Want to get more protein into your diet? You’re certainly not alone. In fact, more than half of Americans have that goal, according to a report from research firm the NPD Group. If you fall into that category, one of the easiest ways to get more of this macronutrient (which helps keep you full longer, promotes muscle growth and nutrient metabolism, and boosts immunity) is by incorporating some protein powder into your diet; you can sprinkle it into foods like smoothies, yogurt, and oatmeal. But with so many options on store shelves, finding the right fit for you can get confusing quickly.
“Just as nutritional needs are individualized, so are protein needs,” says Brian Tanzer, a staff nutritionist for the Vitamin Shoppe. “Many factors can go into how much protein you need and what type to choose, including your diet and your current health and fitness goals.” Keep reading for tips on how to pick the right protein powder for you, based on your lifestyle and goals. One piece of advice no matter your preferences: Look for single-serve packets to try a few options before you buy a full tub.
1. IF YOU'RE TRYING TO BUILD MUSCLE: WHEY PROTEIN
This popular type of powder is made of whey, which is found in milk and is a byproduct of the cheese-making process. Why is milk such a good source of protein? “Whey protein has a higher amount of BCCAs, branched-chain amino acids, which help promote muscle growth and recovery,” says Tanzer. It’s quickly digested, making it a perfect choice for your post-workout smoothie.
2. IF YOU'RE A VEGAN OR TRYING TO LOSE WEIGHT: PLANT-BASED PROTEIN
Protein powders derived from plants are usually higher in fiber than whey protein, says Tanzer, so they can help control your appetite. They’re also a good choice if you’re seeking a vegan or non-milk-based protein source.
3. IF YOU'RE CONCERNED ABOUT YOUR HEART: SOY PROTEIN
A common plant-based protein, soy contains isoflavones, which may help support heart health and help regulate high cholesterol and blood pressure, says Tanzer. (However, isoflavones mimic the hormone estrogen in the body, which is a reason some prefer to steer clear of this type of protein.)
4. IF YOU'RE AVOIDING SOY: HEMP PROTEIN
“Derived from hemp seed, this protein powder offers a complete profile of amino acids and contains fiber and essential fatty acids omega 3 and 6,” says Tanzer. Bonus: It boasts a slightly nutty flavor, which can make it a tasty addition to your smoothie or cereal.
5. IF YOU'RE GLUTEN FREE: RICE PROTEIN
Have food allergies or a sensitive digestive tract? This vegetarian protein powder could be for you. It’s easy to digest and typically has a mild flavor. But if you’re looking to build muscle, it’s not your best bet; it takes longer to absorb than other proteins, like whey.
6. IF YOU'RE LACTOSE INTOLERANT: EGG PROTEIN
This type of protein is easy to digest and absorb, and is a good option if you can’t tolerate milk-derived whey and casein (another type of protein), notes Tanzer. Plus, he says, “It’s easy on the digestive system and provides all the essential amino acids required by the body.”