Isn’t protein powder just for high-level athletes and big-bodied, iron-pumping gym rats? Think again. Protein is a fundamental building block of strong bodies. The right types and amounts of protein powder can provide needed vitamins, help improve cardiovascular health, and lower risks of future health problems. Here’s how you can lose weight or gain muscle with whey proteins, protein blends, and plant-based vegan and vegetarian proteins. The best of each category are reviewed for you as well. Happy healthy eating and living!

Whey Protein

Benefits:

  • One of the most popular proteins available as a powder and within drinks and protein bars.
  • Whey makes up 20% of the protein content in milk (casein is the other 80%), but whey protein contains only 1% lactose in its final form that you consume. If you are lactose intolerant, consult your physician before eating whey protein, as you may still be allergic.
  • Eating between 25 and 50 grams of whey protein per day can lead to improved health, but watch out for refined sugar and artificial flavorings that are used to improve the take of whey protein—which is bland and even bitter on its own.
  • High in branched chain amino acids (known as BCAA) such as cysteine and leucine, which is the most anabolic amino acid helping to support muscle growth.
  • 70-80% protein content and the best flavor; whey isolate has 90% protein content and has less fat and lactose than whey concentrates but less of essential vitamins
  • Whey hydrolysate is pre-digested so is absorbed faster than the other two primary types, but can quickly spike your blood sugar.
  • Be careful with taking too much whey hydrolysate in a short amount of time.
  • Whey concentrate is the most popular choice because of its taste and higher levels of lactose and fat, but if you want to minimize carbohydrate and fat intake, whey isolate may be your best option.
  • More effective that other protein sources in helping you shed fat while maintaining muscle as you lose weight, and can also increase size and strength.
  • The combination of whey protein and amino acids, combined with resistance training, is a very effective—and fast—big-muscle building technique.
  • Studies have shown that consuming whey protein with drinks can help you feel more full and better able to stop eating when you want.
  • Helps reduce production of the ghrelin, a hormone that, when produced in high levels, can lead to hunger pangs.
  • Chelp reduce the chances of developing prostate and colon cancer when consumed in appropriate amounts over long periods of time (while also including regular exercise and other healthy eating habits).
  • May lower the effects of depression and associated anxiety disorders, as some researchers believe that the protein can help regulate serotonin levels.
  • Lowers blood sugar (including helping to treat type 2 diabetes), reduce inflammation, enhance the body’s antioxidant defenses, and even help to alleviate the serious symptoms of HIV and other cancers.
  • ACE inhibitors called cytokinins help promote a stronger heart and lower blood pressure and prevent future cases of hypertension.

Product reviews:

Optimum Nutrition Whey Gold Standard

Pros: Optimum Nutrition is one of the most popular whey isolate products on the market. It offers high-quality protein in more than 20 flavors. Chocolate is by far the one that I liked most. Others tasted too artificial (like the banana flavor) or too chalky even when blended well (like the vanilla flavor). The BCAAs and ultra-filtered technique to produce the protein are great benefits.

Cons: Whey isolate is great for someone like me who is looking for a good protein source while also limiting the fat and carb levels. However, this protein is also missing some of the crucial vitamins offered by whey concentrate. I chose to supplement my nutrition with an all-purpose multivitamin. I would recommend a similar path for those choosing Optimum Nutrition.

Summary: Although I’d prefer whey concentrate, Optimum Nutrition is one of the most protein brands on the market. I’ve loved using this protein as I’ve worked out and lost weight. The 5-pound package will go a long way for someone using just a scoop or two per day. The $58 is well worth the money for an excellent low-fat, low-lactose form of high-quality protein. You should consume only 1-2 scoops (25-50 grams) daily.

Features:

  •     One 5-pound tub of chocolate-flavored whey protein
  •     Packed with whey protein isolates
  •     For maintaining and increasing lean muscle mass
  •     Instantized to mix easily with a spoon
  •     Each serving provides over 5 grams of BCAAs
  •     Product Dimensions: 8 x 8 x 10.8 inches; 5 pounds total weight
  •     May lower blood pressure
  •     Can reduce inflammation and treat type 2 diabetes
  •     Beneficial in preventing inflammatory bowel disease
  •     May lower low-density lipids (LDLs) and reduce the risk of heart disease
  •     Excessive consumption can lead to bloating, nausea, constipation, and cramping

NOW Foods Whey Protein Isolate

Pros: The micro filtering technique provides a protein that mixes very easily in milk or water or within smoothies. I really enjoyed the fact that there were no artificial sweeteners or additives, which can damage your body and spike your blood sugar. There are only 2 ingredients in the package, so I felt good about having a naturally-derived, pure product. I used this product mainly to lose weight, but it can easily be used to build muscle as well.

