The name itself doesn’t leave a lot of doubt to what it is – protein in powdered form.
The answer to what is protein powder exactly, is that it is a highly processed protein concentrate often made from by-products in other food production.
Protein powder is a dietary supplement commonly used by people who are physically active and especially by the people who do strength training or bodybuilding.
If the powder comes with a flavor which I strongly recommend it is usually mixed with water or milk making it into a protein shake and is enjoyed right after mixing/shaking.
The Main Reason For Consuming Protein Powder
The main reason for consuming protein powder is simply to make sure you are getting enough protein.
No matter what you might have read or seen in advertisements if you are already feeding your body enough protein the shake will have no meaningful benefits for strength and muscle growth.
I sometimes just drink a shake because I think they taste great and they don’t have a lot of calories. But that is just benefitting my taste buds and not my strength or muscle.
Protein powders can have other nutritional benefits, e.g. plant protein powders can have a lot of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants.
Furthermore, some people use it to substitute a meal and I have read that some people enjoy drinking a shake in the morning for an energy boost and to stabilize blood sugar.
Protein Powders and Their Differences – 5 things you should be concerned about
There are a huge variety of different protein powders for you to chose from, and it is understandable if you feel confused which to chose.
However, even though there are so many to chose from the differences you should be concerned about are in my opinion just a few. I have boiled it down to a list of 5 things.
- The source(s) of protein
- Protein percentage and the cost per gram of protein
- Does it mix well? (more important than you might think)
- Natural or artificial flavors and sweeteners or other additives
1) Protein Sources
Whether the protein is from an animal or plant source is arguably
the biggest difference. Dietary choices and preferences or allergies are obvious reasons that you would want to exclude one or more of the protein powders.
But you should know that if you are lactose intolerant/sensitive you might still be able to use whey isolate since almost all lactose have been removed.
The most popular animal protein powder and also, in general, is by far the milk derivative whey. Other animal protein powders include casein (also from milk), egg white, beef and bone broth.
The most popular plant protein powder is soy, but I believe other plant proteins like rice, pea, and hemp also sell quite well.
Sometimes the protein powder will have a mix of several different protein sources. This is most common for plant protein powders.
Also, often whey protein powder is a mix of two different whey variants: whey concentrate and whey isolate. Technically that is of course still the same protein source.
2) Protein Content and Cost Per Gram
It used to be that animal protein powders
were superior when comparing the factors 1)
amount protein per 100 grams of powder and 2) price. However, now the price difference is often small and in terms of protein, they are mostly equal. Whey protein powder usually remains the cheapest one though.
You should still pay attention to these things in order to make a good comparison when researching what to buy.
3+4) Taste and Mixing
If you choose whey protein powder you gain two major benefits which no other protein powder can compare with: taste and easy mixing.
Regretfully, other than whey protein powder most other powders are just not very good for making a regular shake by adding water or milk.
Some of the other powders I have tried have in my honest opinion been at best tolerable even though they have been with flavor.
So if you for whatever good reason are using other protein powders you might want to either 1) drink the shake very fast or 2) add other things than just water or milk.
I have heard that plant protein powders go well in a vegetable smoothie which makes sense since the tastes compliment each other.
There are actually a few companies that have achieved quite tasty mixtures of different plant protein powders. But these come at a much higher price.
5) Natural or Artificial Flavors and Sweeteners and Other Additives
A discussion on natural vs. artificial flavors and sweeteners and other additives have to be quite a lengthy one in order to give a good understanding and that is beyond the scope of this post.
If you are concerned about this refer to the ingredients list of the protein powder before you buy.
Also, know that many people share your concern, and most companies have actually adapted to this demand and offer many all natural variants. A favorite of mine is cocoa with stevia.
Special For Plant Protein Powders
In defense of the plant protein powders, I do have to mention that they come with other nutritional benefits, i.e. minerals, vitamins, and antioxidants. These cannot be found, or at least not to the same degree in animal protein powders.
They can also be an alternative choice if you have allergies to lactose or eggs and of course, if you are vegetarian or vegan these will be your only option.
One important technical thing to note is that of the plant proteins only powders made from soy and hemp offer a so-called complete amino acid profile.
