Protein powders are one of the biggest segments of the supplement market. And there’s no shortage of options available. Animal-derived proteins such as whey, casein, and egg, as well as goat, beef, and fish, are extremely popular. But there’s also a healthy selection of vegetable-based proteins, such as rice, hemp, soy, and pea. You can even try hydrolysates, which are predigested whey and casein peptides.
Which powder to choose often comes down to personal preference and individual needs, but my favorite is whey protein isolate (WPI). It’s made from the water-soluble portion of milk that’s been processed and filtered to remove lactose, cholesterol, and fat and is preferred by many consumers who are lactose intolerant and/or have problems digesting protein powders. WPI is typically very high in protein content (usually 90% or more) in comparison with other forms, which can range from only 10–50% protein. It’s also high in L-cysteine and all nine essential amino acids (histidine, isoleucine, leucine, lysine, methionine, phenylalanine, threonine, tryptophan, and valine). L-cysteine helps regulate blood sugar, decreases blood vessel inflammation, and reduces exercise-induced oxidative stress.
Other important ingredients to look for in your protein powders are branched-chain amino acids, aka BCAAs, which include leucine, isoleucine, and valine. BCAAs can help reduce muscle soreness and speed recovery from intense training. Leucine is the most important amino acid to athletes, as it can increase muscle protein synthesis all by itself. Make sure your protein powder has a minimum of 2.5 grams of leucine in it.
Keep In Mind: Whey protein is absorbed and digested very quickly, causing sharp increases in blood levels of amino acids. Use it in the morning or post-workout. The rapid delivery of amino acids to muscle can quickly reverse the catabolic effects of resistance exercise, helping immediately boost muscle recovery after training. When you mix whey protein with heart-healthy fats, high-fiber foods, or casein (another milk-based protein), you’ll slow down digestion, helping you feel fuller, longer. For a muscle-building, between-meal snack, try whey protein blended with a tablespoon of natural peanut butter and a handful of mixed berries.