Cons: I found that this protein was best refrigerated after opening, partly because of the micro-filtering technique. Many of my friends that have tried this product have told me that they don’t refrigerate any of NOW Foods’ protein powder and have not seen a problem, but I like the unique vitamin and mineral mix requires refrigeration. Don’t let a mixed drink sit at room temperature for too long, as the taste will become bitter and the texture clumpy and uneven.

Summary: NOW Foods is one of the oldest and well-known supplement manufacturers. They have been making protein powder since 1968, and though I prefer the taste of the Optimum Nutrition Chocolate flavor, I like the vitamin profile and feeling after eating the NOW Foods brand. It’s a great natural protein blend for anyone who wants to add healthy whey protein to his or her diet.

Features:

  •     100% Pure – Mixes Instantly – Microfiltered
  •     High in Branch Chain Amino Acids
  •     Natural Unflavored – All Natural – No Aspartame, No Sucralose, No Acesulfame-K
  •     Product Dimensions: 6 x 5 x 4 inches ; 5 pounds

Protein Blends

Benefits:

  • Why limit yourself to just one source of protein when you can have a blend? Fueling your body with a few different proteins at once can give you a better combination of vitamins and minerals.
  • A Recent study by the National Institute on Disability and Rehabilitation research found that a protein blend was effective in helping people regain strength.
  • A blend of casein protein, whey protein, and soy protein provided a range of complementary amino acid profiles with different rates of digestion than a single protein source.
  • As with all proteins, your body absorbs more nutrition if a protein blend is combined with lots of water consumption and a regular exercise routine.
  • A protein blend with a high concentration of whey protein can help not only increase healthy muscle growth, but also increase muscle protein synthesis rates over an extended period of time.
  • Can help you build muscle even when you’re not working out!
  • More likely to contain high amounts of glutamine, an essential amino acid which can help prevent muscle breakdown after a long and rigorous workout session.
  • Glutamine contains 19% nitrogen, helps with active cell replication, and prevents catabolism, which can hurt muscle growth.
  • Creatine is another essential amino acid that is common in all protein powders, but more likely to be found in protein blends.
  • Creatine is produced naturally in all of our bodies, but additional consumption is crucial to promoting muscle growth before, during, and after workout sessions.
  • AAKG, L-Arginine, and L-Glycine are all other amino acids that help repair damaged tissue, carry important nutrients to red blood cells, produce creatine, and even improve the quality of your sleep.
  • L-Histidine, as a non-essential amino acid, can help improve the digestive process and acts as one of the most potent blood dilators.
  • Many protein blends contain whey protein concentrate (WPC) and whey protein isolate (WPI), which have many health benefits as discussed above.
  • However, WPC and WPI are both relatively fast-digesting proteins, which can help build short-term muscle growth but might fall short for people who spend months or years building up their bodies.
  • The addition of casein hydro isolate and milk protein concentrate, a slow-burning protein, helps to balance out protein absorption.
  • You should have a good balance of fast-burning and slow-burning carbs, and the same applies to the types of protein that they consume as well.

Product Reviews:

Muscle Pharm Combat Powder Advanced Protein

Pros: Great-tasting. Cookies and cream and chocolate are the 2 best flavors. Skip the banana crème flavor. Easy to digest. Contains a great blend of 4 proteins: whey protein concentrates, hydrolysates, and isolates, egg albumen, micellar casein. Digesting of protein happens at different rates over 8 hours. Easy to drink this and run at the same time. Doesn’t need to be refrigerated. Great value at $10 per pound.

Cons: Long list of ingredients, and relatively high in cholesterol for protein blends. High cholesterol comes primarily from the milk and egg-derived proteins. The more expensive protein blends generally have less cholesterol. Recommend using a blender as a shaker will leave the protein drink clumpy.

Summary: Great-tasting, inexpensive protein blend with 4 different types of proteins in many flavors. By far the cheapest protein blend on the market. Some criticism exists for the added “complexes” which can make the protein harder to digest, but I never had a problem. Watch out for the high cholesterol, and be sure to use a blender for drinks—not great for taking a shaker to the gym. You can also mix the protein in oatmeal and pancakes for added protein to your meal.

