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Your Essential Guide to Shopping for Protein Powder

Vegan proteins surrounded by fruits, vegetables, and smoothies.
Nutiva/Sunwarrior/Orgain

There are many reasons why people decide to supplement their diet with a protein powder. Yet, finding the right one is often challenging, given the wide variety of options on the market. However, having a clear goal in mind can make the task a bit easier.

Some people take protein powder to help with muscle growth, while others use it to compensate for a lack of protein in their diet. Whatever your reason, it’s important to understand what’s best for you, as not all protein powders are the same. In fact, choosing the wrong one could be counterproductive.

To help with the decision-making process, we’ve compiled all the essential information you need to know into a quick beginner’s guide to protein powders, along with some recommendations.

How to Choose the Right Protein Powder for You

A cup of protein powder next to a measuring tape.
9dream studio/Shutterstock.com

Before you begin your search for the best protein product for you, there are a few things you should keep in mind:

  • Daily intake is different for men and women: Men generally need more protein than women. However, it also depends on your lifestyle, so you can adjust it accordingly if you’re lifting or on a diet.
  • Protein shakes aren’t a substitute for meals: Sure, you can add fruits and leafy greens to make them more filling, but they’ll still lack the substance and nutrition that whole meals give you.
  • It’s possible to ingest too much protein: In the long run, this can have adverse side effects and even cause kidney or liver problems. That’s why it’s always best to stick to the recommended daily intake.

Once you understand those fundamentals, you can look at the protein powders available on the market. Given the ample choices, here are a few tips to consider while doing your research:

  • Choose a complete protein with all essential amino acids: This will ensure that you’re getting all the nutrients your body needs to work in the most efficient way possible.
  • Stick to low-sugar options: This will help you avoid consuming too much sugar each day. It’ll also prevent weight gain and help you keep glucose levels stable, so you won’t experience cravings or fatigue.
  • Opt for easily digestible proteins whenever possible: These include dairy-free options, for those with an intolerance, and proteins with all nine amino acids the body can’t produce on its own. This makes a protein powder easier to absorb and won’t make you feel uncomfortable before or after a workout.
  • Always stick to the recommended serving size: Regardless of your goal, consuming copious amounts of protein every day can backfire because your body will store any excess it can’t digest as fat.

As with anything you’re trying for the first time, it’s always best to start with a small quantity and see how your body reacts before investing in a larger size.

Identify Your Goals and Needs

Two chocolate protein shakes next to a bowl of protein powder.
Brent Hofacker/Shutterstock.com

Buying a protein powder isn’t as straightforward as buying some vitamin C at the local pharmacy. Sure, you might need to up your intake, but simply going with the cheapest option or one in your favorite flavor might not benefit you as much as you’d like.

First, you need to know why you want to add protein to your diet, and then you can look for a one that suits your goals.

Muscle Growth

Chocolate and banana protein shakes.
Dymatize

If you want to give your body the nourishment it needs to support your workouts and increase muscle mass, isolates are a great place to start. They’re perfect for toning and building muscle and can also help with recovery.

Isolate protein powders, like Dymatize, can be taken either before or after a workout, as the body digests them with ease and quite fast.

Dymatize ISO100 Hydrolyzed Protein Powder

Made of 100% isolate protein and comes in a variety of flavors.

Casein protein takes longer to digest. It makes you feel full and, as such, shouldn’t be taken right before a workout. It’s the go-to option for bodybuilders and athletes who want to bulk up or maintain their muscle mass. So, if you’re after some mad gains, Casein protein powder is for you.

Weight Loss

A woman drinking a protein shake.
Sunwarrior

When you’re trying to shed some pounds, avoiding sugar is key. If you read the labels, you’ll find that many protein powders contain a lot of added sugar to boost the flavor. While that might be very tempting, it’s best to go with a sugar-free option, like this one from Orgain. You can always mix it into a shake with fruit or sweeten it with some stevia as an alternative.

If you’re on a “cutting diet,” that is, maximizing fat loss, while maintaining your current muscle mass (or even growing it), make sure your protein powder contains Branch Chain Amino Acids (BCAAs). These are essential for curbing cravings, supporting muscle growth, and aiding recovery. Most animal-based protein powders, like milk and egg, have BCAAs.

We like this option from Sunwarrior because it’s both keto- and vegan-friendly.

A Dietary Boost

Nutiva protein powder next to a pitcher of milk and a bowl of blueberries.
Nutiva

Vegetarians and vegans looking to up their protein intake have plenty of options. Soy protein is the most popular, especially among women who want a higher calcium content to support bone health. Brown rice protein is ideal for those who are gluten-free.

We like Nutiva, as hemp protein is an excellent source of omega-3 fatty acids, and pea protein is easily digestible and hypoallergenic. No matter what your dietary restrictions are, you’ve got options.

Some Final Considerations

While supplementing your diet with protein powder is beneficial in more than one way, it’s always worth keeping in mind that certain health conditions can restrict your choice. For example, people with diabetes should opt for low-sugar or sugar-free powders.

People with gastrointestinal problems should choose powders without lactose or artificial sweeteners. Those with kidney disease should stick to 10-15 grams of protein per serving to avoid overloading their kidneys.

Of course, before introducing anything new into your diet, it’s always best to consult your physician and make sure you’re making the right choice.


Choosing the right protein powder for your body, lifestyle, and goals can be a bit overwhelming at first. However, these tips should help you navigate the vast sea of options out there so you can find the perfect option for you.

Carla Cometto Carla Cometto
Carla has been writing professionally for five years and blogging for many more. She's worked as a journalist, photographer, and translator. She's also an avid traveler who hopes to inspire a sense of curiosity and adventure in others through her writing. Read Full Bio »

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