Best Protein Powders: Marla’s top picks
In the past when we heard the word, “protein powder” we may have associated this with bodybuilders and professional athletes. Nowadays, protein powders have gained widespread popularity among those looking to gain muscle mass and increase protein intake while also improving their health. In fact, I recommend protein powders to everyone who I see professionally! Why? Because the potential benefits of protein powder extend way beyond the gym; research shows that this superstar supplement may help with everything from improving:
- skin, hair, nail health
- enhancing immunity
- decreasing gut inflammation
- lower cholesterol levels
- balance blood sugar levels
- increase energy
- balance moods
- strengthen bones
Plus, protein powder is available in a wide array of different flavors and can be incredibly versatile. Although most commonly mix with milk alternatives or water, it can also be incorporated into recipes like breakfasts and baked goods to add a boost of protein to your favorite foods.
Produced from both plant-based and animal sources, there are many types of protein powders available to tailor to any diet plan, taste palate or personal preference. So what are the best protein powders and how can they impact your health? Let’s take a look.
Common Forms of Protein Powder
Protein powders can be derived from many different plant-based and animal sources. Some of the most common types cropping up on the market today include:
- Bone Broth
- Mixed Plant Protein
There are also several different forms of protein powder, each of which vary based on their nutrient profile and the way that they are processed. The three most common types include:
- Protein concentrates: This type of protein powder is made by extracting protein from whole food sources, resulting in a final product that contains 60–80 percent of calories from protein with the remaining calories from fat and carbohydrates.
- Protein isolates: Protein isolates are further filtered to remove much of the fat and carbohydrates, resulting in a more highly concentrated form of protein powder. In general, protein isolates typically contain between 90–95 percent protein.
- Protein hydrolysates: This form of protein powder undergoes a process that breaks the bond between amino acids, creating a type of protein that is more easily absorbable by your body.
Quality Protein Powder vs. Protein Powder with Fillers
Not all protein powders are created equally.
Take a closer look at the ingredients label and skip the supplements that add extra amino acids or fillers like maltodextrin or artificial sweeteners, colours, flavours. Instead, opt for organic, naturally sweetened (stevia) protein powders with minimal ingredients and be sure to always purchase from reputable retailers.
7 Best Protein Powders
- Protein Powder – made from Grass fed, Organic Bone Broth
- Collagen Protein Powder – made from Grass fed, Organic animals
- Whey Protein Powder- made from Grass fed, Organic animals
- Hemp Protein Powder- from organic sources
- Pea Protein Powder – from organic sources
- Casein Protein Powder – made from Grass fed, Organic animals
- Brown Rice Protein Powder- made from organic sources
1. Protein Powder Made from Bone Broth.
- Rich in Collagen: As the most abundant protein in your body, collagen plays a central role in the health of your hair, skin, joints and nails. Getting enough of this protein is key to many aspects of health, especially as you start getting older.
- Promotes Skin Health: Collagen levels drop as you age, resulting in symptoms like saggy skin and wrinkles. Studies show that supplementing with a collagen-containing supplement like a protein powder made from bone broth could improve skin elasticity and skin moisture in older adults.
- Enhanced Immune Function: Some research suggests that protein powder made from bone broth can reduce inflammation to give your immune system a hearty boost and reduce the risk of conditions like leaky gut syndrome.
- Relieves Joint Pain: Supplementing with collagen, one of the primary ingredients found in protein powder made from bone broth, has been shown to reduce activity-related joint pain in athletes.
2. Collagen Protein Powder
As the most abundant form of protein in the body, collagen is found in the muscles, skin, bones and blood vessels. However, collagen levels begin to slowly decline as you get older, resulting in symptoms like joint pain, wrinkles and hair loss. Taking a collagen supplement is an effective way to boost collagen levels and reverse the symptoms of aging to improve health and quality of life. The best form of a collagen protein includes several types, including from chicken collagen, bovine collagen, fish collagen and egg shell collagen.
- Decreases Joint Pain: Collagen can help increase the synthesis of cells in the extracellular matrix to reduce joint pain and improve symptoms of arthritis.
- Prevents Leaky Gut: Leaky gut syndrome is a condition caused by increased intestinal permeability resulting in symptoms like inflammation, decreased immunity and nutritional deficiencies. One study in Food & Function found that collagen can improve intestinal barrier function and protect against leaky gut syndrome.
- Promotes Hair and Skin Health: As the building block of the hair, skin and nails, some studies show that collagen supplementation could be therapeutic against hair loss and skin-related conditions.
- Improves Liver Function: Collagen is rich in a type of amino acid called glycine, which has been shown to preserve liver function and protect against liver injury in some animal studies.
3. Whey Protein Powder
Whey is a type of protein found in milk. More specifically, it is the liquid that separates from the curds during the cheese-making process, resulting in a final product that is high in protein. However, it may also contain lactose, a type of sugar found in milk that can be difficult for certain people to digest. Whey protein isolate is the best whey protein option if you have lactose intolerance, as the lactose content is significantly decreased during processing.
- Supports Muscle Growth: Whey protein is quickly digested, making it an ideal choice for a post-workout smoothie to gain muscle mass fast. In fact, multiple studies show that whey protein can help speed up muscle recovery and enhance muscle growth.
- High in BCAA: Whey protein is rich in branched-chain amino acids (BCAA), which help promote muscle recovery and support muscle synthesis after exercise.
- Controls Appetite: Some research also shows that whey protein could decrease appetite and may help reduce levels of certain hunger hormones to a greater extent than other protein powders, including casein or soy.
