Protein powders used to be mostly associated with bodybuilders and weightlifters. Today, folks from recreational exercisers to Olympic endurance athletes include protein powder as part of their fueling repertoire. With the influx of consumers comes the influx of products – so how does a person pick a protein powder?
Determine the Best “Type”
First, consider the type of protein you would like to consume. From whey to casein to hemp, there are several varieties available. Both carnivores and vegans can now find a plethora of options.
Most folks don’t need one with lots of bells and whistles, like herbal ingredients or even vitamins and minerals. If using a protein powder for a post-workout recovery or the occasional breakfast meal, the protein content is the most important piece. They are not designed to replace multiple meals per day, so keep focusing on getting the bulk of your nutrition from food. Try including your protein powder in a blended shake with fruits, vegetables, and healthy fats to get a balanced meal or recovery snack.
Use this chart to help guide your protein powder decision.
Be a Safe “Supplement” User
One can’t talk protein powders without talking safety.
A protein powder can be considered either a food or a supplement, depending on how the manufacturer intends for it to be used. As such, it could be regulated as either a food or supplement, which would mean varying pre-market approval processes and labeling regulations. A food product contains a “Nutrition Facts” panel, whereas a supplement contains a “Supplement Facts” panel.
If a protein powder is being sold as a supplement, then buyer beware: there is no required pre-market approval process with the exception of the manufacturer vouching for the product. It could possibly contain other unlabeled ingredients or not contain what it claims. Unfortunately, this practice is more common than expected and is most prevalent in the sports performance and weight loss industry products (to which protein powders belong). A recent check of protein powders found several advertised as 100% whey to contain far less expensive whey protein, and much more cheap amino acids.
There are third-party companies that assess product ingredients and manufacturing processes. In fact, professional leagues like the MLB and NFL recommend athletes choose only tested supplements. Whether a drug tested athlete or not, I always encourage individuals to look for and choose products with these labels. Here are a few examples and links to read more about their testing programs:
Protein powder can certainly be a part of a balanced diet, but it does require be an educated consumer in order to pick one that is both safe and effective for you.