That means that the other plant proteins do not have all the amino acids that the human body can’t produce itself (9 essential amino acids).
In my opinion, you should only be concerned about this if you are a vegetarian or vegan, also what many companies do is that they mix a selection of plant proteins which eliminates this problem.
A second thing to take note of is that plant protein doesn’t have the same bioavailability as animal protein. This has something to do with your body’s ability to absorb the protein.
Why You Should Use Protein Powder
Protein powders are a very convenient way to increase protein intake.
For me mixing a protein shake is not just very convenient, but it is also a very tasty treat with few calories. I am truly a chocoholic and I really like drinking chocolate/cocoa protein shakes.
If chocolate is not your favorite have no fear. There are so many other awesome flavors for you to chose from. Every time I order whey protein powder online I honestly feel like a small kid in a candy store.
Keeping in mind that protein powder is a supplement and should be used as such, protein powders have a very low price per gram of protein compared to real food. This makes it an affordable way to increase protein intake.
Protein powders are versatile and can be used in other ways than just in a protein shake. You can add some powder to your food or in a smoothie. I like to add protein powder to pancake mix, greek yogurt, and oatmeal.
Here is a list from Buzzfeed of some desserts with protein powder that will make you salivate for sure.
You can also substitute one of your smaller meals with just a protein shake, but if I do that I usually pair it with a fruit. This can also be great if you have been working out and won’t be eating any food for many hours after.
Why You Shouldn’t Use Protein Powder
As I have stated at the beginning of this post if you are already getting sufficient protein there are no meaningful benefits of protein powder for strength and muscle gain.
So, if strength and muscle gain is your only concern and you are already getting sufficient protein, I would recommend you use your money for something else.
If you are unsure about how much protein you need, check out my post on how much protein per day you really need.
Despite all the good arguments from protein powder advertisers, I would say that the only small detail that could make you consider using protein powder even though you are getting enough, is if you are not getting any protein for many hours after finishing your workout.
But understand that this is really not that big of an issue and if this is your only concern I would still recommend you put your money to better use.
If you want to learn more about protein and nutrition in general, you should get my free nutrition guide. It also got an accompanying email course.
The Protein Powder I Am Using
There are many supplement companies that sell good protein powder. I have tried many different over the years.
The company that I have bought my protein powder from the past few years is myprotein.
I like that company because their products are great quality and prices are good!
If you are ok with consuming dairy I highly recommend their whey protein powder named: “Impact Whey Protein”. I like their many different chocolate flavors which I usually just rotate. I am a big fan of chocolate…
—> Check Out Their Whey Protein Powder Here!
But Myprotein actually has a wide variety of different protein powders from different protein sources.
You can check out their full protein powder selection here.
The company does not put a lot of effort into selling their protein powder on Amazon. As far as I can understand it is mostly retailers that sell it and the options are very limited.
So if you would rather buy your protein powder on Amazon, I suggest you go with the company Optimum Nutrition. They also sell great quality protein powder at a good price. Of course, it is also quite tasty.
Optimum Nutrition is completely comparable to Myprotein and I believe the first protein powder I ever tried was Optimum Nutrition Gold Standard whey protein powder with the double rich chocolate taste.
Maybe the name was just a bit different back then, I am not sure. But if you like chocolate you won’t be disappointed. Of course they have a wide range of great tastes.
—> You can check it on Amazon here.
If you have any questions regarding protein powder feel free to leave a comment. I always answer fast!
I am a person who is learning a lot about health and nutrition. I am glad that I came across your site because you pose some questions and gave me information that I never really have thought of in my health and nutrition evolution .
I have used different type of protein shakes in order to help me cut my appetite. But I never thought of how it was made. I have to pay more attention to everything I put in my body. I will pay more attention in the future.
Always great to see the information I bring has value!
Also, I can’t encourage you enough to educate yourself about the things your are putting in your body 🙂
Hey Marcus, thanks for the info on protein.
I used to think I didn’t need a protein shake but boy was i wrong. Once i experienced how convenient and easy it was i was hooked.
I drive for a living so its not easy to sit down for a meal having a protein shake handy has been key to reaching my muscle building goals.
Which brands do you recommend when it comes to taste, quality and price?
Awesome to hear protein shakes are working for you!
