Ever walked into a supplement shop expecting a straightforward purchase but ended up being completely overwhelmed? Well you’re not alone. Everyone (including me) had to make that courageous step down the protein powders aisle at one point in their workout life only to be left totally lost and bewildered.
With so many choices out there, how do you know which suits you the most? All these different brands showcasing ripped physiques on their label and claiming “Lean Muscle Building”, “Solid Mass” and “Fat Burning” formulas – it can all be one big confusing mess.
So to help you out, I’ve written this unbiased article based on my experiences and research with the aim to help you choose the best protein powder suited for your needs.
What are my choices?
You’ll see “Whey” everywhere on the majority of off the shelf protein powders. Why? Well because whey protein is the most common, cost effective and available source of protein in powder form making it the norm amongst the gym community. Whey itself is actually a by-product of milk processed to be fit for human consumption and contains a high ratio of amino acids for muscle building and repair; just be wary if you are lactose intolerant.
Whey itself is ideal as an all rounder protein supplement to either fill a protein void or to take as your pre or post workout shake.
Another type of protein derived from milk (also found in A2 Milk and Cottage cheese) Micellar Casein, is popular as a before bed protein shake due to its slow release of nutrients. This promotes protein synthesis throughout the night which has the added benefit of combating catabolic activity. This is important as you want your body to grow during your recovery period (sleep) and not be starved of nutrients for that 7-8 hours.
I personally find Casein compulsory in my supplement stack as I constantly need to maintain my protein uptake even when sleeping, any loss of gains is painful (sigh the life of a hard gainer).
But if you’re totally against Whey because of a lactose intolerance or just don’t like cows, there is always vegan protein powder choices such as kemp, pea, soy and rice protein. I can’t comment on these as I’ve never tried them but they do seem like a worthy alternative, even though they will contain less protein per gram.
What’s the difference between Whey Protein Concentrate (WPC) and Whey Protein Isolate (WPI)?
WPI is made “purer” allowing more protein per gram, less lactose and thus providing it with a higher absorption rate than its concentrate counterpart. The most obvious difference you’ll notice between the two though is the price tag.
There is no real research out there supporting the quicker absorption benefits but if you want the premium blend of whey this is it. Personally I stopped using pure WPI as a post workout protein a while ago as you can find better value in other products.
What should I be looking at in the nutritional info table?
All protein powders should have.. you guessed it, protein! Protein amount per scoop usually varies from 25 – 30grams with the rest made up of carbs, fat and other supplements.
Fat offers no benefit in your shake so ensure the powder has minimal amounts. Carbs on the other hand is a personal choice depending on your goals and generally fall into either the “Lean Muscle” type or the “Mass Gainer” type.
The lean protein blends will tend to have 5 grams or less of carbs which only serve to assist with protein delivery, making the one scoop required for your shake measure between 30-35 grams.
With a mass gainer protein, the scoop can size up to 80 grams with carbs making up what’s left after the 30 or so grams of protein. This type of blend is for those looking to put on size fast as the carbs provide plenty of calories for that “bulking” effect which fills up muscles with glycogen and water but also having the chance to put on some fat if you don’t manage your calorie intake carefully.
It may be tempting to go “I wanna get massive” mode and purely go for the mass gainer, but remember you can customise the carb amounts by simply adding milk to your shake.
What other goodies can be found in a powder?
Some protein powders include small amounts of Creatine which supports the muscle building process. Great addition but not entirely necessary as it can be bought separately and simply added to your shake. Same goes for extra amounts of amino acids like L-Glutamine and L-Leucine. All protein powders will already be made up of all these necessary amino acids so you’re essentially paying more just for the extra few grams.
Plenty of powders out there promote extra fat burning formulas with their own patented ingredient combinations with extracts of some plant or tree you’ve never heard of or care about.
My advice, focus your protein powder on just building muscle instead of stripping fat.
So why is there so much price difference between brands?
Same ingredients but different price tags? Comes down to marketing, brand and flavouring/mix. The more expensive one will more often than not mix and taste better, which is a good thing (I’ve had powders that were cheap and tasted so bad it made me gag every time… never again).
As for the brand, it’s easy to find which ones have been around for a while from a quick internet search. They’ve been around for a reason, because people know they work.
As a rough price guide, your 2kg tub should cost about $70-80 for a reasonable brand.
After I’ve made my choice, how can the effectiveness be measured?
It’s a tough one but only you can measure how well your body is progressing. Stick to your normal workout routine and diet while monitoring your strength and aesthetics progress (selfies much?). And unless all your gains are being reversed, don’t just give up after one tub… see it through at least two tubs.
Why should I listen to you?
Throughout my years of training, I’ve spent plenty of coin in search of my favourite and most effective protein powder. It doesn’t make me an expert but my comprehensive purchase history provides me with the experience and some credibility.
Here is my list (ahh the memories):
- Horleys Awesome Mass
- BSN Syntha-6
- Muscletech Nitrotech Hardcore
- Cytosport Monster Milk
- Vital Strength Ripped
- Optimum Nutrition Gold Standard Casein
- Gaspari MyoFusion
- Aussie Bodies Perfect Whey
- Optimum Nutrition Gold Standard Whey
- Horleys Ice Whey
- Optimum Nutrition Platinum Hydro Whey
- Dymatize Casein
- Optimum Nutrition Platinum Hydro Builder
- Musclepharm Combat
- Optimum Nutrition Platinum Tri-Cell Casein
So with all that in mind, get out there and join the masses with that distinct shaker bottle sound.
In closing, remember not to be seduced by all the pictures and claims on the tub and focus on the nutritional table for what you really need. Although it may take frequent revisits to the supplement shop and hundreds if not thousands of dollars, you will eventually find the protein powder that works for you… it’s all about trial and error!
What have been your experiences when choosing your protein powder? I’d love to hear it!