We’ve read enough about protein powders to know they’re no longer the reserve of professional weightlifters – whether you’re looking to tone up, boost performance or improve recovery, they’re something we can all get on board with. But where do you start when it comes to choosing one? From whey to casein – and plant-based powders that boost your digestion – we’ve found the best modern protein powders out there…
BEST FOR ALL-ROUND HEALTH
For a protein powder that packs a real health punch, we rate Macacha’s hot-off-the-press Peace powder, which offers an impressive 17g of protein per 30g serving as well as a hefty dose of stress-busting holy basil, energy-boosting maca and flu-fighting baobab. At the same time, if you like to start your day with a smoothie, upgrade your usual blend with Purition, a game-changing blend packed with fibre and healthy fats to keep you fuller for longer.
TOP TIP: Add a scoop of these supercharged blends to overnight oats and porridge to keep immune system and energy levels ticking throughout the day. It’s also worth noting the majority of protein brands also offer their powders in individual sachet servings, making them ideal for travelling.
BEST FOR TONING UP: Casein
Another dairy by-product, casein’s fat-blasting reputation has made it a favourite within the body-building crowd. If you’re on a mission to get lean, it could be worth seeking out casein, which is digested more slowly than whey and also stops muscle from breaking down, enabling you to lose weight without losing muscle. Another pro of casein is its high content of glutamine, which can help boost the immune system and speed up recovery. However, as a source of dairy, it may not agree with the lactose intolerant, and its slow absorption rates mean it’s best avoided by those who like a smoothie immediately post-workout.
TOP TIP: Take in the evening for best results – a recent study found taking 40g of casein pre-slumber improved protein repair rates by 22%, essentially speeding up your gym progress by around a fifth.
BEST FOR VEGANS: Hemp, Pea & Rice
Even if you’re not a vegan, there are advantages to choosing vegan protein powders. For starters, plant-based proteins are easier to digest, making them ideal for those who suffer from bloating. Look to hemp, pea and rice varieties but ideally blends that feature a combination of at least two sources – vegan protein can be deficient in certain amino acids so combining two, say hemp and pea, is a sure-fire route to a well-rounded blend. And it’s no wonder gym types are clamouring to get their hands on pea-based protein powders – it’s naturally rich in arginine, 6-12g of which a day has been shown to significantly boost fitness performance.
TOP TIP: Those who struggle with IBS or post-workout tummy issues should seek out rice protein as its zero fibre content (compared with hemp’s 8g per 30g scoop) makes it easier on the gut. IBS sufferers may also want to avoid vegan protein powders containing chicory root and inulin as they have been found to worsen symptoms in some people.
BEST FOR STRENGTH TRAINING: Whey
The most commonly used form of protein, whey is a complete protein and contains all nine essential amino acids, which our body can’t make on its own. While it’s relatively cheap in comparison to other types of protein, be sure to read the label as many high street formulas are packed with whey protein concentrate, which is less pure, as well as sweeteners and bulking agents. It may sound obvious, but more natural flavoured powders are a better bet – chocolate chip cookie protein is never going to be the best option if you’re looking to avoid additives.
TOP TIP: If you struggle with dairy but still want to reap the benefits of whey, try whey isolate, which has had the milk sugar removed, making it virtually lactose free. In fact, many PTs rate whey isolate’s ability to reach muscles faster than whey itself.
Still not sure whether a protein powder’s right for you? Here are four reasons why it could be worth incorporating one into your regime...
Even yogis need it: Whether you do yoga or cardio, your muscle tissues tear during exercise, and require protein in order to repair and rebuild themselves.
It’s ideal for active lifestyles: If you constantly hit more than 10,000 steps a day, or work out more than three times a week, aim for 1.5g of protein per kg of body weight, even on rest days.
Protein is beauty-boosting: If your hair is thinning or you’re suffering from peeling skin and nails, a lack of protein could be to blame.
It helps beat cravings: Constant food cravings and the need to snack between meals could be the consequence of a high-carb, low-protein diet. Remember protein evens out blood sugar highs and lows.