Protein Powder: Benefits, How-to, What to Avoid, & My Recs
I've researched protein powders for more hours than any sane human would; more hours that I'd like to admit, but...as I knew it would...it took a ton of research to convince myself that it would be a beneficial move to start incorporating protein powder into my diet.
If your diet allows for it, I totally think that supplementing with the right protein powder is a great idea & can provide you with many health benefits.
Before getting into all the benefits of protein powder, how to incorporate it into your diet, and how to chose a healthy one without crap ingredients, I feel it's important to mention that I'm not suggesting you use protein powder as your main source of where you get your protein from. Supplement is the key word here.
Whole foods are the main priority to me, and should be for anyone without some sort of dietary restriction, when it comes to diet and attaining optimal benefits from each meal.
That said, there are clearly different circumstances where having protein supplementation can be beneficial.
For instance, for anyone trying to reduce body fat & add lean muscle; for athletes or anyone that has a super active lifestyle; for those in need of a solid on-the-go snack for when running short on time; or anybody following a vegan or vegetarian diet or are new to transitioning into either.
Protein powder shouldn't be what you we on as our main source of protein, but rather as the supplement that it's designed to be.
You should be aiming to get most of your protein needs from wholesome foods such as beans, legumes, nuts & seeds, or, if you follow an omnivorous diet, organic eggs, meats, & other animal proteins.
Following a plant-based, mostly vegan diet, myself, I prefer vegan protein powder.
I do either pea protein, hemp seed protein, brown rice protein...usually a combination of at least two, if not, all three.
Notice that I didn't include soy.
I generally try to avoid any soy ingredients in protein powder, and in all honesty, that's mostly due to all the controversy that goes into whether or not soy is good or harmful for us—that's just a whole other topic in itself.
There's plenty of solid vegan options, like the ones I mentioned, that anyone seeking out a vegan protein powder can easily avoid soy if they wish to.
If you follow an omnivorous diet, whey is a great option.
There's tons of studies that even offer that whey protein powder is the superior choice above all. Many of these studies also provide that whey can improve insulin sensitivity and reduce blood sugar, as well as lower inflammation.
Just make sure that if this is the route you choose, you get your hands on one that contains whey that comes from grass-fed cows. Whey that comes from grass-fed cows vs. cows that live off of soy and/or corn is of MUCH higher quality in terms of the protein & fat content provided.
Benefits of protein powder:
#1. Protein powder can help us maintain lean muscle mass.
This can be super beneficial for anyone trying to lose weight & remain in a caloric deficit.
#2. Protein powder can help curb cravings by keeping us fuller & more satiated.
#3. Because it helps keep us fuller, it also helps to prevent us from overeating junk food or foods that don't nourish our bodies nearly as well.
#4. Protein powder is super easy to incorporate into our daily diets.
How to incorporate protein powder:
Add to green smoothies
Add to oatmeal/overnight oats
Add to açaí/smoothie bowls
Toss it into a shaker bottle with water or milk of choice, shake it up & slug it down
Add to baked goods.
Add to raw treats. Throw some oats, almond butter, syrup, and protein powder together & ya got yourself some energy/protein balls!
When choosing a protein powder, the nutrition label is obviously important to look into, but just as important is the ingredients label!
Ingredients to avoid:
Artificial sweeteners, colors, & sugars...a lot of brands add these to their products to enhance the taste, so watch out for any of that nonsense!
BPA (bisphenol-A)...a chemical that's commonly found in food can liners & plastics. LIKE WTF EVEN. NO THANKS.
Thickeners & gums...these can cause digestive issues and inflammation to some people. These are pretty common ingredients, and it can be hard to find a powder without any, so at least try to get a powder that has limited amount. Common ones are lecithin, carrageenan, & xanthan gums.
You want to be on the hunt for a powder that doesn't have a boatload of ingredients.
Hot tip: if you can't pronounce the ingredient for the life of you, it's more than likely bad news & you should probs just leave it right where ya found it.
My Favorite & Most Recommended Vegan Protein Powder Brands:
Time to get v specific.
#1. Vega: Protein & Greens.
My personal favorite.
This one is made from a combination of pea, hemp, and brown rice protein.
Has pretty solid ingredients with no artificial BS ingredients.
Only 110 calories per serving with 20g protein, 2.5g fat, 4g carbs, & 1g fiber. AMAZEBALLS!
My favorite flavors are vanilla & salted caramel. I'm obsessed.
AND...one of the less expensive options. Way more affordable than some available brands!
AND, AND, very easily accessible. You can find it on Amazon, at Target, through Vega's website, Whole Foods, etc.
#2. Garden of Life: Raw Organic Fit Protein Powder.
This option is made with 13 raw sprouted organic ingredients.
Also contains zero artificial ingredients.
170 calories for 28g protein, 2g fat, 10g carbs, & 8g fiber *love that!*
Vanilla flavor is life.
However, a little on the pricier side. Also easily accessible via Amazon, GNC, Garden of Life's website, etc.
#3. Sunwarrior: Plant-Based Warrior Blend.
This one comes from a combo of pea & hemp seed protein.
Another option with clean ingredients & avoids artificial junk.
Only 100 calories for 18g protein, 2g fat, 2g carbs, &1g fiber.
My flavor choice is once again vanilla...I'm a vanilla person if you couldn't already guess...so that's my preference. Although, the mocha flavor definitely interests me, but I've never tried it.
A little on the pricier side, too. And...you guessed it...also easy to find online.
Now, I know there's going to be some of you...especially my ladies...that might have it in your mind that there's no freaking way you could imagine wanting to add more calories to your smoothie or oatmeal, but that's not the way you should be framing your mind around this.
Don't look at it as added calories, but rather, added nourishment.
If you add a clean protein powder to your diet, you'll more than likely end up eating LESS calories overall because the extra protein will satisfy you & help prevent you from craving junk. V beneficial for anybody trying to watch their caloric intake.
Plus, most protein powders on the market come in at a range of 100-150 calories for 20-25g protein. Macros-to-calories-wise...that's REAL good...especially since protein powders are usually low in fat & carbohydrates.
That added amount of protein has the potential to do wonders for you, so don't be afraid of it!
I hope this post serves you well, answers any questions you may have had regarding protein powder, & that if you had negative thoughts about it prior to reading this, that you don't let any stubbornness get the best of ya.
I'm rooting for you to get after your fitness goals, whether that's making those gains or losing some lbs, and that you now have the confidence to pick your perfect protein powder!
If you have any questions/comments/concerns, reach out!