Nutrition Articles

How to Choose the Best Protein Powder

Find the Right Supplement for You


Protein supplements are popular among casual exercisers, serious bodybuilders, dieters and even non-exercisers for many reasons. Most people know that protein is an essential nutrient for overall health that helps promote fullness and also plays a role in muscle recovery and repair. The nutrient protein carries with it a connotation of being healthy, so many assume that drinking protein shakes or using protein supplements is a good step toward better health and fitness. But is this perception of health a fact or a fallacy?

It's true that protein supplements make eating this important nutrient easy and convenient. Protein-rich foods (think dairy products, meats, beans and eggs) often require cooking, need to be refrigerated for safety and don't always transport well as snacks or mini meals on the go. (Just imagine carrying and then chomping into a chunk of chicken breast between the gym and work, or eating from a can of beans while driving to your next appointment.) In contrast, supplements make it easy! They're shelf-stable, easy to transport, great tasting (if you can find one you like), and often need nothing more than water to mix up. And as drinks, they're easy to consume no matter where you are.

However, protein supplements are far from required eating for people, no matter what your fitness, health or nutrition goals might be. When thinking about choosing a protein supplement, it's worth noting that:

  • There are many foods packed with protein that you can creatively fit into your meals and snacks to meet your needs without having to rely on a supplement.
  • Real, whole foods—as opposed to protein powders, which are highly processed—are more natural to include in the human diet, so many people aiming for a diet that is closer to nature might not find supplements as appealing.
  • Unprocessed protein-rich foods also contain other vital nutrients needed by the body in their natural states, such as iron, zinc, calcium and B-vitamins.
  • The protein-rich foods you can buy at the store (meat, milk, eggs, soy products and more) are cheaper than almost any protein supplement.
  • And foods—as opposed to supplements and protein drinks—are regulated for safety. Recent independent lab tests (see Sources below) found that many of the most popular protein supplements were contaminated with heavy metals like lead, mercury and more—a byproduct of processing. That, coupled with the fact that supplements are truly the Wild West, when it comes to products (no regulation, no guarantee of potency as listed, not a lot of rules at all) means that you are putting a lot of trust into the company making the product you're ingesting. 

Despite all of these things, we can't deny that whether you truly need additional protein outside of the food you consume, people simply enjoy protein shakes—and that's an OK reason to choose them, too! They often taste great. They add extra nutrients and filling power to many dishes (like fruit smoothies) and they can be used in creative ways to boost the protein of other foods beyond shakes. (Check out these creative ways to use protein powder.) While consuming protein supplements is seldom necessary (read our previous article about determining your protein needs), when used wisely, they can give a nice little protein boost to your meal or snack. But remember: If you're already eating enough protein consuming extra is just an additional source of calories--extra calories that could be packing on pounds. So plan wisely!  
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About The Author

Becky Hand Becky Hand
Becky is a registered and licensed dietitian with almost 20 years of experience. A certified health coach through the Cooper Institute with a master's degree in health education, she makes nutrition principles practical, easy-to-apply and fun. See all of Becky's articles.

Member Comments

  • Thank you! I found some organic whey protein supplements online after reading this, from grass-fed cows. I'm going to try one out, so that I can get more of the protein I need! I'm a vegetarian, and I've been mostly relying on salty, high-caloric frozen foods from the MorningStar company. That gets really old after a while, and I don't think their stuff could possibly be that good for you. But that's what my mom buys, and she's our primary shopper. Their food doesn't have enough protein, when you have one serving with each meal. And I try to eat an egg a day, because I read that women can have one a day. Please don't be so skeptical about people using protein powders, the bias in this article is apparent. If some are dangerous, then point that out, fine. But some people, like vegetarians, really should include at least one serving of protein powder in their day. - 3/19/2015 7:23:51 PM
  • SEVEN pages to click through? Nope.
    - 3/18/2015 3:52:00 PM
  • I would like to have some opinions for brown rice protein and its results of loosing weight.
    Thanlks - 2/28/2015 7:58:40 PM
  • I'll take my protein from as close to the source as possible. I don't want to ingest artificial ingredients and chemicals I can't pronounce, and that I don't know what their purpose is.

