What's the Best Protein Powder For Me?

I advocate for real foods whenever possible. But…we all know that’s not always possible.

Whether you’re jetting between meetings, traveling, finishing your workout, or helping your kids get ready for school, sometimes you need a quick meal you can eat on the go. 

Protein powders and meal-replacements have made it incredibly easy to get high quality calories fast. But not all protein powders are created equal. And as marketing voices get louder and louder, which protein powder you should choose gets more difficult. 

In today’s post, we’ll:

  •  lay out the differences between the protein powders
  • show how you can make your plant-based protein powder be just as good for you as whey protein (and maybe even a little better than whey protein!)
  • uncover the most important part of the nutrition label when you’re choosing a protein powder. 

Concentrates, Isolates, and Hydrolyzed Protein Powders – what’s the difference?

Concentrates: Protein concentrates are made by grinding up the food you’re making into the protein powder. There is no further processing, so the concentrate ends up being less than 80% protein by weight. That means you also get some carbohydrates and maybe some fats and fiber, depending on what was in your original protein source.

Isolates: To make an isolate, they actually chemically and mechanically separate the protein from the other nutrients in the protein powder so they end up with a protein powder that is about 85% pure protein or higher.

Hydrolyzed Protein: To make a hydrolyzed protein, they again put the isolate through a chemical reaction that’s very similar to what happens in your stomach. It starts to break up your proteins into amino acids, the building blocks of protein that you can absorb. This means that it decreases the time it takes to digest the protein, but it doesn’t do much else. Frankly, the most noticeable difference between a protein and an isolate is that you’re going to pay more money for that hydrolyzed protein. 

Should you choose a concentrate, isolate, or hydrolyzed protein?

You’ll notice the difference between a concentrate and an isolate when you’re actually scooping out the powder. Concentrates will require a lot more powder to get the same amount of protein because there’s other nutrients in the powder. Isolates will require less volume for your pure protein, which is nice if you’re trying to just add protein and don’t want too much of a gritty powder in your smoothie or recipe.

On the other hand, if you’re using your protein powder for a whole meal replacement, a concentrate is more likely to give you the carbohydrates and fat you need to make it a complete meal, and it might be beneficial to have those extra calories and nutrients in your shake. It’s also worth noting that your concentrate will by definition be slightly less processed than your protein isolate.

As for hydrolyzed proteins, I don’t recommend that you go out of your way to buy a hydrolyzed protein. Your body knows how to break down protein all on it’s own.

What type of protein is best for you?

The most popular protein powder out there right now is whey protein. Whey protein has a high amount of all of our essential amino acids, but it’s important to note that whey protein has the highest PDCAAS (Protein Digestibility Complete Amino Acid Score) because it’s been defined that way. Scientists decided that milk and eggs were “the perfect” protein, and thus defined them as the highest rating. There is not evidence that the composition of amino acids in whey protein is the best for human adults however.

If you are going to consume whey protein powder, it’s important to check out the source of your powder. You want to make sure your whey protein is certified organic and from grass-fed cows. Here’s why it’s important to consume organic, grass-fed diary. In brief, you don’t want any hormones, GMOs, or unhappy cows in your meal.

Soy protein is used often, but I do not recommend it. Soy protein has estrogen-like compounds in it, and particularly if you have thyroid issues or poly cystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS), you’ll want to stay away. There’s already enough soy in many of our food products, and there’s no reason for using it when there are so many other quality protein sources that we can use.

Choosing the best Vegan Protein Powders

If you’d like to stick with a plant-based protein powder, you want to mix a few sources together. If you mix two sources of vegan proteins, they’re more likely to have a complimentary amino acid profile. That ensures that you get all of your essential amino acids, and have a protein that’s just as good as whey protein. So mix brown rice protein [naked link] with pea protein [naked link] or a hemp protein powder to make sure you’re taken care of. I share some of my favorite plant-based protein powders below.

Don’t forget to look at the ingredients label. 

Even with protein powders, you always need to be looking at your ingredients. So many of these protein powders are much more than just protein. They can come with real sugars, fake sugars, fats, caking agents, vitamins, super foods, probiotics, enzymes…. There’s a lot that companies can (and will) add, so make sure you check your ingredient labels.

Specifically – you’ll want to be looking at the sugar content. Some protein powders are chock full of fake sugars, and you want to be sure that you’re sticking with the artificial sweeteners that are natural and non-harmful, like Stevia. Protein powders that are high in sugar alcohols like erythritol can cause digestive discomfort.

Know your Purpose

The other thing that is important when you’re choosing a protein powder is knowing your purpose.

If you’re making your smoothies at home, you might need a pure protein isolate that you can mix with fruits and vegetables in a smoothie. 

If you’re having a meal replacement on the go, you might want a powder with more ingredients, including carbohydrates, fat, and vitamins.

CHECK OUT THESE LINKS TO FIND THE PROTEIN POWDERS I USE AND RECOMMEND TO MY CLIENTS!

  • Ora: Ora is a revolutionary company that believes supplements should come from real foods, and nothing else. Their protein powder is vegan, full of high quality ingredients, and actually tastes good! (PS: use code HAPPYHEALTHY-0b4de at check-out for 10% off!)
  • Vega: Vega’s plant-based meal replacements are among the best I’ve had for a quick meal on the go. They’re filled with superfoods, enzymes, and a little fat and carbohydrates to make a complete and filling meal.
  • Manitoba Harvest: If you’re looking for the simplest protein powder, go for Manitoba’s hemp based protein. There’s fiber and beneficial fats. I particularly love this protein powder for baking!
  • Natural Force: These guys do whey protein right. This whey protein isolate is grass-fed, GMO free, and organic. I highly recommend.
  • Naked: These protein powders are just protein and nothing else. There’s whey, casein, goat, pea, and rice proteins. So many to choose from! They’re best for DIY smoothies and mixes. 

Samantha Attard, PhD, is the founder of Happy Healthy Human, where ambitious adults can get tailored wellness services, find trustworthy health information, and connect with like-minded individuals. Sam is a wellness coachyoga instructor, and  works with companies to improve employee engagement and wellness. Learn more about her blog and business here.

Samantha Attard

Samantha is a wellness coach, health consultant, and yoga instructor. She provides ambitious adults with personalized nutrition and yoga so they can be their most creative, productive, and happy selves.