One of the most common questions I hear with new clients is ‘what kind of protein powder should I be taking?’. And while for the right person a protein supplement can be a great idea we need to keep the definition of the word in mind.
In other words we need to remember that this is ‘in addition’ to and not ‘in place of’. Too often we’ll hear stories of clients who have a smoothie in the morning, will have a protein bar during the day and then eat dinner with their families.
This is not the way to go. Instead what we recommend is to eat as much whole, fresh food as is necessary to meet your goals. And if you are someone that would benefit from additional protein than we may provide some guidelines as to how to choose a protein powder.
#1 – Taste
You are more likely to use a protein supplement if you like how it takes. You will use it the morning for a smoothie, after training for a post workout shake and find other ways to include a scoop here or there such as in your oatmeal, pancake mix or other recipes.
If the taste causes you to gag and your eyes to water than this isn’t the product for you. As for what flavour to choose decide if you will mix the protein in milk, water, juice or use for baking. Chocolate is a popular flavour but doesn’t have the same range of possible uses that a vanilla flavour does. Just something to keep in mind.
#2 – Solubility
Think of this as to how well the protein powder mixes in the liquid. Some powders can be scooped into your drink and with a few swirls of the cup it is completely mixed. Others require minutes of stirring with a spoon followed by shaking the cup. Even after all these steps to mix the ingredients you may still find the protein is clumped to your spoon or stuck to the bottom of your cup.
#3 – Type
In terms of protein supplements whey is your best choice and includes hydrolyzed, isolate and concentrate forms. These are listed from better to worse in terms of quality as well as costlier to less expensive. Another advantage of hydrolyzed or isolate forms is that they tend to be more easily digested by those that are lactose intolerant compared to the concentrate forms.
Besides the whey forms there are other options including casein, which is slower digesting, and vegan-friendly options including soy, rice, hemp and others. While the vegan options may be a suitable for some it should be known that these tend to have lower protein, higher carbs and usually cost more.
#4 – Dose
I always found it interesting the games supplement companies make when creating their formulations and labelling their products. First of all, there was the belief that more is better and therefore it became a search to find the label with the highest protein dose listed. If one listed 32 grams per serving but another listed 40 grams than the 40 gram product must be superior, right?
Well, while we have thought this at one time, thanks to Dr. Susan Kleiner, I know have a better appreciation for the minimal essential dose and realize that 20 grams of whey protein is all it takes.
***register here for the 3rd Annual Okanagan Strength & Conditioning Conference to see Dr. Kleiner present in person here in Kelowna***
Besides looking at the dose of protein per serving in a particular supplement it is also helpful to look a the percentage of protein per total serving. For example, if a 25 gram serving includes 20 grams of protein than this product is 80% protein and would be superior to one with 15 grams or 60% protein.
#5 – Sweetener
If you prefer unflavoured protein supplements you can skip ahead to the next point. However if you like a little flavour in your shake than you may want want to know what accounts for the sweetness. Is it acesulfame potassium? Or aspartame? Or sucralose? Maybe it includes a natural sweetener like stevia.
If you do choose a flavoured protein than take some time to find out how the product is sweetened.
#6 – Safety
One of the big concerns for athletes and parents when deciding on a supplement is to know that it is safe. Athletes want to ensure they won’t have any issues with drug testing and parents want to know their children aren’t being contaminated with any potentially harmful ingredients.
Besides using reputable brands that have been around for while there is also a designation given to some products to ensure that they have met a higher level of purity and safety.
Additionally better quality brands will be involved in research studies involving their products and they manufacture their products themselves. In other words the product is not outsourced to a 3rd party and then slaps a unique label on the package in order to sell to you.
Keep these points in mind the next time you are shopping for a protein supplement. Reputable stores may sell individual servings so you don’t have to buy a 5 lbs bag in order to ‘try’ a particular flavour. When you do start taking a protein supplement, or any new supplement for that matter, make sure to note this in your journal and track changes in mass, strength, sleep and performance so you’ll know how effective it was for you.