Protein Supplements – How to Find One that Works for You

Thanks to everyone who read my last post! It sparked up some conversations and some questions. One thing a lot of clients and friends ask is “what do you recommend for a protein powder?”  When asked this I like to take a step back and ask “what are you using a protein supplement for?” The average person really does not need to add a protein shake to their day to day diet. If you are vegetarian, vegan, or just don’t like a lot of high protein foods, a protein shake might help you meet your protein needs better.  Additionally, extremely active people or endurance athletes, who have higher protein needs, can also benefit. But, in general, most people can get adequate protein from whole foods. The majority of people asking me about protein powders do not fall into the the groups of individuals mentioned. Most people are just looking for a quick meal or snack replacements. I, myself, even like having an option for a quick breakfast that has adequate protein, such as a smoothie. Out of my own curiosity, and in order to make a good recommendations, I set out to research and sample protein powders. My results were disappointing and lead me back to my gut feeling, that we should just stick with whole foods. Like usual though, I like to provide the information for you and let you decided what you’d like to choose.

Type of Protein

As I mentioned in my post about meal replacement shakes, I do not recommend soy or whey based proteins. Both soy and whey have controversy when it comes to health benefits and risks.  In addition, many people have sensitivities to soy or dairy, even if they haven’t figured that out to themselves yet. Better options for protein sources include pea and rice, egg white, and hemp.  A blend of rice and pea proteins are superior to either alone because neither pea nor rice include all essential amino acids.  Combining them provides all eight amino acids to form complete protein.  Pea and rice protein blends are good for many because they are vegan, non-GMO and include a lower risk for allergies.  Egg white protein is good because it is a complete protein, and minimally processed. Hemp protein is another great alternative that is an easily digestible complete protein. Hemp is a good source of magnesium, iron, zinc and fiber and contains the perfect 3:1 ratio of essential omega-3 to omega-6 fatty acids.  Hemp is also earth friendly and sustainable.



A sampling of the protein powders I’ve tried. All had an overbearing stevia taste.

The biggest issue I have with many of the protein powders I tried or looked at was that they contain stevia. Stevia is a zero calorie, natural sweetener and sugar substitute extracted from the leaves of the Stevia rebaudiana plant. It’s 200 times sweeter than sugar in the same concentration. It is “generally recognized as safe” by the FDA, but doesn’t come without possible side effects. I personally just can’t tolerate the taste of it. I find that in most protein powders it was bitter and overwhelming. Additionally, it makes me nauseous.  Nausea, upset stomach, bloating, and even allergic reactions are possible side effects. I’ve also heard from people that is gives them headaches. The photo above is a sampling of the different protein powders I tried with stevia. I couldn’t tolerate any of them. If you do not have an issue with stevia, the above brands are good choices otherwise. The only flavored protein powder I found without stevia is hemp protein. I’ve been using Trader Joe’s Organic Hemp Protein Powder in chocolate to supplement my breakfast smoothies and love it. I definitely has a nutty taste and grittier texture than most powders, but it tastes much better than every other type I’ve tried. DSCF1319If you’re looking for another plant based protein power without stevia, the options are Garden of Life RAW Protein or Sunwarrior Natural Protein Powders. Please leave a comment if you know another.


Whole Food Proteins (and fats!)

As I mentioned, most individuals don’t need a protein supplement, but it is important to include some sort of protein or fat in a meal replacement smoothie. I actually prefer to use real foods, since most protein powders provide more than enough protein — 20-30gm usually which is equivalent to 3-4oz of meat.  Data suggests that even for a post-workout meal/shake anything over 20gm of protein does not provide any additional benefits.

When using a smoothie as a meal replacement the exact protein amount is not critical, the more important factor is usually satiety. You may have noticed yourself if you make a smoothie with just milk or water and fruit it won’t keep you full for long.  Both protein and fat help with satiety because they are more slowly digested.  You can either add protein/fat to your smoothie, or eat it separately (i.e. a few nuts, an egg, etc).  Again, the exact amounts don’t necessarily matter, it’s more important to try to balance your calorie, protein and fat intake for the whole day. For example, if you don’t plan on having much meat that day, maybe an extra protein source with your smoothie would be good. Bottom line – it’s best to try to keep your total calories for a smoothie between 300 and 400 calories for a meal with 50% or less of those calories coming from carbohydrates. If using as a snack, try to stay around 200 calories. MyFitnessPal is a great tool for calculating the nutrition for your smoothies.

My go-to formula is usually 1 cup liquid + 1 cup fruit + 1 serving protein/fat + 1 cup greens. Here are some suggestions for healthy protein/fat smoothie add-ins.

smoothie add onsQUESTION FOR READERS

What is your favorite smoothie combination? What do you add for protein or fat in your smoothies?