If you’re exploring the protein powder aisle for the first time, the hundreds of tubs and formulas lining grocery shelves can definitely be overwhelming.
Aside from being a quick and easy way to up your protein intake, some of the best protein powders can make a world of difference to your health.
“We all need to consume adequate protein,” Julie Garden-Robinson, PhD, RD, LRD, professor and food and nutrition specialist at North Dakota State University, told the Post. “Adequate protein helps us fight infection, provides energy, helps wounds heal and helps maintain or build our muscle mass.”
That said, it’s important to talk to your doctor to discuss protein powder options as well — aside from reading our expert-explained tips and suggestions.
“If you are already consuming enough dietary protein, supplementing with additional protein powder is likely frivolous,” Sidney Abou Sawan, PhD, MSc, CSCS, a postdoctoral fellow at McMaster University investigating muscle protein synthesis in response to plant-based protein blends, told the Post. “The amount of protein suggested to maximize muscle growth when lifting weights is about 1.6 g/kg/d.”
To kickstart the New Year on a healthful high, we researched, fact-checked labels and asked experts to explain everything worth knowing about protein powders. Whether you want to build some muscle mass or counteract a nutrient deficiency, we pulled the best, lab-approved and highly-rated picks to choose from.
Ahead, find the scoop — pun totally intended — to all your burning questions about protein powders, as answered by a team of experts.
What are the benefits of taking protein powder?
“Dietary protein is made up of amino acids which are ‘building blocks’ that are needed to support the maintenance of body proteins,” Dr. Sawan said. “Protein powder is an easy way to consume protein — put a scoop in a shaker cup, add your choice of dilutant – shake and consume. However, not all dietary protein is made ‘equal.’”
What’s more, certain demographics may require additional protein. When talking with Dr. Garden-Robinson, she explained “some people need more protein, including those who may be recovering from surgery, illness, have serious burns or those who are not able to meet their needs due to loss of appetite.”
Often, older adults do not consume enough protein, she explained, and they could face loss of muscle mass as a result. So, in these cases, “supplemental protein as food or protein added to foods could be valuable.”
Is whey protein powder “better” for you?
“Whey protein is considered the ‘gold standard’ to maintain body proteins (muscle, skin,
bone),” Dr. Sawan said. “When isolated from milk, whey protein contains all nine essential amino acids (which, as mentioned, are the ‘building blocks’ that are needed to support the maintenance of body proteins).”
Whey protein is also rapidly digested and absorbed allowing more amino acid ‘building blocks’ to be incorporated and synthesized into new muscle, she adds.
For all things whey protein-related, Dr. Sawan has critical expertise on the subject, especially after publishing her 2017 double-blind crossover study on how whey protein supplementation enhances whole-body protein metabolism and performance recovery after resistance exercise.
Myprotein Impact Whey Protein Blend (Vanilla), $31.04
This whey protein powder received an “A” score on Labdoor, meaning the contents found within its nutrition label are ranked exceedingly accurate. It’s also gluten-free and vegetarian.
Muscle Feast Hormone-Free Grass Fed Whey Isolate, $49.99
This whey protein powder also received an “A” score on Labdoor, it’s keto-friendly, low-carb and low-calorie, which is especially fitting for those who are watching their macros.
Optimum Nutrition Gold Standard 100% Whey Protein Powder, $56.99
Though this specific formulation hasn’t been tested by Labdoor quite yet, the brand holds an “A” rank and is a No. 1 bestseller on Amazon. Plus, it does the job of upping your intake.
What’s the best protein powder to build muscle?
“The leucine content of protein is something to consider,” Dr. Sawan said. “You can do this by seeing if the amino acid composition of your protein of interest is available.”
She notes around 2 grams of leucine per serving is thought to be sufficient to activate muscle protein synthesis. “Alternatively, consuming a protein blend (i.e. whey, casein, soy) has been shown to be as effective as consuming whey alone on stimulating muscle protein synthesis provided the leucine content is equivalent (i.e. about 15%
greater consumption of the protein blend),” Dr. Sawan said.
