To decide on the best protein powder for you, it helps to ask: what are protein powders for? Protein is a nutrient needed all over the body to help build, repair and maintain tissue. It is made up of chains of amino acids, nine of which are termed ‘essential’ since your body can not make them itself.
For a healthy body, the recommended nutrient intake (RNI) is 0.75g of protein per kg of bodyweight per day. If you do not typically eat many animal-based sources, protein powders can help you hit that target. And they’re not just for people who go to the gym.
Who should take protein powders?
“Protein supplements are used by all sorts of performers and athletes from football, tennis and golf players to stage performers and dancers,” says Shane Collins, founder of Circuit Society gym and co-founder of NUA Health supplements. “But we all cause damage to our muscles every day just by walking around and lifting things, and certainly when we train. Protein helps repair that damage. ”
In other words, they’re for everyone. Choosing the right one for you comes down to what it’s made from. With the exception of vegan protein powders, most are made from whey (a by-product of cheese production), which comes in three different forms.
Whey concentrate is the most common form and is often the cheapest, according to Rachel Butcher, head nutritionist at Natural Fitness Food. “It typically has low fat and cholesterol content but the protein levels can vary from 40 to 90% depending on the brand,” she says. “If your goal is to build muscle, a whey concentrate with a higher protein content is probably the best to go for.”
Whey isolate is more refined, and therefore more expensive. “Whey isolate is refined in a process that will remove the fat and lactose from the compound,” says Butcher. “That makes it one of the leanest options, meaning it usually comprises upwards of 90% protein content.”
Whey hydrolyzate is whey protein that’s been put through hydrolysis. “That is, the addition of water to allow the protein to be broken down into its smaller building blocks,” Butcher explains. “This means it can be absorbed by the body much faster and at higher rates.” Needless to say, it’s on the costlier end of the scale.
Vegan protein powders are the fourth option. Pea, hemp and soy are popular sources but there are plenty of others. “What’s key here is not just looking at the protein content, but the quality, ”Says Butcher. “You can tell that by looking at its essential amino acids – it’s ‘complete’ if it contains all nine. To achieve this, you’ll want a blend of at least two protein sources. ”
Head to the FAQ section at the bottom to find out which protein powders are best for weight loss and building muscle. Read on for our pick of the best protein powders for 2022.
How I tested the best protein powders