Trying to choose the right protein powder can be a daunting task; it’s a jungle out there with so many different types, brands, flavors, and additives. The ideal protein powder can vary from person to person depending on their specific lifestyle and needs, but there are some general guidelines you can follow to sift through the many options at hand.

Protein powders have come a long way since their chalk-like days; collagen powders don’t even have a detectable taste! And as vegetables are increasingly looked to as a good source of protein, there are more plant-based options on the market (good news for vegans!).

Should You Use Protein Powder? Read on!

First things first: many people use protein powders for different reasons, but at the end of the day, they’re a great way to ensure that your body gets nourished and satisfied quickly, no matter who you are. Whether you’re trying to lose weight, gain weight, improve athletic performance, build muscle mass, or just seeking overall wellness, you may find that the right protein powder will do the trick.

And if you think that protein powder is best left to muscly gym-going dudes, think again; women may actually benefit from protein powder even more than men do, as many women fall short with daily protein intake in their diets.

The average woman needs around 50 grams of protein each day, with that amount increasing to upwards of 75 grams per day for those who are very active, trying to lose weight (to prevent muscle loss) or who are pregnant.

To give you an idea of whether you’re meeting that, here’s the protein content of some food-based sources:

  • 3 ounces chicken: 28 grams
  • 3 ounces steak: 26 grams
  • 1 egg: 6 grams
  • 3 ounces salmon or tuna:
    22 grams
  • 1/2 cup beans: 7 to 11 grams
  • 1/2 cup quinoa: 4 grams
  • 1/2 cup peas: 4 grams
  • 1/2 cup spinach: 3 grams
  • 1 ounce nuts or seeds:
    4 to 9 grams
  • 6 ounces Greek yogurt:
    18 grams
  • 1 ounce part-skim cheese:
    7 ounces

Most people don’t need protein powder, but if you’re consistently falling short on your protein intake, are active or exercise a lot, or need an on-the-go protein option, protein powder can be great to keep on hand.

Types of Protein Powder

Whey Protein Powder

Whey, which comes from cow’s milk, is one of the best for daily use. It contains all of the essential amino acids and is easily digested and used by our bodies. Even those who are lactose intolerant can usually digest a whey protein isolate powder without any problems.

Whey protein concentrate is about 30%-80% protein content, while whey protein isolate is further processed to remove all fat and carbohydrates. Whey protein hydrolysate is processed even more, making it easier to digest and less prone to provoke allergies. (WPH is also what you’ll find in infant formula.)

You’ve probably seen muscly dudes at the gym or the health-food store stocking up on whey protein. Whey has been shown to be more effective than other protein powders in stimulating muscle protein synthesis, which means it helps form lean muscle and revs up your metabolism.

Meanwhile, studies have also shown that it can help reduce body fat. Look for a whey protein powder with at least 50% protein.

Casein Protein Powder

Casein is another protein that comes from cow’s milk, and, like whey, it contains all of the essential amino acids that your body needs. Casein is digested more slowly, which means it can be used throughout the day and can keep you feeling full and satisfied.

With casein, the amino acids stay intact and don’t break down as much, keeping you full and energized for longer. While whey is ideal for right before or after a workout, you’ll still need to consume some protein an hour so after taking it. Casein is ideal when you know you won’t eat for a while.

You can also combine casein and whey protein powders (or keep both on hand) to complement each other. Egg albumin is another slow-release protein that can be taken throughout the day but it’s not as commonly used as casein or whey.

Plant-Based Protein Powder

Soy, rice, pea, and hemp-based protein powders are also becoming more popular, as not everyone wants or needs a milk-derived protein powder.

Brown rice protein is a good choice for vegans or those who can’t tolerate dairy products. It helps with digestion and contains most of the benefits that whey has to offer, and it’s 100% plant-based and gluten free.

Soy protein is another common choice for plant-based protein. It’s digested quickly and efficiently by the body, and contains all the essential amino acids, unlike other plant sources.

Hemp protein is 100% plant-based and in addition to being a good source of protein it’s also rich in omega-3 fatty acids.

Often these will include sprouted ingredients and whole foods like quinoa, millet, spirulina and chia. (If you’re gluten free, make sure to check what grains are used.) PopSugar has a roundup of plant-based protein powders.

How to Choose Protein Powder

Once you’ve selected the protein base that’s best for you, it’s important to give the ingredient list a thorough read. Many protein powders are packed with sugar to make them more flavorful, but these tend to pack a heck of a calorific punch and often negates the purpose of reaching for a healthy protein powder in the first place.

If sugar or another sweetener is one of the first ingredients, move on to another brand. Also keep an eye open for bulking ingredients and fillers such as apple fiber, maltodextrin, or cellulose, which just get in the way of what you really want: protein.  

Editor’s note: This article initially appeared in the Hello Glow! Blog.