Protein is important for every cell of your body. Your hair, nails, bones and skin are mostly made of protein, and it plays a huge role in producing your body’s hormones and other chemicals. Your body uses protein to build and repair tissues, making it an important part of maintaining and building lean muscle mass. Consuming enough protein is an important part of any diet, but it becomes even more so when strength training.
On average, it's recommended the average adult get 0.8 grams of protein per pound of body weight each day. You can get enough protein through your daily diet, but unlike carbs and fat, any excess is not stored in your system to use for later, so the timing of your protein is also important. Protein should be consumed within minutes of ending your strength training routine to help your muscles repair the damage of your workout. That's why many people choose to rely on protein powders for for post-workout protein instead of trying to track down their next meal right away.
Not long ago, when it came to choosing a protein powder, you had two choices: Whey and soy. But with new diets and dietary restrictions emerging every day, new protein powders are showing up on the market. Which one is right for you? We have all the info you need to know.
1. Whey Protein: 25 Grams per Scoop
By far the most popular protein powder, whey, is optimal for building lean muscle mass, as it provides a wide variety of amino acids for muscle growth and recovery, in the proper proportion your body’s needs. Whey is also considered the fastest digesting complete protein making it ideal for consuming around your workouts. BCAAs become depleted after workouts and are necessary for the maintenance of muscle tissue, so consume your whey protein immediately after an intense weight lifting session.
There are two types of whey protein: isolates and concentrates. Concentrates are most cost effective—you get more protein per dollar spent—but whey protein is made from milk, which means the carbohydrates and fat in the protein powder could also have some lactose, something to watch out for if you are intolerant.
Isolates remove many of the non-protein components, making it have more protein per scoop. Isolates only have a tiny, negligible bit of lactose, so those intolerant can, well, tolerate it.
2. Soy Protein: 20-25 Grams per Scoop
One of the most notable advantages of soy is that it’s a vegetarian protein option whose protein content is comparable to that of animal foods. Soy has many health benefits, including reducing your risk of heart disease. But it also has some potential health concerns, especially soy products that are high in isoflavones, like soy protein isolate. Most of these concerns, however, are related to high consumption levels. Soy also gets a bad rap for inferior strength gains when compared to whey, but the difference for a healthy woman is almost negligible.
3. Casein Protein: 15-20 Grams per Scoop
Casein is a slower digesting protein that builds muscle while you sleep. This complete milk protein slowly releases its aminos over time, which keeps you full in between meals and reduces muscle damage for up to 48 hours post workout. You can have casein protein really at any time to boost endurance and strength gains, but casein protein is most beneficial before bed, where the slow absorption will provide your body with protein through the night, when your body repairs your muscle fibers. Added bonus: its high levels of glutamine will also boost your immunity.
4. Egg Protein: 22-26 Grams per Scoop
Egg protein powder is made from dehydrated egg whites that are then ground into a fine powder. Egg protein is an animal based protein, but contains no fat. Egg protein contains BCAAs just like whey, but it is widely considered the closest to a “perfect” protein because its amino acid pattern most closely matches that needed for human growth. Since egg whites naturally have no carbohydrates or fat, egg protein powder is the least processed and is digested at a moderate rate, putting it right in the middle of fast digesting whey protein and slow digesting casein. There's also no lactose in egg protein, so those lactose intolerant should have no issues.
5. Beef Protein: 20-23 Grams per Scoop
Beef protein is, you guessed it, animal based, but what makes it better than grilling up a juicy a steak it that is has no fat or cholesterol (and requires no grill). Comparable to whey protein, beef protein is great for those looking to avoid lactose. Look for hydrolyzed versions, which are already partially broken down for faster digestion and absorption.
6. Brown Rice Protein: 15 Grams per Scoop
Easy on the stomach, brown rice protein does not cause gas and bloating like animal-based proteins can, and it absorbs very easily. It’s gluten-free and a great source of energy boosting vitamin B. However it lacks one essential amino acid: lysine. Lysine helps manage body fat and is essential for hormone production and bone growth. You can make it complete by mixing brown rice protein powder with milk or soy.
7. Hemp Protein: 15 Grams per Scoop
Another option for vegetarians, hemp protein is plant-based and offers a healthy dose of anti-inflammatory essential fatty acids, omega 3s that aid in muscle recovery right after workouts but also gives vegetarians a great source of other nutrients, including antioxidants, vitamins, minerals, fiber and chlorophyll—in addition to being gluten-free. Not all hemp powders are created equal, so to get the most bang for your buck, choose varieties that offer at least 50 percent protein by weight.
8. Pea Protein: 25 Grams per Scoop
Pea protein powder packs a huge protein punch, higher than other vegetarian options, and almost on par with the animal-based powders, but without all the fat and carbohydrates. Lactose and gluten-free, pea protein is also hypoallergenic, so if other protein powders bloat or upset your stomach, pea might be the powder for you.