacement shakes, smoothie bowls and mug cakes. A blend of plant based proteins like hemp, brown rice, pea or soy will make sure you get all your essential amino acids (protein building blocks the body can’t make on its own) in a single serving. They also taste much better with a creamier consistency. (Single proteins like brown rice can be gritty.) Plant based protein powders are generally thicker. If you use them in place of whey or casein in a recipe you might consider adding a little extra water. I personally love and use Vega protein powders.
For meal replacement, your mug cake or smoothie bowl I highly recommend Vega Protein + Greens. It tastes delicious in my mug cake and you get a greens bonus from some spinach, broccoli and kale powder. If you’re interested in a post-workout shake to build muscle try the new Vega Clean Protein. It is made from NON-GMO certified ingredients with no artificial flavors and all your essential amino acids including the all-important glutamine. Glutamine is essential for building and maintaining muscle, GI function and the immune system. It is found in foods we may avoid when eating clean like wheat and corn and in foods like soy and dairy that may be off limit due to dietary restrictions.
Next time you visit the supplement store or health market you’ll do so with confidence. Pro tip: ask for a sample! Supplement stores may sell single serving packages or have sample packets in the back. Try before you buy if you can.
I’d love to hear what you pick out and what you think. Share your favorite!