Part 2: How to Choose a Protein Powder

How to Choose a Protein Powder – Of All The Wheys To Love…

In Part 1 we discussed a little bit about determining whether you need to be supplementing protein and the two main options that exist – whey and vegan proteins.

The way I see it, or the way this particular expert leans, is if you can do wheywhey is the best wayto go, all the way (I was trying to fit more “way/wheys” in that sentence, but I’m stumped at 6).

Whey makes up 20% of the proteins found in dairy products and they isolate it for supplements by putting it through varying degrees of filtering processes (more on that below). As an animal-based protein, whey is also a complete protein (containing all 9 essential amino acids at their needed levels) and better absorbed and utilized than vegan proteins due to its high biological value.

It’s one of the quickest, if not the quickest, way to get protein into your muscles and it contains lots of branched-chain aminos, great for muscle recovery. That’s why I say: if you can do whey, do whey (bustin’ mad rhymes!).

Concentrate vs. Isolate – Which Whey to Go?

(I’m not going to be getting sick of these whey/way puns any time soon. Just warning you).

If you decide to go with a whey protein, make sure that it’s organic or grass fed, the cows haven’t been fed antibiotics, hormones or GMOs and that they were as happy as cows can be. It seems to go without saying in this day and age that you need to be very careful about what you consume and protein supplements are no exception!

The first thing you’ll note is that there are two main types of whey proteins to decide between: concentrate or isolate (there’s also hydolysate, but that stuff is hardcore so I’m not going to go into it here). Now, you could creep on some totally-buff-individual in the protein aisle and just buy whatever s/he’s buying, or you could get a little info and make an educated decision. I’ll assume you’re going with the latter.

But let me get this out of the way first: there are hundreds, if not thousands, of hardcore athletes and muscle guys/gals who have varying opinions on the benefits of concentrates versus isolates. If you’re a hardcore athlete or muscle-person, you probably already know more than I do about the ups and downs of each. I’m sticking with the basics here for the average consumer.

In its unfiltered form, whey contains a whole lot of protein, some fat and lactose (milk sugar). The first thing whey bound for protein supplements undergoes is a filtration process that gets rid of much of the fat and lactose.

From there it is put through another filter that allows water, minerals and other organic solids to pass through, leaving almost exclusively the whey protein. This is what you find in whey protein concentrates. It yeilds a product that is about 75-80% protein and contains about 5% lactose, with some fat, cholesterol and other organic compounds in there as well.

For protein isolates, the concentrate is put through another filtering process. Depending on what technique the processor is using you’ll see a reference to either ion-exchange or cross-flow microfiltration on the packaging. It’s beyond the scope of this blog to get into what these two processes are and their pros and cons, so let’s just say they’re both “good”. What you’re left with at the end of this process is a supplement that is almost entirely protein. There is little to no lactose left in the product (some even certify that they’re lactose free), which is one of the advantages of isolates: lactose intolerant people usually don’t have an issue with it (although those with a milk allergy still need to avoid it).

So, is one “better” than the other? Not necessarily.

Both will give you a concentrated protein source, although isolate will give you more protein per scoop. It also costs often twice as much concentrate, so that needs to be taken into account. Supplement company reps will list endless reasons why their product is better than all the others, but at the end of the day, you just need a protein powder that delivers what you need – protein. I wouldn’t get too caught up in the hype, if you can avoid it.

In Part 3, we’re going to be discussing what protein powder is right for you if dairy ain’t your thing.


By Doug DiPasquale Certified Holistic Nutritionist