Buying a protein powder should be easy, right? It’s protein, it’s powder, but it’s not that simple. You find the isle where they have it thinking there might be a few brands and if you’re lucky maybe even a few flavors, and then your mind is blown. Yes, it’s protein, but what kind of protein do you want? And then you notice that some of them have sugars added, and others don’t. Some have GMO-free soy, and some come from grass-fed beef. Oh my, you just came for protein powder and find yourself at the equivalent of one of those super car sales lots. Looking at the protein powder version of several makes and umpteen models, electric, hybrid, and all-gas. But wait, there’s also the diesel option. That’s what it seems like when you are shopping for protein powder – you are overwhelmed with choices.
But it doesn’t have to be like that – not when you are armed with some basic information. First, there may well be a right decision, but it’s not going to be a one fits all option. So we did some research and found out about the six healthiest protein powders and what each one is best for. Let’s start.
Casein protein powder.
Casein is the main protein in milk, but it is not quite as efficient at muscle building as whey protein. It does, however, leave you feeling full for longer and is a great addition to either your oatmeal or morning smoothie. If you want an enhanced muscle building effect, mix it with whey protein powder in an after-workout boost drink. Look for “micellar casein” that offers the longest lasting effect. Casein also works well when you add it to a drink before going to bed at night. Choose one made with organic, grass-fed dairy or free of growth hormones. If you have it in your stores, Naked Casein is a good choice. Try this post-workout smoothie with your casein protein powder:
Banana Peanut Butter – 1 serving, inspired by banana-peanut-butter-power
½ C 0% fat Greek yogurt
½ C milk
1 banana – for an extra creamy smoothie use a frozen banana
1 T peanut butter
1 large handful of baby spinach or kale
½ t vanilla
1 scoop casein protein powder
Optional – several shakes of cinnamon
Blend all ingredients together until smooth and enjoy.
Egg white protein powder.
Yep, it’s dried egg whites turned into a powder, and it digests slower than whey but faster than casein so it will keep you feeling full longer, but not as long as casein will. This is a good choice if you are allergic to dairy, but not eggs. It also fits well if you follow a Paleo eating program. The preferred choice would be those made with cage-free organic egg whites, but that can be difficult to find. So next option is not a powder, but organic pasteurized liquid egg whites. A great brand of the powder is GEO Organic Plain Egg White
Protein Powder. This also works great in post workout smoothies. Try this recipe:
Cran-Beet Crusher – 1 serving, inspired by cran-beet-crusher
1 C tofu – medium
½ C fresh or frozen cranberries
½ medium beet
½ peeled cucumber or whole peeled Persian cucumber
1 celery stalk
1 C kale
½ C fresh squeezed orange juice or other citrus juice
2 t raw honey or pure maple syrup
1 scoop egg white protein powder
Optional – add 1 T raw cacao nibs
Blend all ingredients until smooth.
Hemp protein powder.
Hemp is not as high in protein but is a good source of fiber and amino acids. So if you mix it with pea protein or rice protein – together they become a complete protein source. This is a great choice if you aren’t looking for as much of a protein boost and more of a nutrient blast. Check the label – if it says “hemp protein” it still has most of the fiber, oils, and other nutrients. If it says “hemp protein concentrate” there is more protein, but they have stripped away more of the fibers, oils, and nutrients. Manitoba Harvest HempPro
50 or 70 are good choices. Try this recipe with hemp – since it has some other course items, the fiber in the hemp won’t be the only texture in it.
Blueberry-Banana-Almond-Kale Smoothie – 1 serving, inspired by Blueberry Almond
½ C almond milk
½ C kale – stems removed and then leaves chopped
½ frozen banana – peeled
¼ C frozen blueberries
½ T raw almond butter
½ T chia seeds
1 scoop hemp protein powder
Optional – add ¼ t lemon or lime juice to make the flavors pop
Pea protein powder.
