Episode 137 – How To Choose A Protein Powder

Key Topics Covered

Protein Powder.

In this episode, we will cover:

  • The common types of protein powders.
  • Ideal macronutrient profile.
  • Amino Acid Breakdown.
  • Lactose Content.
  • Protein powders & IBS.
  • Plant-Based Options.
  • Collagen.
  • Casein.
  • Protein Water.
  • Batch Testing – When & how much that matters.

Common Types

  • Whey – this is the common ‘gold standard’ powder.
  • Casein – Slow releasing protein.
  • Plant-based options (Soy, rice, pea, hemp, almond, faba bean).
  • Collagen.

Others exist, but these are the main ones we will cover today as this does cover a significant portion of what you will find on the market.

Suggested Macronutrient Profile

Protein powder nutrition facts.

  • The macronutrients are the first aspect you would want to look at.
  • Ideally, find an option that contains >20g of protein per serving while having <5g combined fats/carbs. This would make it an efficient source of protein.
  • Other products that don’t meet that criteria could still be fine. They just aren’t what we’d typically look for in protein powder e.g. but they could be mass gainers, complete meal replacements/recovery drinks for example.

Amino Acid Breakdown

  • This matters far more if you do not have a high total protein intake, coming from a variety of sources.
  • Gold standard – we typically want >2-3g of leucine per serve.
  • Other BCAAs in a decent amount also are typically a good idea (isoleucine and valine).
  • A complete amino acid profile containing a decent amount of each of the 9 EAAs.
  • There are some examples of protein powders that don’t meet this criteria. We will discuss this later on and give practical recommendations on what to do about this.

Lactose Content

  • Whey protein, while dairy-based is quite low in lactose with ~0.3g lactose per 30g serving.
  • For context, most people with lactose intolerance can tolerate around 3g in one go with minimal symptoms.
  • Alternatively, whey protein concentrate (WPC) has around 1-2g lactose per 30g serving, so depending on how much you have, this may be an issue for very lactose-sensitive individuals.
  • Note: Some people with lactose intolerance might hear this and think about how whey protein isolate still causes them issues. Symptoms can occur for reasons beyond just lactose. It’s not uncommon to have multiple issues. 
  • Outside of dairy-based options, you also have the plant-based options which obviously would have no lactose content as well.

IBS

Protein powder and IBS.

  • If not lactose, there could be many other explanations behind IBS-related symptoms. The following are possibilities and may or may not be relevant for you.
  • High concentrations of protein consumed in a short space of time may be difficult to digest.
  • Whey allergy OR intolerances to milk proteins.
  • Sugar alcohols if added. There’s potential that other sweeteners could be a trigger too.
  • Sometimes FODMAPs. For example, in some plant-based protein powders, there could be Oligosaccharides and Fructans depending on how isolated they are.
  • Some protein powders have prebiotics added that could be triggers.

Plant-Based

  • There are so many options when it comes to plant-based proteins, the most common being pea, rice, pea and rice blends and soy but there are also hemp, almond, faba bean amongst others.
  • Some reasons why someone would want to opt for the plant-based option could be that they are lactose intolerant or have a dairy allergy or from an ethical perspective whether it be animal rights or environmental concerns.

Practical Recommendations

  • My main suggestion would be to choose either a soy protein isolate OR a pea and rice blend as they will have the most complete amino acid profiles for a plant-based protein.
  • Soy protein is naturally a complete protein.
  • Whilst pea and rice naturally complement each other, what one is lacking from an EAA point of view, the other makes up for.
  • Regarding leucine – ideally, look for >2.5g per standard serve. Most soy proteins will inherently have this but you may find some pea/rice blends have slightly less.
  • From an IBS perspective, typically the safest options are a plain soy protein isolate or a rice-based protein powder.
  • Both of these will be low FODMAP typically as long as they don’t have extra high FODMAP ingredients added.
  • With the rice protein, I would add some additional EAAs or some leucine.

Collagen

Collagen protein powder.

  • Collagen is quite low in certain amino acids.
  • For example, it typically has 0.3-0.8g of leucine per 30g serve. 
  • It also has low levels of BCAAs in general and it is low in tryptophan and cysteine. This makes it considered an incomplete protein.
  • Often we focus on leucine, but there is even a study where they matched collagen and whey for leucine content by adding some leucine to collagen, and it still resulted in less muscle growth than whey. 
  • Note: There are other potential benefits to collagen outside of muscle growth though.

Casein

Casein protein powder

  • Often casein is used before bed because it is slow digesting. However, when considered within the broader context, this appears to have minimal significance.
  • When you mix either casein or whey with other foods or drinks containing calories such as milk, the differences in absorption largely disappear.
  • While research often finds having casein before bed improves muscle growth, that’s typically what research finds on having any quality form of protein before bed. Increased protein intake and improved distribution are typically a good idea regardless. 

Protein Water

Protein water

  • Protein water can be made from different protein options e.g. collagen, whey, plant-based sources etc.
  • When looking for the best one, you can apply the same logic as listed above.
  • A lot of them do use decent amounts of collagen though, which is important to keep in mind from a muscle-building perspective.

Batch Testing

  • If you compete in a drug-tested sport, you should only use batch-tested options.
  • In Australia. there is a simple website that is called ‘Batch Tested’ which you can use to find products that fit this category.
  • A larger percentage of sports supplements contain banned substances than we’d like.
  • You’d think Australia would be in a position where most products are low risk, but a group called the ‘International Anti-doping Laboratory’ tested products that are NOT batch tested and found that 19% of them contained banned substances. 
  • Arguably, even without being in a drug-tested sport, I could understand being cautious and only consuming batch-tested products. 

Summary

Ideally, we want to look for protein powders that are efficient sources of protein and have a qaulity amino acid profile. Additioanl considerations may include aspects such as the lactose content, IBS appropriate options, and whether or not it has been batch tested.

Relevant Blogs / Resources

Blog Posts

Relevant Studies