The Ultimate Guide To Protein Supplements
Eating a good amount of protein each day is very important if you want to build muscle properly.
For many people, however, this can be tough to do consistently…
Simply put, many meals that you eat may not contain enough protein in order to meet your requirements.
Further, getting enough protein from whole sources (chicken, beef, fish, etc), can be expensive if you’re on more of a budget.
This is where protein supplements come into play.
Now to be clear, you don’t need to take ANY protein supplements.
You can get all of your protein from whole foods, if that is what you prefer to do.
That being said, many people will use supplements to fill in the protein gaps that they aren’t getting from their meals so that they can consistently meet their targets.
In this guide, I’ll be reviewing the various different types of protein supplements, as well as some of the specific brands that I recommend.
This is the most common form of protein supplement on the market.
There are literally 100s of brands of protein powders – and as you might expect, they don’t all measure up.
Some of them contain high quality proteins, mix well, and taste pretty good.
Others taste like chalk, contain all sorts of dodgy fillers, and are best avoided.
What’s more, there isn’t simply one variety of protein powder.
Nope, that would be too simple…
Not to worry, I’ll break down what you need to know about each kind of protein powder, and which brands I recommend sticking with.
This is the type of protein that you’ll find in 90% of the protein powders out there, and is by far the most popular choice for many people that work out.
It is affordable, tastes pretty good (in general), and is highly ‘bioavailable’ – which means that your body can absorb it very quickly.
The downside of this is that it won’t fill you up – so if you try to subsist off of whey protein shakes, especially on a cutting diet, you’ll likely find yourself feeling much hungrier than if you were eating other protein sources.
Finally, since whey protein is a dairy-based protein (it is actually a byproduct of cheese production), it has the potential to not sit well with some people’s digestive systems.
Still, for the majority of people, I would recommend sticking to whey as your primary protein supplement.
In terms of brands, I would highly recommend Optimum Nutrition Gold Standard Whey.
Optimum Nutrition is a very reputable brand, and their whey protein tastes good, is affordable, widely available, mixes easily, and sits well with most people’s digestive systems.
You can read our detailed review here for more information.
It’s available at pretty much any supplement store, or order yourself a 5 lbs tub directly here.
Next up is casein protein – which is arguably the second most popular variety on the market.
Like whey, casein is derived from milk (more specifically, from the curds that develop as milk forms).
The main thing to realize about casein compared to whey is that it is slower digesting.
For this reason, many people tend to use whey directly before and after their workouts, and then casein later in the day or before bed.
There is a lot of debate about whether whey or casein is better for muscle building – but in the end there isn’t a clear consensus, and what really matters is that you are hitting your protein targets each day, regardless of the source.
However, if you are looking for a protein powder that will fill you up more, then you might want to choose casein over whey.
In terms of the best brand to buy, my recommendation would again be for Optimum Nutrition.
Their casein protein is naturally sweetened, doesn’t contain any fillers, and tastes pretty good (although casein doesn’t taste as good or mix as easily as whey).
You can order a 5 lbs tub directly here.
Egg protein is a good alternative to casein if your stomach doesn’t tolerate dairy proteins very well.
Like casein, egg protein is slow digesting, and will help keep you feeling full for longer periods of time than whey.
Another thing to realize is that egg protein doesn’t mix very easily without a blender – so it isn’t going to be a very suitable choice for post-workout protein in a shaker bottle, so I would recommend sticking with whey for that instead.
Finally, it is more expensive than casein, so if you are on a budget and want something that is slower digesting casein may be a more suitable choice.
My recommendation would be Now Foods Eggwhite Protein, which you can order a 1.2 lb tub directly here.
Finally, I wanted to cover some vegan-friendly protein powders.
Getting enough protein from whole foods can be extremely challenging for vegans, so most will have to supplement to some degree to hit their protein targets.
However, whey, casein, and egg proteins aren’t suitable for vegans.
This really leaves 3 remaining options: soy protein, rice protein or pea protein.
In general, I wouldn’t recommend soy protein for most people.
There has been research indicating that it can decrease sperm counts in men (although this isn’t conclusive yet, with other studies indicating that this isn’t the case).
Still, just to play it safe, I recommend sticking with rice and pea based proteins if you’re a vegan looking for an effective protein supplement.
My recommendation would be Sunwarrior Warrior Blend Raw Vegan Protein, which is a blend of both rice and pea proteins.
It mixes easily, but tends to taste a bit chalky on its own, so I would suggest mixing it with some bananas, rice milk and peanut butter to make it more palatable.
You can order a 2.2 lbs tub directly here.
While protein powder is great for many situations, sometimes you may want something that’s easier to take with you on-the-go.
Or perhaps you just want to boost your protein intake with a food that’s more satisfying than a protein shake, and tastes good too, as an alternative to eating junk food.
In these situations, protein bars can make a great alternative.
To be honest, though, for many years most of the protein bars on the market were pretty terrible…
They tasted bad, and tended not to even have much protein compared to fat and carbs.
However, in recent years, this has all changed, and now there are some protein bars that have a great nutritional profile AND taste really, really good.
Not just protein supplement good, but genuinely you’ll-want-to-eat-a-lot-of-them good.
My recommendation, hands down, would be Quest Nutrition Protein Bars.
They taste great, have a nice consistency, loads of fiber, and 20-21 grams of protein per bar.
What’s more, they are low in calories for the quantity of protein – with each bar coming in at less than 200 calories.
All of the flavors that I’ve tried have been good, but the standouts are Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough, Cookies & Cream, and S’mores (you can read our detailed review of them here).
You can order a box of 12 bars directly here.
Ready-To-Drink Protein Shakes
Now ready-to-drink protein shakes have never really been very good.
In general, if you want a protein shake on-the-go, it is better to prepare it yourself in a shaker bottle and then just add water and shake it up when you want it.
And if that doesn’t work for you, then a better alternative would be to have a Quest bar instead.
That being said, there are a small handful of ready-to-drink shakes that I would recommend.
My top pick would be Isopure ready-to-drink protein shakes.
This is because, unlike protein bars, they are 100% protein (40 gram per bottle), with zero carbs or fat – so if you want a protein source that is extremely low calorie for the quantity of protein, this a good bet.
You can get these at most supplement stores and they taste alright (nothing to write home about). The glass bottle that they’re sold in is a bit annoying, but that’s the only real downside.
You can order a case of 12 bottles directly here.
The last category of protein supplement that I’ll be covering in this guide is fairly new, but it is a good one.
When you think of potato chips, you generally don’t picture a health food…
They are high in fat, low in protein – hardly a protein supplement…
However, Quest Nutrition recently launched an entire line of protein chips which are definitely worthy of mention.
They have a fantastic nutritional profile – 21 grams of protein in each bag for only 120 calories!
What’s more, they actually taste good, and you’ll find yourself happy to snack on them between meals (you can read our detailed review of them here).
These make a good alternative to protein bars – something to snack on at work to help meet your protein target for the day.