Protein is one of the three primary macronutrients, alongside carbohydrates and fat. We need protein to stay alive, simply put, but it's also essential for muscle building and recovery after exercise.
Aside from its benefits to workouts, protein is also necessary for a number of bodily functions, It can help your cells to rebuild and promote a feeling of fullness.
In recent years, working out, especially muscle-building exercise, has soared in popularity. And with more exercise, many people are looking for simple ways to add more protein to their diets to help them to add bulk to their muscles and recover more quickly after workouts.
It's advised to get your protein from as many food sources as you can, with lean meats, poultry, eggs and dairy, beans, nuts and legumes all being fantastic protein sources. You should aim to eat protein in all your meals throughout the day, beginning with breakfast and ending with a protein-rich supper.
Many people find, however, that they can't get the level of protein their looking for from their diet alone. It's because of this that protein powders - powdered forms of protein that can be mixed into sweet and savory dishes - have become so popular.
Which Type of Protein Is Best?
There are many different types of protein powder out there, each with their own benefits, and some are certainly better than others. It totally depends on what you're looking for, but in any case, the more natural a protein powder, the better, so it's wise to avoid powders with artificial flavorings, added sugars and sweeteners where you can.
Protein powders come from a number of different sources, including plant-based protein sources and animal sources. Some powders have added benefits as they're fortified with vitamins and minerals, like B12 and calcium.
No matter why you're considering adding protein powder to your diet - whether because you want to promote faster muscle gain and fat loss, or you're just looking for a healthy post-workout pick-me-up, this guide will teach you everything you need to know about the best natural quality protein powder options you have.
1. Whey Protein
As the traditional and most popular animal protein powder, whey protein comes from milk. It is packed full of protein, but it's also a source of lactose, which many people are unable to properly digest. It's common to experience bloating and gas after consuming whey protein for this reason.
You can usually get around 12 to 25 grams of protein per serving with whey, depending on the product and the scoop size. Whey contains amino acids known as BCAAs, including leucine, which has been found in studies to promote muscle recovery and growth. Amino acids play a role in protein synthesis, promoting the growth of new muscle.
In studies, whey has proven effective in building and maintaining athletes' muscles and supporting recovery after heavy exercise. This whey protein isolate has also been found to decrease body fat mass and increase muscle mass. Whey may even reduce appetite, so you're less likely to snack on the bad stuff between meals.
Organic whey protein isolate might not only be good for building muscle. Emerging research even suggests that it may reduce inflammation, helping to boost heart health in people who are overweight and obese.
If you're on a plant-based diet, whey protein powders aren't an option for you, but there are plenty of alternatives mentioned in this guide.
2. Pea Protein
Pea protein powder is an increasingly popular plant-based protein option that's ideal for vegans, vegetarians, or people who can't tolerate animal-based protein powder. Pea vegan protein powders are typically made from split peas or yellow pea - legumes that are high in fiber and are a fantastic source of all but one of the 9 amino acids.
Typically, you can get around 25 grams of protein per serving in a high-quality organic protein made from split peas. Like whey protein, pea protein is a rich source of BCAAs. One study found that this plant-based protein's ability to trigger fullness hormones was just as effective as dairy proteins like whey and casein, thanks to its high grams of fiber.
It's a myth that plant-based protein powders won't help you build muscle! Pea protein has been found to increase muscle thickness at the same rate that whey protein can, and pea protein supplements can even decrease elevated blood pressure levels, though we're not exactly sure why this is.
3. Casein Protein
Another "traditional" animal protein, casein protein is found in milk. It's a little different from whey, though, as it is digested and absorbed at a slower rate. You can usually get around 20 grams of protein per single serving in whey powder.
Casein protein produces a gel-like substance when it comes into contact with stomach acid. This delays emptying of the stomach and results in slower absorption of amino acids in the bloodstream. As a result, your muscles are exposed to amino acids at a slower, steadier rate, which prevents high levels of muscle breakdown after exercise.
It's thought that casein is more effective for strength-building when compared to wheat and soy protein, two vegan protein powders, but it's not quite as effective as whey protein. Still, one study found that on a calorie-restricted diet, casein may actually be best at improving body composition in certain types of resistance training.
