Protein Powders – Overview
To build muscle you need to eat enough protein to support your physical activities.
You can, of course, get protein from your food, but if you are really bulking up you might need a little extra support.
That’s where protein powders come in. There are many types of protein powders, so here’s a quick rundown of what’s available on the market.
Whey Protein: This protein comes from milk (it’s a by-product of cheese making). The best whey protein powders contain either whey protein hydrolysates or whey protein isolates, which digest the fastest. Avoid whey if you are allergic to milk proteins.
Casein Protein: Another milk protein, casein is best for giving you a steady supply of amino acids (such as while you are sleeping). You can also add it to a whey-based shake after your workout for an added protein boost. For that steady supply of aminos, look for a powder that contains the slow-digesting micellar casein. Also, avoid this if you have a milk-protein allergy.
Egg White Protein: A middle-of-the road protein, egg white powders digest more quickly than casein but more slowly than whey. The best approach is to mix it with whey and casein for a good combination of slow-, medium- and fast-digesting proteins for well-fueled muscles.
Beef Protein: While this comes from beef, most of the fat has been removed to give you a fast-digesting protein powder. It’s a good substitute if you are allergic to milk proteins.
Soy Protein: This plant-based protein digests at a moderate rate. It also increases the release of growth hormones and helps your muscles recover faster. And no, soy protein will not reduce a man’s testosterone levels. Soy contains all the essential amino acids, so it’s a good substitute for those with milk allergies.
Top Protein Powders for Vegans and Vegetarians
You may have noticed that all but one of these protein powders are based on meat, milk or eggs, which won’t work for vegans.
(And yes, vegans can get just as ripped as meat-eaters, as long as they obtain all of the essential amino acids in their diet.)
In addition to the vegan-friendly soy protein, we also have protein powders that are suitable for vegetarians—mainly whey, casein and egg.
But don’t worry, here’s a quick list of the top powders (in addition to soy) that are good for vegans. Actually, they are perfect for anyone looking to support lean muscle growth with only plant-based products.
Hemp Protein Powder comes from the hemp seed and contains all of the essential amino acids. It’s also easily digested and has high levels of heart- and brain-healthy omega-3 fatty acids. Hemp protein is higher in fat and calories than similar proteins, so go easy on it if you are trying to lose weight.
Brown Rice Protein Powder doesn’t contain all of the essential amino acids, so you need to eat it alongside other protein sources like beans, quinoa or tofu. Brown rice, however is high in fiber and contains B vitamins to support muscle growth and metabolism.
Yellow Pea Protein Powder, like brown rice, doesn’t have all of the essential amino acids you need to build muscle. Still, it’s a useful protein if you are allergic to soy or milk proteins. Just be sure to pair it with beans, quinoa or tofu for a complete amino profile.
Mixed Protein Powders combine proteins from multiple plant sources to ensure that you get a complete amino acids profile. The powders vary, but include proteins from sources like quinoa, buckwheat, millet, lentils, garbanzo beans and flax seeds. You’ll also obtain a good dose of vitamins, fiber and essential fatty acids.
How to Choose a Protein Powder
Strong muscles need good protein sources. If you’re trying to build muscle, you may need to supplement your diet with high-quality protein.
There are many protein powder options out there, so I’ll try to simplify things for you. Feel free, as always, to listen to your gut and see what works best for your specific workout.
Are you extremely busy? If so, you may need to save time by having one protein shake that combines different kinds of protein—such as slow-digesting casein and fast-digesting whey. This gives you a more steady supply of amino acids throughout the day. You can even add soy or egg powders for a moderate-digesting protein.
Do you have a milk-protein allergy? Skip the whey and casein protein powders. Beef protein powder, another fast-digesting protein, works in place of whey. You can also use egg protein powder. If you are vegan, try soy, rice or yellow pea protein powders. If you are lactose intolerant (different from a milk-protein allergy), you can still use whey. Just make sure it is a highly filtered whey protein isolate.
Are you particular when it comes to supplements? Rather than buying already mixed protein powders, buy single powders and combine them in the exact combination that your body needs. This works well with whey and casein protein powders, but you can also add in some soy or egg protein.
Are you vegan? As I mentioned, there are many options available for vegans—soy, hemp, brown rice, yellow pea and mixed vegetable protein powders. Soy and hemp both contain all of the essential amino acids, so consider them your first choice. The other vegan options will need to be mixed with another protein source like tofu, quinoa or beans.