When selecting a protein supplement, the vast range of products available makes it extremely difficult to pinpoint the best product for you. It's especially difficult if you haven't used any proteins in the past, or if you don't have a great knowledge of what goes in to a protein powder supplement. Here we've put together some tips as to what to look for in a protein powder - take note of these recommendations and it'll be a whole lot easier to find the best protein to suit your needs!
If you are looking for a ‘straight' protein powder, then your choice needs to be high in protein. Sounds like a no-brainer, right? Well, it's a little more complicated than that. Things that detract from overall protein percentage are flavourings, carbs, fats, vitamins, minerals, thickeners and other ingredients that may or may not be necessary in your protein powder. As a general rule, you will want your protein to be over 70% in protein by weight. This means that a 30g serve will need to contain 21g or more of protein. Of course, it will depend on your protein source as to how high the percentage is (more on that in the next section), but if you have at least 70% protein, then you know that there is going to be a limited amount of unnecessary ingredients in your powder.
A whey protein isolate, which is a perfect pre or post-workout protein powder should contain at least 80% protein - this is due to the purity of the product during manufacture, and ensures that there are no unnecessary fillers such as maltodextrin added to your protein. Many whey isolates are close to 90% protein, which is fantastic. Just be careful of anything over that 90% mark - they tend to be very runny in consistency and lack good flavour.
A protein blend, such as a whey and casein blend, is a perfect choice for anytime of the day, and can also be used around workouts if need be. It provides fast, medium and slow digesting proteins, and keeps your muscles fed for hours. Once again, it should be at least 70% protein, especially if it has whey protein isolate or hydrolysate in the blend.
Whey proteins are considered the gold standard in protein sources, and are almost always the best choice for a protein powder. If whey protein isolate is the first ingredient listed on the label, chances are your protein powder is extremely high in branched chain amino acids, and it is a great product to help you recover and build muscle. Whey concentrate is the cheaper whey protein, but also has its place as an all-round muscle building protein. Many of the impurities in whey concentrate are beneficial to muscle growth, and are filtered out when making whey isolate. Whey protein hydrolysate is the fastest absorbing protein source you can get, and is an even further filtered protein source made from whey isolate. This generally has no carbs, fat or lactose, and is around 90% protein.
For around your workouts, select a primarily whey protein blend, whey isolate being the primary source. This will give you the fast absorbing protein when you need it most. While soy, rice and egg proteins all have their place, whey is certainly the most beneficial to muscle growth, and unless you are lactose intolerant or a vegetarian, try and stick to whey proteins wherever possible.
For a nighttime protein, you will want a casein protein. This is the slowest digesting protein source, and will keep your muscles fed while you sleep. Micellar casein is the best form of casein, followed by calcium caseinate (the body can't absorb this as well as micellar), so try and stick to micellar casein wherever possible for a nighttime protein.
Value for Money
The best protein powder doesn't necessarily mean the most expensive one. If you opt for a protein that you've seen advertised everywhere, chances are that you are paying for that advertising when buying the product and are not necessarily getting a better product for that extra money. Many of the ‘mid-range' supplement companies offer good value proteins that are high in the important ingredients such as whey isolate, but at a fraction of the cost. Generally, if you are paying more than $45/kg for a large size protein tub/bag, you are paying too much! For somewhere around $35/kg, you can find a good whey protein, or protein blend, which works out at a very reasonable $1/serve.
Some other added goodies in your protein powder can enhance the value, digestibility and recovery ability of your protein. Look for added amino acids, especially glutamine (for recovery), leucine (muscle growth), isoleucine or valine (for muscle support). Digestive enzymes such as protease and lactase help break down the product in your gut so more of it is digested. Stay away from dextrose, maltodextrin, glucose or fructose - they are cheap fillers, and should not be in any large quantity in a protein powder.
Hopefully these tips have helped you pinpoint the perfect protein powder for your needs. Don't pay for fillers, inferior protein sources or too much for the same ingredients. For a very reasonable price you can get a protein powder that suits your needs, tastebuds and budget!
Stay tuned for more articles in this series, including how to select a pre workout, weight gainer, fat burner and amino acid supplement!
Click here to read our Disclaimer