I started using protein shakes many years ago, and like you I never stopped since haha!
There are many great protein brands out there and I have tried a lot. The one I have been using consistently for the past two years is myprotein. Their flavours taste amazing and they have a lot of other great stuff. They have very competitive prices often among the cheapest. The brand has grown to become of the biggest over years. Another great thing is that their production is in the UK which has tight food control regulations.
Hi Marcus. I’ve been using protein powders for many years. I like to use them as meal substitutes when I’m trying to lose weight. I like to use Beach-Body products because not only are they packed with good protein, but they are truly a meal replacement with all the other essential vitamins and minerals included.
Here’s something I started doing years ago. I mix protein powder with instant pudding mix. It’s very tasty, and easy to make, and depending how much you make at one time, it can last for a few days, and you can just snack on it. Have you ever tried that?
Are there any specific brands of protein that you like the best? Another brand that I like is Protein Freeze, sold by the Fast Track to Fat Loss program. Have you ever heard of it? That’s the one I use for my pudding.
Thanks for the recommendation on using pudding mix. I never tried that before but it sounds great haha!
I tried many different protein powder brands over the years, including Danish, Swedish, German and American brands but I never heard about Protein Freeze. For the last two years I used myprotein which is a English brand. They are great and I would definitely recommend them to anyone.
Brilliant post Marcus, I think most people that are new to working out (maybe 5-6 months in) see some of the bigger guys drinking shakes and think that they need to too. This isn’t the case and most of the time is different for everyone.
I’ve seen people over do the amount of protein intake just by looking at their shake nevermind seeing how much protein they’re actually consuming and calculating whether or not they’re in excess. I think protein powder can be a great thing but only if you understand your dietary intake and needs.
Thanks Lyle! I think you are right about the beginners looking for advice from bigger guys and their “broscience” haha. Sadly, as you say it yourself by following these guys it often results in consuming way too much protein that has no real benefit at all 😛
Hello and thanks for sharing, protein powders are so great not only do they taste great but they come in different flavors. This is a great way to good those proteins that your body needs. I drank them many years ago when I worked out at the gym, I just may need to start drinking them again because I have decided that I will hit the gym again. God’s willing. Thanks again for this awesome detailed post.
You are most welcome Norman! Protein powders are indeed a great supplement to ensure you get enough protein for strength and muscle growth!
You have great knowledge on protein powder! After reading this post I am really no longer in doubt of what is protein powder and I am definitely gonna try it out.
Thanks for the kind words and I am happy this helped you out. Protein powder is really great, I have been pouring that stuff down for years haha.
Hi Marc! I have been working out for a while and never really understood why I struggled to see results. As I have started to gain more knowledge about protein and how it helps with building muscle, I definitely have started to see better results. Reading your article has given me more reason to believe that the right type of protein will help get me the results i’m looking for. Thanks!
Awesome to hear you are getting better results. Happy you found this useful 🙂
How mch protein is needed if ur doing gym on regular basis to grow my muscles and how much I need to mix the powder with water
I have actually written something about how much protein you need while doing regular weight training.
To give you the short answer, you probably need less than you think.
There is no evidence that eating more than 1.8 grams of protein per kilogram of bodyweight has any beneficial effect for muscle building. Additionally, the researchers that did the studies already took precaution with this number to be “on the safe side”.
From this perspective, it is not entirely logical to then eat more than 1.8 grams just to be “on the safe side”.
Some people like to eat more because protein is very filling.
If you want to read more about how much protein you need, you can check out my article here
Regarding how much water you need to mix with protein powder I would say it varies a bit from brand to brand. It is usually something like one scoop which is 30 – 35 grams mixed with 250 – 300 ml of water.
Hi, Im 17 years old and im thinking about trying out a protein shake. I am pretty scrawny, Im not looking into becoming a body builder or having a lean body. I just want to look good for my body type or bulk up a bit. I dont plan on using the shake for a long time. I also train as a boxer and i go about 3 times a week, i also dont have the greatest diet. Can you help me out? Should I use protein shakes?
Nothing bad will come out of trying 🙂
If you are thinking about whether it would be helpful, it depends on your goals and current diet. I understand you want to build some muscle, and for that adding extra protein can be a great idea!