Skip to main content

The question

What's the best protein powder? There are so many different types.

The answer

Whether you use a protein powder made from whey, casein, soy, brown rice or hemp comes down to personal preference. Taste, digestibility and dietary preference are factors when deciding which one is right for you. Not everyone needs to supplement his or her diet with protein powder. Most people, even athletes, can get all the protein they need from diet alone.

That said, there are some circumstances in which protein powders can be useful. If you're beginning a workout program to build muscle, you'll need more protein in the early stages. The same is true if you're ramping up your exercise program or recovering from a sports injury.

Protein powders also can be helpful for people who adopt a vegan diet. I also advise my clients to add 1/2 to 1 scoop of a protein powder to smoothies made with almond or rice milk. That's because plant-based beverages, with the exception of soy, are very low in protein. Protein powders typically deliver 15 to 30 grams per 30 gram serving. Many people blend protein powder into smoothies and shakes, but you can also add it to oatmeal, muffin, and pancake batters, and mix it into yogurt. Whichever protein powder you choose, look for one without artificial sweeteners and flavours.

Whey protein: This protein is removed from milk during the cheese-making process.Whey protein is a complete protein, meaning it contains all nine essential amino acids – protein building blocks the body can't make on its own. Whey protein is higher in essential amino acids than other protein sources. Whey protein isolate is the most concentrated form of whey protein containing at least 90-per-cent protein. It has little fat, no lactose and is quickly digested so it's not filling. In some people , however, it can cause bloating and an upset stomach.

Casein protein: Also derived from dairy, this is nearly pure protein (92 per cent) and is thought to be more effective at building muscle than whey protein. It's digested more slowly, so it's not the best choice before a workout. Casein protein is often recommended to body builders before bed to help prevent muscle breakdown during sleep. Its thick taste doesn't appeal to everyone.

Soy protein: Made from defatted soy flour, soy protein powder is an alternative for vegetarians. Products typically contain soy protein isolate a highly purified form of soy that has the carbohydrate removed leaving 90-per-cent protein. Like whey, soy protein also contains all essential amino acids.

Brown rice protein: Gluten- and lactose-free, this protein powder contains B vitamins, iron and a little calcium. It's not a complete protein, but as long as you eat a variety of proteinduring the day, you'll get all the amino acids you need. It's suitable for vegans, and it's hypoallergenic.

Hemp protein: Easily digested, this complete protein is good pre-workout. An alternative for vegans, hemp protein is a good source of fibre, B vitamins and iron, and is gluten-and lactose-free. It's also a good source of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids. One serving provides 25 to 50 per cent of a day's ALA (alpha linolenic acid), an omega-3 fat linked with protection from heart disease and Type 2 diabetes.

Yellow pea protein: Like brown rice and hemp protein, Yellow pea protein contains no gluten or lactose. Unlike whey, casein and soy, it's not a complete protein. It's typically added to blended vegan protein powders.

Leslie Beck, a registered dietitian, is the national director of nutrition at BodyScience Medical. She can be seen every Thursday at noon on CTV News Channel's Direct ( ).

Click here to submit your questions. Our Health Experts will answer select questions, which could appear in The Globe and Mail and/or on The Globe and Mail web site. Your name will not be published if your question is chosen.

The content provided in The Globe and Mail's Ask a Health Expert centre is for information purposes only and is neither intended to be relied upon nor to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.