Protein powder - the holy grail of supplements! They claim to do it all - help you build muscle, lose bodyweight, help your muscles recover. This is what makes it a must-have supplement among avid gym-goers.
Obviously, natural protein sources are the best, but there are days when it's just too hard to hit your daily protein goal. This is when having a protein powder in hand can help! Although supplementing with protein powder is a healthy way to help the muscles recover from intense workouts in order for them to get bigger, some proteins out there might be doing more harm than good.
So if you want your protein powder to stop holding you back from reaching your goals, then continue reading to learn about what to look for and what to avoid!
What you should look for when buying protein powder
Finding the right protein powder for you can be hard. Especially with all the options to choose from! There are so many different types of protein there is whey protein, casein protein, hemp protein, rice protein, soy protein. Choose the type of protein powder based on your lifestyle and fitness goals (how to find the right type of protein powder for you).
Once you know which type is best for you then here are a few other things to look for when buying protein powder...
Your protein powder should be mostly protein
Sounds kinda basic, huh? Well, you would be surprised by how many protein powders are less than 75% protein. That means that they have 3 scoops of actual protein and one scoop of chemicals, fillers, carbs, and fats.
So if the protein doesn’t have at least 22g of protein per 30g scoop, then don't buy it. You can figure this out by looking at the nutrition label (and if it doesn’t even have a label, do yourself a favor and just walk away).
Amino acid profile
There are two types of amino acids you should look for in your protein powder: BCAA and EAA. BCAA stands for branched-chain amino acids, EAA stands for essential amino acids. They are both important because of the benefits they have. They provide sustainable energy, help minimize muscle breakdown, can help with muscle protein synthesis, and more.
Protein is made of a combination of 20 amino acids, so you want to make sure you're buying a complete protein powder to make sure you are getting all the benefits!
Here are the 20 to look for:
- Alanine (non-essential)
- Arginine (non-essential)
- Asparagine (non-essential)
- Aspartic Acid (non-essential)
- Cystine (non-essential)
- Glutamic acid (non-essential)
- Glutamine (non-essential)
- Glycine (non-essential)
- Histidine (essential)
- Isoleucine (essential)
- Leucine (essential)
- Lysine (essential)
- Methionine (essential)
- Phenylalanine (essential)
- Proline (non-essential)
- Serine (non-essential)
- Threonine (essential)
- Tryptophan (essential)
- Tyrosine (non-essential)
- Valine (essential)
All these 20 amino acids are needed in order for it to be considered complete protein, so make sure the one you choose has all of them!
The way a protein powder tastes is important! No it won't affect your muscle mass or weight, but you don't want to invest in a big tub of a flavor that you hate. Most companies usually advertise that their protein powder flavors are the best, but don't fall for it! If they have samples, buy some or request them at your local GNC or supplement store.
Here's a little extra tip: Whey protein isolate has a creamier texture and contains 90% protein because of the filtering process it goes through. The filtering process also removes most of the fat and lactate. On the other hand, whey protein concentrate has around 70-80% of protein but has more lactate and fat. Whey protein concentrate is what most people choose for because of the flavor and price. Isolate is better for those who need a higher amount of protein.
Things to avoid
Now that you know what to look for, it's time to learn about what to avoid...
More ingredients = More reason to stay away
When it comes to ingredients, more is NOT better. This is why you should be careful with any protein that has too many ingredients..
Vegan protein powders seem to be the main problem here. If you're vegan, pay extra attention to soy and pea proteins. Those two usually contain a dozen other ingredients just to give it a taste and texture that is similar to regular protein. An ingredient you should avoid and is commonly found in dairy-free protein powders is carrageenan. It's extracted from seaweed and added into vegan proteins to make them creamy. But having too much of it can cause inflammation and other issues, so avoid it if you can.
These other ingredients are that “extra scoop” of non-protein that weigh you down and keep you from getting fit.
Avoid Aspartame (or any added sugars)
Artificial sweeteners or any added sugars is definitely something you need to avoid! Added sugars can cause bloating and discomfort, no one wants that!
Look out for sugars ending in "ol" or "ose", also for dextrin and maltodextrin. Most important of all, avoid aspartame!!! Hundreds of scientists are starting to warn us about using aspartame whenever we have low levels of blood glucose (AKA after burning lots of calories or fasting). They are saying that in these situations aspartame can harm your brain or even provoke Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s diseases, but more rigorous research is necessary to confirm these findings. 
The bottom line is to read the labels of your protein powders! It's hard finding a high-quality protein powder, but just take a little time to look out for these things. You don't want to invest in a $40-60 protein powder that is going to end up holding you back from reaching your fitness goals!
Remember, always try to get your source of protein from whole foods first! Only use protein powders as a supplement to help you hit your protein intake for the day.