    I eat lean meat, poultry, eggs, fat-free Greek yogurt, and beans/legumes except soybeans. I do not eat soy for health reasons. I'm a breast cancer survivor, and hypothyroid. Soy is not recommended for either situation. - 2/28/2015 7:08:12 PM
  • Russell Blaylock is of dubious authority; he seems to propagate many of the standard quackeries: http://www.skepdi
    k.html - 2/28/2015 4:29:14 PM
  • Never understood why people believe they need to add supplements (other then by medical advise). There are too many choices in the USA for balancing one's nutrients through diet planning that unless advised by a HCP, they should not be necessary. In general, people tend to latch onto fads too quickly and without considering what they are losing. - 2/28/2015 12:48:50 PM
  • pop up ads make the article unreadable - 2/28/2015 8:20:12 AM
  • good article. on liquids post surgical so must resort to this. - 2/12/2015 4:11:50 PM
  • So CAROLFAITHWALKR, you don't eat cheese or tomatoes, etc, hum????? - 1/13/2015 1:44:15 PM
  • Well written article and quite informative. Thanks. - 6/10/2014 8:14:10 AM
  • Whey protein concentrate will never cross my lips. I don't knowingly eat MSG for the same reason. It should be thrown in the trash, just like the seasoning pkg that comes in ramen noodles. MSG stands for monosodium glutamate. Glutamates attach to and stimulate neurons in the brain endlessly, until they burn out and die. No thanks, I need all my brain cells, thank you. Glutamates, regardless of the source (Accent, aspartame, equal, aminosweet, and WHEY PROTEIN CONCENTRATES), are neuro-excitotoxin
    s. Deadly to your brain cells.

    Dr. Russell Blaylock, M.D. is a nationally recognized board-certified neurosurgeon, health practitioner, author, and lecturer. He attended the Louisiana State University School of Medicine and completed his internship and neurological residency at the Medical University of South Carolina.

    The following is an excerpt from the above-referenced article from Dr. Blaylock:
    Q: I was told that whey protein is good for you. But you have included whey protein as one of the things that can convert glutamine to glutamate. Is whey protein good or bad for you?
    Rose W., Boyds, Md.
    A: Whey protein concentrate has high levels of glutamine and glutamate. Glutamine is converted in the body into glutamate.

    People with neurological disorders are made worse when fed either glutamine or glutamate. I have heard from a number of people who have developed headaches and had problems with nervousness and insomnia after taking high-glutamine supplements. - 5/27/2014 3:02:11 PM
  • Becky and Nicole,

    Thanks for the informative, comprehensive and easy-to-understan
    d article, without all the normal commercial puffery about protein.

    Well done!! - 3/5/2014 6:46:05 AM
  • Thank you for the useful information. - 2/18/2014 6:36:28 AM
  • I love protein powders. I use them in smoothies 3-5 times a week. I hide them in various dishes to insure my 11yo gets plenty of protein in her diet - she is not exactly following the carnivore example set by her parents! I use different brands and different flavors depending on the purpose. Interestingly, none of the brands I use are listed in this article or the Consumer Report. The article offers great information and I am thankful for it. But the Consumer Report cited in the article is from July 2010! That is nearly 4 years old and I feel certain the data is out of date. Manufacturing/tec
    hnology changes very quickly. It is useful information - it gives us extremely good reasons to further investigate the product we choose to ingest or feed our families. But we should not rely completely on old data in making this decision. - 2/13/2014 9:46:46 AM
    Really nice article, but there was a very annoying advertising poping up in every page - that wouldn' t leave - hiding 1/3 of it... - 2/7/2014 6:32:36 AM

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