Optimum Nutrition Gold Standard 100% Micellar Casein Protein Powder, $69.99
With a Grade A ranking on Labdoor, Optimum Nutrition’s Casein Protein Powder is, as Dr. Sawan notes, “just as effective” as consuming whey protein. Plus, it contains 24 grams of protein and branched-chain amino acids (BCAA), which may contain leucine.
However, be sure to check with a professional if this supplement is right for you.
Muscle Milk Gainer Protein Powder (Vanilla), $33.16 (originally $56.99)
Though not yet lab-tested, Muscle Milk is one of the best protein powders for building muscle, per our experts. It contains all nine amino acids, including leucine, so you’re sure to attain the recommended intake of 2 grams per serving.
Plus, it’s also available in a chocolate flavor.
What’s the best protein powder to lose weight?
“Look for the amount of protein in the portion (or scoop) described on the nutrition facts label,” Dr. Garden-Robinson recommends. “Eating protein, in general, can help you feel full.” Be sure the product has no or low added sugar, too, she adds.
Remember that protein has calories and when consumed in excess of your needs, you could actually gain weight, per Dr. Garden-Robinson.
“Intuitively, if you are consuming a high-protein diet, you will be consuming
more leucine, all of which will provide ample amounts of essential amino acids to retain lean body mass,” Dr. Sawan adds.
MuscleTech Protein Powder for Weight Loss, $59.99
As a great lean protein, MuscleTech’s powder only contains 2 grams of sugar, which is ideal for losing weight, per our experts. And, it’s available in chocolate fudge brownie and French vanilla swirl flavors.
What should I look for in a protein powder if I’m diabetic?
“With a medical condition such as diabetes, consult with your healthcare provider before
changing your diet,” Dr. Garden-Robinson said. “Remember that some protein powders are sweetened, so the sugar or other sweetener could raise your blood sugar. Others are high in fats that are not heart-healthy.”
Dr. Sawan assures that protein powders “are generally very low in carbohydrates and would minimize rises in blood glucose.” Though, be sure to speak with your doctor before protein supplementation if you’re diabetic.
Garden of Life Raw Organic Unflavored Protein Powder, $31.91
What’s great about Garden of Life’s protein powder is that it contains no sugar and no stevia — a solid option for diabetics while still containing 22 grams of protein.
What are the best protein powder ingredients to look for on a label?
Dr. Garden-Robinson outlines a cheat sheet of what to look for on a protein powder nutrition label:
- An ingredient statement that is simple (or “clean” as some say): This means the label doesn’t include a lot of artificial colors, flavors or added sweeteners. Even natural sugars such as honey count as “sugars” on the nutrition label, although honey has some trace minerals.
- Calories per serving (or scoop): Check out whether the product has saturated fat or trans fat, which you want to limit or minimize in your diet. Remember that adding extra calories to your diet from any source could promote weight gain. Many protein powders have up to 25 grams of protein per serving, which is about 100 calories. An extra 100 calories per day could result in a 10-pound weight gain in a year.
- Allergies or intolerances you have to particular foods: People with wheat allergies, for example, should avoid wheat-based ingredients, while those with dairy allergies or intolerances should avoid milk-based protein products (casein or whey).
What ingredients should I look for in a vegan protein powder?
From wheat to rice to pea to pumpkin protein, many plant-based protein powders are available.
Interestingly, Dr. Garden-Robinson recommends reading the nutrition label and the ingredient statement. “Remember that vegetable-based protein powders may not provide the full complement of essential amino acids unless they are blends of complementary proteins,” she adds.
According to Dr. Garden-Robinson, look for a blend of plant-based ingredients listed on the label. Some plant protein sources are naturally higher in micronutrients such as vitamins and minerals.
Aloha Plant-Based Protein Powder, $26.94 (originally $29.99)
As a plant-based protein free of dairy, soy and stevia, this chocolate-flavored protein contains all essential amino acids, too, so you can restore your muscles post-workout.
Not to mention, this brand boasts a clean ingredient profile while being an impressive source of iron.
Orgain Organic Plant-Based Protein Powder, $26.99
Orgain’s Organic Plant-Based Protein Powder is a No. 1 bestseller on Amazon and, since it contains no sugar, it’s also a great option for diabetics and those looking to lose weight.