Features:

  •     Feed your muscles for up to 8 hours
  •     Official nutritional supplement provider of the UFC®
  •     Advanced time-released protein powder
  •     Product Dimensions:6 x 5 x 4 inches ; 4 pounds

Sunwarrior RAW Plant Based Protein

Pros: Great product that includes plant-based protein. Excellent for people with gluten sensitivities or those that choose not to consumer meat-based substances. Very high in amino acids. I found the texture to be slightly bitter, but the vanilla flavor worked well in fruit smoothies, pancakes, and oatmeal. I didn’t drink this with water before or after a workout. Very, very easy to digest—not nearly as filling as other protein powders that I’ve tried.

Cons: Plant-based proteins have limited nutritional profiles. May need to add other vitamins with enough fats and oils to compensate. Very expensive at almost $20 per pound. The natural and chocolate flavors taste even more bitter than the vanilla flavor. Only 19 grams of protein per serving, versus 25-50 grams per scoop of other protein blends. Not good to use if you are allergic to peas, goji berries, or hemp seeds.

Summary: Excellent protein source. A little on the expensive side for a protein powder blend, but very easy to digest. Don’t need to refrigerate this. Perfect to add to foods—would not recommend with a shaker to take on a bike ride or a run. Tastes best when cold. Could add some cinnamon, honey, or stevia to a powder and water blend to add more flavor.

Features:

  •     Easily digestible, nutrient filled superfood
  •     Complete amino acid profile rich in Arginine, Lysine, Leucine, and BCAAs
  •     Plant-based protein that comes directly from real food
  •     Shipping Weight:9 pounds

Organic Vegan Protein Smoothie Mix Powder

Pros: Excellent when mixed in fruit smoothies. 100% money-back guarantee offered by BlendItUp. The flavorless blend was initially strange, but great when added to cereals, pasta, and yogurt. Great for a variety of athletes and people who are lactose intolerant. No whey protein.

Cons: The lack of whey protein concentrate or isolates means that it is missing several key vitamins and minerals for muscle growth. Better suited for people trying to lose weight. Not recommended to drink with water or milk before or after a workout. Relatively expensive at almost $20 per pound, similar to other plant-based protein blends.

Summary: Not a great product for building muscle. I used this protein for losing weight (running and riding my bike). Excellent to drink when combined with fruit juice, vanilla extract, yogurt, or chocolate milk. Very expensive, and difficulty reaching customer support when I wanted more detail about the ingredients. I missed the whey protein in this product. Somewhat difficult to digest.

Features:

  •     Vegan organic protein from plant sources
  •     No Egg, No Yeast, No Gluten, No Dairy
  •     No Nuts, No GMOs, 100% Kosher, 100% Vegan
  •     Sweetened with Real Fruit and Stevia.
  •     Good amount of protein per serving with essential amino acids
  •     Loaded with extra vitamins and nutrients to fuel your healthy lifestyle.
  •     Flavorless blend
  •     Product Dimensions:7 x 5 x 5 inches ; 1.5 pounds

Vegetarian and Vegan Protein

Benefits:

  • While whey and egg-based protein contain complex amino acids and vitamins necessary for muscle growth, they also contain high levels of fat and cholesterol that many people try to avoid. Luckily, plant-based proteins are a good alternative.
  • Those who are lactose intolerant or who have chosen to avoid meat-based products will love vegan and vegetarian protein.
  • The raw vegan protein contains higher levels of branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs) than whey concentrates to help improve your immune system.
  • Helps with producing glutathione, a powerful antioxidant that can rid your body of free radicals.
  • Plant-based proteins are generally more expensive, but when sold, are free of dangerous artificial sweeteners (like aspartame) and flavorings that are added to many other protein powders.
  • Raw vegetarian protein is also more quickly absorbed in the body, and can help build and repair muscle quickly before and after workouts.
  • Glutamine—highly present in vegan protein—helps recovery and helps promote body healing, enhance glycogen absorption and storage, and will help you maintain muscle mass if you are a body builder.
  • Vegan protein also contains leucine, isoleucine, and valine—three essential amino acids present in whey isolate and casein.
  • Lower intake of cholesterol and saturated fat can help you lose weight, promote a stronger cardiovascular system, and help maintain a healthy sleep cycle.
  • Vegetarians tend to have lower body-mass indices, and plant-based protein can help people that regularly consume meat become even healthier.
  • Rice and pea protein are considered hypoallergenic and are suitable for a variety of athletes competing in endurance challenges that require easy-to-digest protein sources.
  • Raw vegan proteins are also better used during diet detox programs, as the milk-based proteins of whey and casein may contain free radicals that can prevent people from maintaining long-term diet programs.
  • Milk consumption can also lead to acne, cancer, and other dangerous maladies—plant-based protein consumption can allow people to skip dairy and still get enough protein in their diet.
  • Unlike plant proteins, animal proteins tend to have higher levels sulfur containing amino acids that get metabolized to acid-generating metabolites.
  • A vast variety of sources for plant-based and vegan proteins, including soy, buckwheat, chia, hemp seed, legumes, and nuts. Animal-based proteins simply don’t offer the same variety!