- Improves Body Composition: For those looking to lose weight and kick up fat burning, whey protein may be the way to go. Studies show that supplementing with whey could help decrease fat mass and waist circumference — overall belly fat — in people who are overweight or obese.
3. Hemp Protein Powder
Hemp is a variety of Cannabis sativa, a type of flowering plant indigenous to Asia. Although most well-known for its association with marijuana, hemp actually contains little to no tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, which is the cannaboid responsible for the psychoactive properties of marijuana. Instead, hemp is actually jam-packed with protein, and hemp protein used to make one of the most popular plant-based protein powder options on the market today. I buy mine from Costco and store in the freezer to maintain the freshness longer.
- Easily Digestible: Hemp protein powder is an easily digestible form of protein, meaning your body is able to metabolize and utilize more protein to get you closer to your goals.
- Contains Heart-Healthy Fats: Unlike other protein powders, hemp protein powder stands out because it contains a hearty dose of omega-3 fatty acids
a type of heart-healthy fat that’s been linked to decreased inflammation, ( although best absorption form of omega-3 is from fish) improved heart health and better brain function.
- Plant-Based: Hemp protein powder is often considered one of the best vegan protein powder options because it’s totally plant-based and can be enjoyed on nearly any diet.
- Rich in Fiber: Hemp seeds are loaded with beneficial fiber and each serving of hemp protein powder packs in a good chunk of fiber as well. Besides supporting regularity, fiber can also lower cholesterol levels, stabilize blood sugar and even enhance weight loss.
4. Pea Protein Powder
Tiny but packed with protein, pea protein is a relatively new form of protein powder that’s been gaining popularity fast. Derived from the yellow split pea, pea protein powder contains a good amount of nearly all of the essential amino acids and has been associated with a number of health benefits thanks to its stellar nutrient profile.
- Boosts Muscle Growth: One study in the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition found that pea protein was equally effective as whey protein at increasing muscle thickness when combined with resistance training.
- Reduces Hunger: Some research shows that pea protein can help increase the levels of specific satiety hormones to keep you feeling full and decrease hunger.
- Lowers Blood Pressure: In addition to kicking up your protein intake, pea protein may also help keep your heart in tip-top shape by keeping blood pressure in check. A 2011 study showed that supplementation with pea protein was able to significantly lower systolic blood pressure levels after just three weeks.
5. Casein Protein Powder
Casein is a type of protein found in milk. Unlike whey protein, however, it’s digested much more slowly within the body, helping to decrease muscle breakdown. Because it’s derived from milk, casein protein is also rich in several essential nutrients, including calcium.
- Slows Muscle Breakdown: Casein has anti-catabolic properties, meaning that it slows the breakdown of muscle tissues during resistance training and supplies the muscles with a steady stream of amino acids to promote muscle growth. (21)
- Enhances Strength: Some research indicates that casein protein may be even more effective than other types of protein like whey at stimulating muscle growth and increasing strength.
- Improves Body Composition: One study comparing the effects of whey protein and casein found that supplementing with casein doubled the amount of fat loss, lean body mass gains and chest strength compared to whey protein.
- Boosts Metabolism: Casein tops the charts as potentially the best protein powder for women looking to lose weight because it’s been shown to ramp up energy expenditure and keep your metabolism running.
6. Brown Rice Protein Powder
As its name implies, brown rice protein powder is made from brown rice and contains all of the essential amino acids that your body needs. It’s plant-based, high in fiber and contains additional micronutrients like iron, calcium and vitamin C, all of which provide it with an added boost of health benefits.
- Aids in Weight Loss: Adding a scoop of brown rice protein powder into your smoothie can do double duty by increasing your protein intake and kick starting weight loss as well. According to an animal model out of China, brown rice protein includes specific peptides that were shown to reduce weight gain in hamsters.
- Promotes Muscle Building: One study in the Nutrition Journal showed that brown rice protein powder was as effective as whey protein powder at improving body composition and exercise performance.
- Regulates Blood Sugar: Thanks to the high fiber content of brown rice nutrition, brown rice protein powder has been shown to help regulate blood sugar levels in some animal models.
- Lowers Cholesterol: High levels of cholesterol can build up in the bloodstream, causing arteries to narrow and thicken, plus upping the risk of heart disease. Some animal studies have found that brown rice protein could cut cholesterol levels to reduce your risk of heart disease.
How to Use Protein Powder + Recipes
The possibilities of protein powder extend way beyond sticking a scoop in your morning smoothie or shake. In fact, you can easily add protein powder to everything from baked goods to oatmeal dishes to smoothie bowls and more. Stick to a single serving right after working out to maximize muscle gain, or enjoy it throughout the day in your favorite snacks if you’re looking to increase your caloric intake and use protein powder for weight gain.
Protein Powder Side Effects & Precautions to Take
Protein powder should not be used as a replacement for protein from whole food sources, however. Protein foods like meat, fish, eggs and legumes not only supply a good amount of protein in each serving, but they also pack in tons of other important vitamins and minerals that your body needs to thrive.
Additionally, it’s important to keep in mind that more is not always better when it comes to protein powder. Overdoing it can lead to protein powder side effects like weight gain, bone loss, kidney damage and liver problems.
Finally, remember to always buy from a reputable retailer and look for organic products with minimal ingredients and fillers to make sure you’re getting the best protein powders possible.
This article was adapted from Dr Axe’s website, and edited by Marla Samuel, MSc, RNCP, Holistic Nutritionist at The Centre for Healing and Peak Performance.