Vega Sport Premium Protein Powder (Vanilla), $39.99
Containing all nine essential amino acids, this vegan protein powder is especially great for those who are looking to build muscle, thanks to its leucine content from those EAAs — according to our experts.
How often should protein powder be consumed?
“Protein powders are a ‘supplement’ and not a ‘food,’ so there isn’t a specific nutritional
recommendation to consume the protein powders,” Dr. Garden-Robinson explains. “If you can’t meet your nutrition needs due to some underlying conditions, protein powders
could help meet the goals.”
When selecting a protein supplement, she recommends referring to the Recommended Daily Amount (RDA) on the label and following those recommendations. “Consuming extra calories through protein can promote weight gain,” she adds.
Does how much protein powder consumed depend on body weight?
“The usual recommendation is 0.8 grams per kilogram body weight (one kilogram is 2.2
pounds.),” Dr. Garden-Robinson said. “According to some nutrition experts, people over age 50 often need close to double the RDA (1.5 grams per kilogram body weight) to avoid muscle loss.”
But, there isn’t a hard science to this. “If you want to lose or gain weight, you would adjust your calorie intake accordingly. That’s where working with a professional is especially valuable.”
Should protein powder be consumed before or after working out?
“A common edict in the exercise field is to consume protein immediately after an exercise bout to facilitate muscular repair and remodeling, in hopes to enhance post-exercise strength-and hypertrophy-gains,” Dr. Sawan said. “However, this edict is not supported by scientific evidence as consuming protein in and around the post-exercise period has not been shown to appreciably increase muscle mass.”
So, she classified this as “good news” because your workout wasn’t a waste if you didn’t consume protein immediately after your workout.
But, a good rule of thumb to follow, per Dr. Garden-Robinson, is, when in doubt, consume protein powder within an hour after working out. “That’s when your muscles are recovering from working out,” she said.
How do I check if a protein powder is “clean” or “safe”?
It’s important to note that protein powder isn’t regulated by the FDA, though third-party companies often test the viability of certain protein powders to determine the accuracy of the labels.
Some of these firms include Labdoor and Clean Label Project, both of which we referenced for this article.
Below, find backgrounds on our two experts and their strong resume on protein:
- Julie Garden-Robinson, PHD, RD, LRD: A professor and food and nutrition specialist at North Dakota State University whose background is in food science and nutrition. She works to develop materials and perform outreach that reaches children and adults of all ages. She has also written about protein powders and has done research/outreach about various protein sources including plant and animal foods.
- Sidney Abou Sawan, PhD, MSc, CSCS: A protein researcher who completed her PhD and MSc at the University of Toronto within the Department of Exercise Sciences and specialized in skeletal muscle protein metabolism. Herein, she focused on the mechanisms underpinning muscle protein synthesis in response to protein ingestion and exercise. She’s currently a Postdoctoral Fellow at McMaster University investigating muscle protein synthesis in response to plant-based protein blends.
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Sports world reacts to John Madden’s death
Legendary NFL coach and broadcaster John Madden died Tuesday morning at 85, the NFL announced. News of the football icon’s passing hit Twitter on Tuesday evening, and athletes, coaches and broadcasters from across the sports world reacted.
Fellow broadcasting legend Dick Vitale, who is currently battling cancer, called Madden “the greatest analyst of all time of any sport” in his Twitter tribute.
Former Yankees pitcher and notable Raiders fan CC Sabathia said “your legacy will live forever.” Madden coached the then-Oakland Raiders from 1969-78, a couple of years before Sabathia, a Vallejo, California native, was born. Lakers star LeBron James had similar words about Madden’s lasting legacy, adding an infinity emoji.
Former tennis star and social justice activist Billie Jean King recalled meeting Madden as a “privilege.”
Radio voice of the Rangers Kenny Albert, a five-sport broadcaster who’s been with FOX Sports since its inception in 1994, shared a photo circa 26 years ago to remember Madden.
ESPN’s Bomani Jones took a bit of a shot at current color commentators, noting that Madden “set an unreachable standard.”
Frank Caliendo, who’s made a career out of impersonations, including one for Madden, said he was surprised how emotional he felt.