 Product reviews:

Garden of Life RAW Organic Protein

Pros: I really like the fact that this product is soy-free. I loved using it while I lifted weights in the gym. Great to add to soups, pasta, cereals, and fruit smoothies. Mixes instantly, easy to get rid of clumps in a shaker. Very easy to digest with live probiotics. My friends who are allergic to nuts love using this protein as it is guaranteed to be nut-free.

Cons: A little bitter with a strange aftertaste. Very expensive at nearly $15 per pound of protein. Not ideal for people who are looking to gain muscle mass quickly.

Summary: An expensive, plant-based protein that delivers exactly as promised. If you want an organic, soy-free, vegan protein that is fairly neutral-tasting, then Garden of Life is right for you. Great for lean athletes looking to lose some weight but keep their muscle mass.

Features:

  •     Provides raw organic sprouted protein and live probiotics and enzymes
  •     Excellent source of protein 17 grams and 33% daily value
  •     Contains vitamin code raw food-created nutrients with their unique code
  •     Suitable for vegetarian and vegan diets
  •     Easily digested supports digestive health and function with live probiotics and protein-digesting enzymes
  •     USDA Certified Organic and Non-GMO Project Verified

Manitoba Harvest Hemp Pro 50 Protein Supplement

Pros: Cheaper than other plant-based proteins at only $9 per pound. I really like hemp seeds, and the flavor of this protein is unique and excellent. Probably more suited for sprinkling on yogurts, cereals, or in pancakes. I liked the fact that this protein was packed in a bag, which stores easier than the typical big, round containers. No need to refrigerate.

Cons: Not great for taking to the gym with milk or water in a shaker. Let me feeling a bit bloated when using it before and after running long distances. Supposed to be easier to digest than whey concentrate protein blends.

Summary: Made in their own state-of-the-art BRC facility, Hemp Pro 50 is delicious with a unique flavor and cheaper than other plant-based proteins. Not great for building muscle mass, but a perfect way to add protein to your everyday meals.

Features:

  •     Raw, whole food made with only one ingredient, hemp
  •     Tastes great and blends well with your favorite smoothie ingredients
  •     A complete plant-based protein, great for vegan and vegetarian diets
  •     Incredibly nutritious with 15g easy to digest plant-based protein, 7g fiber and 2.5g omegas per 30 g serving
  •     Can be stirred into yogurt or hot cereal and is great for baking
  •     Product Dimensions:5 x 6 x 9 inches ; 2 pounds

Garden of Life Organic Protein Vanilla

Pros: Much better tasting than its natural, neutral-flavored counterpart. Avoids the isoflavones (similar to estrogen) associated with soy protein. No need to refrigerate. More protein because produced at low temperatures. Delicious in pancakes or other baked goods. I enjoyed this protein a lot while I biked and ran.

Cons: Expensive at nearly $20 per pound of protein. My friends who are trying to add muscle mass found this protein not as useful as whey isolate or casein-based proteins. Still a slightly bitter aftertaste unless mixed with cinnamon, honey, and milk. Don’t mix with just water or skim milk.

Summary: A much better tasting version than the neutral-flavored Garden of Life Raw brand. I liked how this protein felt on my digestive system, and I really liked that I could still add it to many food items throughout the day. It is expensive, but I like buying from a company that sources its items sustainably and cares about the environment. I felt cleaner and leaner consuming this protein.

Features:

  •     Provides raw organic sprouted protein and live probiotics and enzymes
  •     Excellent source of protein 17 grams and 33% daily value
  •     Contains vitamin code raw food-created nutrients with their unique code
  •     Suitable for vegetarian and vegan diets
  •     Easily digested supports digestive health and function with live probiotics and protein-digesting enzymes
  •     Certified Organic farming practices
  •     100% renewable energy credits used to offset consumption at company operations locations
  •     Product Dimensions: 5 x 5 x 7 inches ; 1.1 pounds