4. Hemp Protein
Hemp protein powder, like pea protein, is also gaining popularity as a plant-based protein option. Many people confuse hemp with marijuana, but hemp isn't psychoactive, because it contains no THC - so it's completely safe and legal to take.
Packed full of omega-3 fatty acids and a number of essential amino acids, organic hemp protein is a great option for people looking to add an extra protein boost to their diets. Keep in mind, though, that this plant protein isn't considered a complete protein because it contains only a very small amount of two amino acids, lysine and leucine.
So far, there isn't much research on the benefits of hemp protein, but what we know to this date is all very promising. It's an easily digestible plant-based protein that may prove helpful in supporting muscle growth.
5. Egg Protein
You've probably heard of bodybuilding enthusiasts adding raw eggs to their protein shakes - but that's not quite what we're talking about when we refer to "egg protein". Egg protein powder isn't actually made from the whole egg; instead, it's usually made from egg whites. With the high-fat egg yolks removed, you'll still benefit from an incredibly high protein content, but you're likely to experience less fullness.
Eggs have an incredibly high protein digestibility score, meaning they have good quality protein that's easy to digest. They're a complete protein source, too, meaning that they offer all nine essential amino acids that your body is unable to produce itself. A single serving contains around 15 to 35 grams of protein.
After whey protein powder, egg protein is the second-highest source of the BCAA known as leucine, which is essential for strong, healthy muscles. It has been found to reduce appetite more effectively than pea protein and casein when consumed before meals. If you have a dairy allergy, you'll be find to consume eff protein in place of whey and casein.
6. Brown Rice Protein
The final natural plant-based protein powder that's worth a mention is brown rice protein. This plant protein powder is made from brown rice, and, though it contains all 9 essential amino acids, it isn't considered as effective for muscle-building as whey or casein as its lysine levels are relatively low.
We don't know too much about the science behind rice protein powder thus far, but evidence so far shows that this type of vegan protein powder can help to boost muscle strength and recovery in a similar way to whey.
7. Mixed Plant Proteins
When looking at plant-based protein powder sources, it's common to find a combination of several protein powders, including a blend of pea, brown rice, and hemp. These powders may also contain traces of other health foods, including flax and chia seeds and quinoa.
The reasoning behind blending vegan protein powder is that they can group together to provide your body with all the essential amino acids it needs. These types of proteins tend to be higher in fiber, which makes them slower to digest. This may affect the time it takes for amino acids to be absorbed in the blood, which is why it's recommended to take mixed plant proteins with plenty of time to spare before exercise.
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When you're presented with so many types of protein powder, you might be wondering which is best. They're all good sources of protein, right - so how are you supposed to know which is right for you?
Here are a few things to consider when deciding on the type of natural protein-rich powder to use.
- If you're predominantly looking to gain muscle, whey protein is one of the best protein powders available for the job. Look for whey isolate, which will give you the highest protein intake per scoop or serving.
- If you're after protein to support fat loss, casein or whey may be the best combination for you, because of their ability to promote fullness and prevent snacking or over-consumption during mealtimes.
- If you can't digest animal proteins or you follow a vegetarian or vegan diet, look instead at using one of the plant-based protein options on this list. They still contain a high amount of protein per serving/per scoop, though this amount per serving will depend on the type of protein and even vary on a product-per-product basis. You may prefer an organic protein blend that combines multiple types of plant-based proteins for the best health effects.
While most of us get enough protein from a healthy, balanced diet, you may be interested in adding more of this essential macronutrient to your diet, especially if you're following a rigorous workout schedule or you're trying to gain muscle. Whether you're a wannabe bodybuilder or you just want to support your muscles post-workout, a protein supplement will help you to achieve your health and fitness goals.
Choosing the right protein powder is rarely straightforward, especially as there's so much choice on the market. Hopefully, this guide has helped you to understand which organic protein powders are currently the best available - but your search doesn't end there.
It's wise to opt for a protein powder that's as natural as possible, and make sure the powder contains no artificial sweeteners, added sugar or flavorings. Opt for a powder that's non-GMO, too, and don't worry about finding the best-tasting powder.
You can always add natural, unflavored protein powder to your sweet and savory dishes, using fruits to add sweetness and seasonings, spices and sauces in savory protein dishes. All of the protein powders mentioned in this guide can be found in organic, natural, unflavored form, helping you to make the healthiest decision whether you're looking for the best vegan protein or something a little more traditional.