Several football players, and others, including Saints running back Mark Ingram II and former Cowboys receiver Dez Bryant, credited Madden with being part of the reason why they love football.
Rams wide receiver and NFL MVP contender Cooper Kupp quote the late coach in his tribute: “The road to Easy Street goes through the sewer.”
Miles McBride’s Knicks role will lessen with Kemba Walker’s resurgence
MINNEAPOLIS — The Knicks got back another body in rookie point guard Miles McBride, who was cleared from protocols Tuesday and rejoined the team in Minnesota.
But there is no longer any hype for the rookie’s return. Kemba Walker is back as the starting point guard and coming off winning Eastern Conference Player of the Week honors with four standout games, including his Christmas Day spectacular. The Knicks have gone 2-2 since Walker regained the starting job.
“It’s great,’’ coach Tom Thibodeau said. “He had a great week. He’s playing great basketball. The team winning helps him get recognized and he was a big part of driving that winning. It’s great for the team.’’
McBride was also spectacular in his last outing before getting COVID-19, when he played the entire second half Dec. 16 in Houston and seemingly earned a spot in the rotation. In fact, McBride had strung together two decent outings before he was ruled out. But things have changed since his emergence and McBride is likely back to being a bit player.
Without a practice, McBride wasn’t even expected to see time when the Knicks faced the Timberwolves to kick off a four-game road trip.
Of course, with Walker’s arthritic knee, anything is possible. The Knicks play Detroit on Wednesday in a back-to-back, so it’s uncertain whether Walker will complete both contests. In addition, Immanuel Quickley is out of COVID-19 protocols but Thibodeau wasn’t sure he was ready for meaningful minutes.
That left Walker against the depleted Timberwolves, who were missing their three top players (Anthony Edwards, Karl-Anthony Towns, D’Angelo Russell), all because of COVID-19 .
When McBride got sidelined by the virus and Derrick Rose needed ankle surgery, Walker was resurrected by Thibodeau and it’s been a stunning comeback story.
Though Thibodeau has clear reservations about Walker based on his nine-game banishment due to his defensive malaise as an undersized point guard, he admitted after the Christmas Day triple-double against Atlanta that Walker is playing “much more aggressive.”
Walker’s triple-double that featured 10 points, 12 assists and 10 rebounds was a lot different than his prior outing, when he scored 44 points against Washington.
“I thought his passing was terrific,’’ Thibodeau said before the Knicks resumed their schedule.
“Kemba had control of the game. The game tells you what to do. That’s what I loved about the way he played. I don’t think he forced anything. They puts size on him and were aggressive in their pick-and-roll coverage. He didn’t fight it. He attacked pressure the way you like to attack pressure. You don’t fight pressure with pressure. Don’t try to split it. Get rid of it, go to the backside. Let the game tell you what to do.’’
The Knicks coach is finally seeing all the elements of what Walker can do. Before his demotion, Walker was nothing more than a no-defense, 3-point shooter whose plus-minus was an abysmal minus-122.
Thibodeau was also concerned about his durability in sitting out two of the three back-to-back sets. The last load management game in Atlanta in late November triggered Thibodeau’s decision.
But now it’s only superlatives from Thibodeau in judging the last four games.
“Sometimes it’s going to be his shooting, sometimes it’s his penetration and getting in the paint to force a collapse and sometimes they’re being aggressive with their traps get rid of the ball quickly,’’ Thibodeau said. “The overall play, his rebounding. When your guards rebound, those are key to fast breaks. The more guard rebounding we get the better we can be. ‘’
The Knicks still have three players in protocols — centers Nerlens Noel and Jericho Sims and the newly infected Wayne Selden. Quickley and Kevin Knox were cleared on Christmas but were held out for conditioning.
No matter. The Knicks go as Kemba goes.
“He’s much more aggressive,’’ Thibodeau said. “That was the challenge. At the beginning of the year he and Evan were two new starters. Sometimes guys are trying to fit in. he’s being very aggressive which is the way we want him to play. Not deferring at all. When he and Julius [Randle] are aggressive like that our team is different.’’
