by Christian Cruz
A friend sent me this question recently:
I don’t know that I understand what to look for when buying a protein powder. I’m afraid of getting the kind that will make me gain weight or that are filled with all kinds of “fake” ingredients???? The same for the green powders, suggestions on what to look for?
First of all great question! This is a question we need to ask every time we purchase foods or supplements that are processed. How do you choose? The following are my tips for choosing:
1) First know why you are looking to supplement with this. Are you deficient in something or do you have trouble digesting foods? Are you vegan or have a limited diet because of allergies? Do you have some other health condition? Do you just want something convenient? Are you trying to build muscle, lose weight or just replenish after a workout?
2) Whenever you put something in your mouth, try to find an organic version/source. If is it not certified organic, then it most likely has toxins, GMO’s, pesticides, herbicides, etc that will poison your body and make it difficult to lose weight and prevent disease. (Your fat may actually be saving your life, more on this later)
3) If at all possible get your nutrients from food. If you can eat meat, fish, chicken, eggs, nuts, sprouts, green veggies, legumes, dairy etc, you are better off consuming the food. If for some reason you can not or will not and need protein, there are many supplement sources: whey, egg, pea, rice, hemp, casein, soy, artichoke, or some combination of these and perhaps others. If you want to avoid one of these sources, then you know not to use a supplement that has it listed as an ingredient.
4) If you have no preference, whey is known in the fitness and nutrition profession as the gold standard of protein supplement post workout because the body absorbs it best to repair and grow muscle immediately post workout. Casein is used before bedtime to promote muscle growth because it is slower releasing. Whey and Casein are the two proteins that make up milk and anything that comes from milk unless it specifically says it is free of it or if is an ingredient in of itself. As with any dairy (milk) products, opt for 100% grass-fed and organic is possible. The next best is grass-fed and next is organic. You can also just drink whole unpasteurized or low-heat pasteurized, unhomogenized milk from grass-fed cows instead of searching for a powder and studies show that it is a great muscle recovery drink.
5) If you are not favoring dairy then eggs may be a good choice for you as a whole egg is a highly nutritious complete protein and has good essential fats. Opt for eggs that come from pastured hens and are not fed rancid sources of omega 3’s and 6’s. (if they advertise that they are vegetarian, they are probably not the best, chickens are not supposed to be vegetarian). You can just eat and egg or toss it raw into your smoothie and blend if it is high quality or you can get an egg protein powder.
6) If you are vegan or are allergic to dairy and eggs then soy is probably the next best source of protein. A word of caution, however, soy is a highly controversial topic in the health profession especially since most sources of soy are genetically modified and most soy is not digested well by humans. If you do like soy opt for organic only and make sure it is fermented or sprouted to ease digestion.
7) Want a less controversial protein source? Check out hemp, rice, pea, artichoke or some combination of these. All are gluten-free too but rice is a grain so paleo diet eaters may not want this. Either way, again if you choose any of these go for an organic version. The taste of these and your body’s absorption/digestion is something that you may have to experiment with these types of protein.
8) Once you know what source of protein you want, then you have to look at other ingredients. Avoid if possible any fake sugars or any sugars at all. If it must have a sweetener opt for stevia.
9) Try to avoid flavorings. It is better to add some raw cacao or vanilla bean to your smoothie or other food that to have it already included in your powder. Flavors mean chemicals which is not healthy and fit.
10) The rest is usually vitamins, minerals, perhaps fats, carbs and junk. The less of these the better. Wait you thought vitamins and minerals were good? They are but they are better consumed from whole food sources than powders and pills. So, if your protein powder has spinach as an ingredient that would be better than iron, calcium, vitamin K, chlorophyll, etc listed as separate ingredients. Better yet, get a protein powder with less ingredients and throw in some spinach in the blender, you probably won’t even taste it!
11) In terms of green powders, look for those that list whole foods preferably as ingredients rather than extracted vitamins and minerals.
12) Personally, I don’t do powders anymore but rather eat some chicken with a salad, a veggie omelet, an apple with almond butter, artichoke with olive oil and lemon juice, or hummus and carrots as my post workout, refuel and repair my muscles fuel.
Hope this helps to clarify, let me know your thoughts and any input you may have is welcome. Be healthy and fit!