Whether you’re pumping iron or working that indoor rowing machine, the right protein powder can enhance muscle growth and repair. Strenuous exercise takes its toll on your body, and the right supplement can help you go that extra mile. But the key phrase there is “the right supplement.”
We don’t have to tell you that there’s an absolute overload of nutritional information on the Internet, and that makes it tough to tell the difference between truth and myth. We developed this quick starter guide to help you pick out a protein powder that delivers exactly what you need: nutritional enhancement without side effects or needless fillers.
Reading the label
It’s easy to get overwhelmed by a protein powder label, given all the hard-to-pronounce ingredients printed on it in microscopic font. Luckily, you don’t need to be a chemist to read and understand what’s inside the container. Here’s a quick rundown of the essential protein powder label components.
Caseinate and concentrate are two terms used to describe low-priced casein and whey supplements, respectively. While they have about 80% protein, the remaining 20% is usually made up of carbohydrates or fat. This means you’ll need to work harder to shed those extra calories. This powder is also lumpy and hard to mix.
Hydrolysate whey implies the protein has been broken down into smaller particles, thus making it easier for the body to absorb. When it comes to hydrolyzed casein, always remember casein works best with slow absorption.
Isolated casein peptide is the purest form of the protein. It may be expensive, but it’s highly effective over a period of time.
If a label reads egg protein powder or egg albumin, it means that you’re getting a high concentration of branched-chain amino acids that assist muscle protein synthesis. Egg protein powder contains no gluten and restricts overtraining by increasing the body’s levels of testosterone and hemoglobin.
Your primer on plant-based protein powders
With the rise of dietary restrictions, plant protein powders have become a booming business. And here’s the good news: many of them offer quality protein.
What sets hemp protein powder apart from the rest is the fact that it’s free of oligosaccharides and gluten—but rich in amino acids. The former is a compound that makes digesting other powders a problem. 4 tablespoons of hemp powder contain 12 grams of protein. This is great news if you try and avoid dairy-related protein powders.
This plant-based vegan protein powder contains 20 essential amino acids, plus omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids that keep inflammation at bay. Hemp powder helps balance hormones and is also a good source of magnesium, calcium and iron.
Pea protein powder has grown in popularity, in part because of its high potassium levels that help control blood pressure. A 2015 study showed that men between the ages of 18 and 35 had similar bicep growth on pea protein to others who consumed the more popular whey powder.
This low-carb, dairy-, gluten- and soy-free protein is derived from yellow split peas. Opt for the isolate variety. This way, you get the highest percentage of protein possible without side effects. Besides enhancing muscle mass, this plant-based protein is good for overall bone health. However, if you have gastrointestinal issues, pea powder is not a good idea.
Soy protein powders contain the nine amino acids your body requires. You need to ensure you consume the isolate variety that contains none of the isoflavones—compounds that react adversely with hormones in the body.
When it comes to plant-based protein, your best bet is choosing between pea and hemp protein powders.
Your primer on whey and creatine protein
A number of supplements provide you with essential amino acids. Leucine is a vital amino acid that improves muscle building and new protein synthesis. That’s why you’ll hear people at the gym raving about whey and creatine supplements.
Derived from milk, whey protein goes through a stringent process before it gets to its supplement form. The main reason for its popularity is the high amount of leucine it releases into the system. Intense workouts exert a lot of pressure on your body; whey has all the amino acids needed for muscle recovery, energy improvement and muscle protein synthesis. (Check out our top-ranked whey protein powder.)
Creatine isn’t a wonder chemical designed to make you look like Schwarzenegger in a month—but it does work magic for those looking to build muscle. It’s an organic acid that can be derived naturally from fish and beef. Creatine supplements are a good choice if you’re looking to build muscle and improve energy and stamina in the gym. High-intensity workouts like weight lifting require higher levels of energy; creatine can help boost your performance.
Creatine supplements will help hydrate your muscle cells, thus improving lean body mass. Creatine has also been shown to support a number of functions within the muscle, promoting long-term gains.
Protein bars have caught on quickly, but a number of them have high carbohydrate content. Even the low-carb varieties have sugar alcohols that can produce lactose-related issues, so look for a protein bar with more than 20 grams of protein, 300 or fewer calories and at least 5 grams of fiber.
At the end of the day, you need to choose a supplement that’s in tune with your workout regime. And keep in mind that supplements, as the name suggests, are most effective when consumed as part of a healthy diet.
If you’re looking for the most high-quality protein powder, unbiased expert reviews are your best friend. These top-rated protein powders are low on fillers and unnecessary ingredients, and full of high-quality protein.