Bar raises dramatically for Zach Wilson in matchup with Tom Brady, Buccaneers
When Zach Wilson stares across the MetLife Stadium field at the opposite sideline this Sunday, it won’t be Trevor Lawrence he’ll be looking at as his game-day counterpart.
Lawrence, drafted by Jacksonville one spot before the Jets selected Wilson at No. 2 overall last April, is a contemporary.
This Sunday at MetLife, the Jets rookie quarterback won’t be staring at a contemporary on the other sideline. He’ll be staring at the GOAT.
The bar raises dramatically for Wilson and the Jets, who are coming off of their feel-good, get-well win over the woeful Jaguars and Lawrence this past Sunday.
Brady and Buccaneers, who are 11-4, NFC South division champions and seeking to repeat as Super Bowl champions, play the Jets, who are 4-11 and seeking more signs of development from their rookie quarterback.
To say this is a step up in competition for Wilson and the Jets going from Lawrence and the Jags to Brady and the Bucs is as obvious as pointing out that Tampa Bay receiver Antonio Brown has had a few off-the-field incidents during his otherwise stellar NFL career.
There hasn’t been a lot to keep the interest of the Jets fan this season — other than watching Wilson’s development. That took an unfortunate pause for the four games Wilson missed with a knee injury, but he’s been back for five games and has looked like a better quarterback, throwing only two interceptions in those games (none in the last three) since returning from his injury.
The problem, though, is that Wilson hasn’t been producing enough touchdowns, throwing for three of them and rushing for four others in the past five games.
Baby steps, though.
Wilson was the better quarterback this past Sunday when matched up with Lawrence, who threw for more yards than Wilson did, but Wilson ran for 91 yards, including his electric 52-yard scoring jaunt, and made key throws when he needed them.
Wilson will not win Sunday’s game against Brady and the Bucs throwing for the 102 yards he had against the Jaguars. He and the Jets will need more.
Consider this: Brady enters the game having thrown 37 TD passes and for 4,580 yards this season and averages a league-high 305.2 passing yards per game.
Then this: The Buccaneers average 29.5 points per game this season, second most in the NFL.
And this: Wilson doesn’t have a single 300-yard passing game, averages 183 passing yards per game and has thrown seven TD passes in 11 games.
Seven TD passes is a pedestrian two-game total for Brady.
Wilson and the Jets are playing with house money anyway in what always has been a developmental season, so Sunday against Brady should, at its very least, be a great measuring-stick learning experience for Wilson, who’s studied Brady on tape.
Wilson revealed this month that he watched film of Brady before the Jets played the Eagles on Dec. 5 in an effort to pick up tips on how Brady worked against the Eagles defense when he played them earlier in the season.
“I thought it was really cool to see kind of how he went through his whole process, how he navigated the pocket, different things like that,” Wilson said at the time.
On Sunday, Wilson gets to see that process up close as Brady tries to dissect a Jets defense that has yielded 29.9 points per game this season, the most in the NFL.
That puts an added onus on Wilson to produce on the other side of the ball, because he knows Brady is going to get his. Wilson will likely need to produce four TDs — any way he can — for the Jets to simply remain competitive with the Super Bowl champs.
That’s a lot to ask of a 22-year-old kid who’s produced just 11 TDs in his 11 starts, up against Brady, who’s thrown 618 TD passes and for 83,784 yards in his remarkable career.
It, too, is a lot to ask playing against an aggressive Tampa Bay defense that’s ranked No. 9 in the NFL in points allowed (20.8 per game) and is led by former Jets head coach Todd Bowles, who’d surely like to send a holiday message to his former employer.
If you don’t think Bowles will be blitzing the bejesus out of Wilson, then you probably think Antonio Brown is a living saint.
The good news for the Jets is that Wilson has shown incremental improvements, particularly when it comes to his decision-making and quicker releases on his throws.
“He’s coming along, he’s getting more comfortable, he’s calmer back there,’’ Jets coach Robert Saleh said Monday. “He’s in a great headspace and it’s going to be fun to watch him grow, continue to grow.’’
A big part of that growth will take place this Sunday as he watches the GOAT operate from the opposite sideline at MetLife.
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