Choosing the right protein powder is way-hay-haaay more involved than just deciding whether you prefer chocolate or vanilla. There’s whey, soy, flax, hemp and even more varieties on the market, and even if you’re super smart about reading and comparing labels, it can be tough to know what’s best for your body and your goals.
So, we went to a pro for some answers. Shannan Monson of Nutrition Simply (omg, check out her gorgeous Instagram feed!) is a nationally recognized registered dietitian nutritionist, certified personal trainer and total expert when it comes to protein powder. Here’s what she had to say!
Choosing the Right Protein Powder
FBE: What are some reasons why someone might choose one type of protein powder over another?
Shannon Monson: As a general rule, I recommend whey* protein for most people because it’s so easy to digest and absorb, and is the most bioavailable, meaning you get the most amino acid bang for your buck, so to speak. But, everyone’s body is different, and some people don’t digest whey well. If you have food sensitivities, you’re probably better off with a plant-based protein option, which is typically more gentle on your gut.
I tend to avoid soy products — there’s enough high quality research that suggest soy can disrupt estrogen balance and sex hormones, so, my opinion is, it’s best to steer clear. Flax is an awesome power-packed superfood, but because of the high fiber content, can cause a little too much digestive stress for some people, especially if you have food sensitivities.
*Editor’s note: While some whey protein may not contain much lactose at all (although whey is derived from milk), it is not considered vegan or Paleo.
Are any particular types of protein powder better for specific goals, like weight loss, fueling intense workouts or post-workout recovery?
Whey is the most bioavailable — so if you’re training for something that requires a lot of muscle recovery and a high amino acid load (like a fitness competition) then there’s no doubt in my mind whey is the best way to go.
If you’re a recreational athlete like most of us are, training for marathons, triathlons, or to not feel like death during your 6 p.m. Soul Cycle class, then pretty much any protein powder will be perfect for your goals. The trick is to time your protein intake around your workout for maximum recovery — I recommend within an hour pre- or post-workout.
Are any particular types of protein powder better for certain types of workouts?
If you want to get really specific about your protein intake, it’s best to choose a high-quality protein powder (no artificial sweeteners, GMOs, etc.) and then add to that specific amino acids. I recommend glutamine for both endurance and strength athletes, with dosing specific to your goals, and adding a complex carbohydrate as well (such as a superfood grain blend) for periodized endurance training.
Do you have a favorite type of protein powder? What is it and why do you love it? I’ve been using a plant-based protein powder (this one, in fact) in my smoothies lately and really liking it, but I often go with whey since it tends to be a little more affordable. —Kristen