How to choose a protein powder
The first question to ask when choosing a protein powder is if you need one. Here are some reasons to choose to have a protein powder in your diet:
As part of a smoothie for meal replacement.
For many reasons, a smoothie can be a great meal replacement during the day.
They are portable which can make them easier to "eat."
They can also be easier on our digestion since blending the ingredients begins the digestion process (digestion is simply the breaking down of food into smaller components). This can also be a big help when your appetite is weak, but you still need to eat...like after a strenuous workout.
Since protein is more satiating than carbs or fat, it'll stick with you longer (when added to your smoothie).
To help us meet our protein needs for the day.
If you have increased protein needs (due to illness, stress, exercise or advanced age), protein powders can help supplement your food based protein.
For those who don't like/eat meat or simply have a hard time eating enough protein rich foods during the day, protein powder can help you reach your protein goal.
Now we know why we might need one, let's talk about how to choose one. First, there are two routes you can go: animal based or plant based.
Animal based protein powders
Whey, egg, hydrolyzed meat, and collagen protein powders are all animal based.
Whey is the most popular and the most common of the animal based protein powders. For those who tolerate it, it is considered the best option for after-exercise recovery. Whey is sold as concentrated or isolated. Concentrated whey contains the milk fats and milk sugars, while the isolate does not. You will also see whey sold from grass or grain-fed cows...and organic or conventional. I always prefer grass-fed over grain-fed. The highest quality product will be the grass-fed organic, but that will come at a much higher cost.
For those who don't tolerate dairy (either dairy sensitive or allergic), the isolate may be a better option. Since the isolate removes many of the components of dairy to which people react, it can be a safer option. All that being said, if you find you have digestive issues when using whey protein powder (bloating, gas, diarrhea, constipation), whey might not be right for you. Just because it is the best for other people, doesn't mean it is right for everyone.
These are usually derived from cows as well (although you'll also see marine derived). You can find them grass or grain-fed, just like whey. Collagen supplementation is great to help heal connective tissue damage, but should not be used as a major component of protein needs since collagen does not contain all the essential amino acids. Collagen is a great supplement for joint health and dissolves well in coffee or hot tea.
Egg and Hydrolyzed Meat
Egg protein is sourced from egg whites and should be pasteurized for use in any dish that will not be cooked. Excess raw egg consumption can block biotin absorption in the body and cause hair loss, skin issues and neurological disorders. Also, when choosing egg protein powder, remember that the quality of the egg is just as important as when we eat them scrambled.
Hydrolyzed meat (usually beef) protein powder is derived from the muscle. I have personally never tried this option and cannot attest to flavor or palatability. This is a popular Paleo option.
Plant based protein powders
The most common plant based protein powders are soy, hemp, rice, and pea. Of these, I usually advise to stay away from soy protein powders. While whole and fermented soy foods can be part of a healthy diet, soy protein powders are not as good of an option as some of the others. Hemp is great because it is more easily absorbed than some of the other plant based and it also a great source of omega-3 fatty acids. Rice and pea are very common and can be a good option for someone who tolerates grains and legumes well.
What else is hiding in your protein powder?
Just like any other product, turn your protein powder around and read the label. If it contains artificial sweeteners* like sucralose and aspartame or food dyes, put it back. When in doubt, look for a short ingredient list of simple ingredients to avoid consuming something you don't want.
*Stevia is found in many protein powders. It is derived from the stevia plant and is a great non-calorie sweeter option for those who like the taste and don't react negatively to it.
My go-to morning smoothie: almond milk, frozen blueberries, frozen greens, hemp protein powder, chia seeds, and cacao.
In my family, my husband chooses a vanilla grass-fed whey (for after his workouts) and I go with a hemp protein powder (in my morning smoothie). I tried a whey protein powder for myself because I hoped it would fuel my recovery, but even the whey isolate left me phlegmy right away. I am reminded that it might be great for some, but not for me.