I have been asked many times which protein powder is the best to use, as it can be very overwhelming to walk into a store and see so many options. I decided to do some research on the matter so I could give a more informed answer. The truth is, is that there is no clear answer out there. The more research you do, the more contradictions you can find. However, I do think it is important to be know as much as possible before making decisions. This is especially true when it concerns what we put into our bodies.
There are some who argue if protein powder is even necessary. It is after all highly processed and why should we put more processed elements into our system when there are plenty of natural protein sources all around us? The common choices are: meat, dairy, eggs, beans, nuts and seeds. There are several reasons why protein powder is an acceptable or some might even argue a necessary addition to our diet. For vegetarians and especially vegans there are significantly less protein options. It doesn’t mean that it is impossible for them to get ample protein in their diet, but protein powder would definitely help. Another good reason to increase your protein intake is if you are recovering from an injury or you are trying to develop more muscle. Athletes also generally need more protein. The more active you are, the more protein your diet necessitates. Then there are those who don’t get enough protein out of the foods they are eating. I feel this is where most people fit. The average person needs .4 grams of protein for every pound of their body weight, the recreational athlete needs 0.5-0.75 grams of protein per pound (gp/p), competitive athletes need 0.6-0.9 gp/p, teenage athletes need 0.8-0.9 gp/p and athletes building body mass (body builders) need 0.7-0.9 gp/p. According to this calculation I need approximately 70 grams of protein a day. That is a lot more eggs and beans than I care to eat, I can’t eat very much dairy right now and I can’t afford to eat that many grams of protein from nuts, seeds or meat. For me, protein powder is an easy way for me to boost my protein levels and feel like my body is getting what it needs. Additionally, I mostly use protein powder in smoothies and oatmeal, two meals that don’t offer a lot of protein on their own.
I focused my research on whey and soy protein powders since those are the two most popular kinds. They both have pros and cons, so there is not necessarily one right answer.
Pros: Whey protein powder dissolves easier into liquids and usually has a better taste. It is also a complete protein. There are 20 amino acids, the building blocks of protein, and our bodies naturally make 11 of them. When we consume something that provides the other 9 this is considered a complete protein. Whey protein also has a higher Biological Value (digestibility and the availability of the protein to the body), Protein Efficiency Ratio and Amino Acid Score.
Cons: Because this is a by-product of cheese made from cow’s milk, those who are lactose intolerant might have a reaction from whey products. Though some whey products are lactose-free. Depending on which brand you buy there can be lots of sugar or sugar substitute additives. While you are getting protein you need to be aware of what else you are putting into your body.
Most articles I found didn’t have many negative things to say towards whey protein, beyond watching out for additives (sweeteners). However, I did find one article that was quite the opposite. There are three categories of whey: concentrate, hydrolysate, and isolate. According to this article if you are using concentrate whey, which is the highest quality (and therefore more expensive) form of whey protein, then you are doing great. Isolates, it seems, are not nearly so friendly. They are exposed to heat and acid damage as well as many toxins. To counteract these effects there are more chemicals added to make the product water-soluble again.
Pros: Soy protein originates from the protein found in soybeans and is therefore still a vegan friendly form of protein. It is considered by some to be a complete protein.
Cons: Most have a chalky taste. This can be masked when used in recipes, but it will not add to the flavor of the recipe. Most of the soybeans grown today have been genetically altered. This alteration is most likely the cause for most of the negatives associated with soy protein powder. There are quite a few of them but the two most repeated involve hormones and thyroid issues. It also contains phytic acid, which prohibits your body’s ability to absorb essential minerals.
Do you understand now what I meant when I said that there is no clear answer? For years the powers that be were in favor of whey, believing that soy was the one with all the problems. Recently, however there has been a shift. I don’t think anyone has come out and said that soy protein is problem free, but that whey protein might not be as well behaved as we always thought. Have said all that, I still believe there is value in the use of protein powder. I don’t think it should replace your natural protein sources, but it should act as a supplement.
For those who are opposed to consuming animal products or those who struggle with dairy products, soy is a good option. It is also cheaper than whey, when your budget dictates your choices this is an important factor to consider. However, I would caution moderation in your soy consumption. If you already drink soymilk and eat tofu and then add soy protein powder on top of that, it might be more soy than your body should have.
If I had to chose between the two and only have one or the other I would choose whey. Even though you have to pay a little more to get the higher quality whey products, I think the benefits balance out the cost.
I actually use both soy and whey powders, though I use my whey powder more. The soy I buy is just a generic kind from the bulk bins at Winco. I am a little pickier when selecting my whey powder. My mom got me hooked on Jay Robb’s vanilla. Each serving has 25 grams of protein (I usually use half a serving per recipe), it is lactose-free, non-GMO, fat-free and sweetened with stevia. It tastes incredible and I almost never have to add a sweetener to a recipe when I am also using this. While I did just notice that is says it is 100% whey isolate, it is cold-processed and has no MSG. This neutralizes two of the major complaints that one article had against isolates, heat processing and MSG.
You will have to decide what is best for you and it might be a process of trial and error. All of our bodies are different and we react differently to different products and situations. What is right for one person might not be right for the next. Good luck!
These are the URLs of the websites I used: