Adding a scoop ofÂ protein powder to your smoothie is oneÂ quick and easy way to boost your intake of the nutrient, which is essential forÂ post-workout muscle repair, aiding fat burning, and keeping you fuller longer. But if the extensive groceryÂ aisle is any indication of just how many options exist in today's health market (whey?! egg white?! brown rice?!), it can be tough to land onÂ the best protein powder for you that'sÂ free of icky ingredients and a smart add toÂ your pantry.
Whether youâre a meat-eating gal or devout vegan, thereâs an option out there for you. We asked Health'sÂ resident nutrition pro, Cynthia Sass, MPH, RD,Â how to find the best match.
Know your protein numbers
Most women need no more than 15 to 25 grams of protein in a meal, which is roughly the amount you get from a 3-ounce cooked chicken breast. If your powder has more than that per serving, use less of it. And don't assume thatÂ if you're using a plant-based powder, there's less protein per scoop.
Scope out the ingredients
AnalyzeÂ the ingredient label with a sharp eye. If your protein is marketed as a specific type (whey, casein, or brown rice, for example), thenÂ it should be theÂ first ingredient on the list. Skip products with added sugars, as well as artificial flavors and sweeteners. Certain brands may also containÂ caffeine, so double check the amount to avoid feeling too jittery (for reference, a cup of coffee has anywhere fromÂ 95 to 200 milligrams).
Lastly, be wary of powders marketed to bodybuilders: A 2010 Consumer Reports investigation found a number of brands contained low levels of heavy metals, including lead, arsenic, and mercury. (Yikes!)
Factor in your dietary restrictions
Whey proteinÂ is derived from dairy, which means it's not an option for anybody who's lactose intolerant or following a vegan diet. But there are plenty of non-whey options thatÂ pack protein.Â You can opt for powders derived from brown rice, pumpkin, quinoa, or other plant blends that have ingredients like kale and algae.
If you prefer whey protein, chooseÂ one thatâs both grass-fed and USDA-certified organic, which typically means it packs higher levels of heart healthy omega-3 fatty acids.
OurÂ top protein-powder picks
To make your shoppingÂ even more of a cinch, we've rounded up fiveÂ buys thatÂ fit the healthy powder profile above.
It's the most popular, and often cheapest, type on the shelf. It's also a fast-acting protein, which means it's digested faster. If you're looking to build and repair muscle, you may want to drink up a protein shake with whey shortly after your workout.
Like whey, casein is isolated from cow's milk. However,Â itÂ metabolizes more slowly than whey, making itÂ a great option for those looking toÂ stave off hunger pangs for longer.
Hemp protein comes from grinding hemp seeds, which are packed with vitamin E, fiber, iron and essential fatty acids (fats you must eat because your body needs them but can't produce them on its own).
Don't underestimate the power of this dairy-free, gluten-free option; a 2013 studyÂ inÂ Nutrition Journal found that rice powder has just about the same benefitÂ when it comes to post-workout recovery and exercise performance asÂ whey.Â
Pea protein powderÂ isÂ aÂ lactose- and gluten-free powder made from yellow split peas (plus, it's Sass'sÂ favorite!). Why is it so great?Â It helps control hunger:Â A 2011 study inÂ Nutrition Journal showed pea protein can keepÂ you fuller longer than an equal amount of a fewÂ other sources, including regular egg whites and whey protein. In addition to our pick below, Sass likes Whole 365 Everyday Value Organic Pea Protein, available at Whole Foods.