Pea protein is made from yellow peas and is the one that digests the easiest in your system. If you have a sensitive digestive system, this is the one that will probably work best for you. However, like rice protein and hemp protein, it is not a complete one, so try
mixing it with one of those to get the full amino acid grouping needed. This is great for vegetarians/vegans who don’t like having too much soy in their diet. If you like the pea protein, but want one with more protein – go for “pea protein isolate.” A good brand to try, if it is available, is Swanson Organic Pea Powder Protein. Try this great smoothie recipe with your pea protein powder:
Kale Apple Smoothie – 1 serving, inspired by Kale Apple
¾ C coarsely chopped baby kale
¾ C chopped cucumber – with skin
½ C coarsely chopped Gala (or Granny Smith) apple
1 small rib celery chopped
½ C ice cubes
1 t fresh lime juice (or orange juice)
¼ t raw honey
1 scoop pea protein powder
Optional – 2 T chopped raw pecans
Blend all ingredients until smooth.
Soy Protein Powder.
To make soy protein powder, they remove the hulls and fat from the soybeans and then dry it before grinding it into powder. It has higher levels of amino acids that may help boost your immune system, brain functions, and digestive system. It is also the most effective and complete plant-derived protein. However, if you are a woman with a history of estrogen-related cancers or other problems, or if you are a man with lower testosterone levels, you probably want to limit any soy products in your diet. If you don’t have those issues and are vegan or vegetarian, soy may be ideal for you. Like other protein powders – isolate contains more protein than the concentrated version. A good one to try if this seems like what you want is Bob’s Red Mill Premium Isolated Soy Protein Powder. A fun smoothie recipe to try with it is:
Just 5 Smoothie – 1 serving, inspired by Just 5
½ C frozen blackberries (or blueberries)
1 scoop soy protein powder
1 C baby spinach or kale
½ C unsweetened almond milk
Optional – splash of fresh squeezed orange juice to brighten the berry flavors
Blend all ingredients until smooth.
Whey protein powder.
Whey protein powder is made from cow’s milk and is the best protein source of all of the powders. It is also the best for building muscles, so it’s great for post-workout as well as other times of the day. If your goal is to build muscle quickly, this is your best bet. Whey protein isolate or whey protein hydrolysate are 90% or more protein, so they have fewer carbs, less fat, and less lactose. If you want a cleaner option with a little less protein (80%), go with the concentrate. Opt for the organic grass-fed version with no trace hormones, pesticides, or grain-feed byproducts. A good brand to try is Now Foods Whey Protein Isolate.
This one is great to add to your smoothies or try it with hot cereals or to replace some of the flour (in whatever form) for healthy cookies or other treats like:
Coconut Protein Balls – 32 servings (1 ball each), inspired by Coconut Balls
3 C pitted dates, chopped
4 scoops whey protein powder
¼ C cacao nibs
1 ½ C raw almonds
2 T unsweetened cocoa powder
½ C warm water
1 C unsweetened coconut flakes
Optional: a pinch of ground coffee
Combine the dates, almonds, coffee (if you are using it) and water in a food processor and grind. If you have small chunks still, that works well. Add the mixture along with protein powder, nibs, and cocoa powder in a bowl. Mix all with a spatula until thoroughly combined.
Spread coconut on a baking sheet or other flat surface and then roll 32 balls in the coconut. Put balls in the freezer on a tray not touching each other and let them freeze. Then put them all in a freezer bag and enjoy as needed.
Now a few other tips about buying your protein powder:
- Whatever one you decide on, check the ingredients and make sure that protein is listed as the first item.
- Check for any artificial sweeteners. Manufacturers use these to keep carbs lower, but the only one that you want to see here would be erythritol (Stevia), which is actually a natural sweetener, just not from sugar cane. Erythritol has essentially no carbs or calories and unlike artificial sweeteners, or natural sugars does not impact your blood sugar levels.
- The shorter the ingredient list, the better.
- If you can only buy one package, go with unflavored or vanilla to give you the most options in how you use the powder.
- If you buy organic or non-GMO in other foods, look for that in your protein powder as well.
Want more information and ideas, go to best-protein-powders.