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All About Protein Powders!

Protein is one of three macronutrients needed for bodily functions. Protein is digested as amino acids essential for muscle mass, hair, skin, nail, bone health, and mood. The recommended dietary allowance is 0.8g/kg/day. This recommendation is set to prevent lean body mass loss. Studies suggest individuals working towards building muscle may require more protein per day, 1.6-2.0g/kg/day. It is recommended that individuals try to meet their protein requirements through whole foods. However, some individuals with a higher protein requirement choose to use a protein supplement to meet their needs.

There are two types of protein powder: animal-based and plant-based. Whey and casein are animal-based proteins sourced from cow’s milk and contain all essential amino acids. Another animal-based protein powder is collagen, sourced from cows, fish, and chicken. Plant-based protein powder commonly combines soy, hemp, rice, and pea protein.

What to Look For in the Ingredient List?

  • Protein! Studies suggest that muscle protein synthesis is maxed with a 20-25g protein intake (Schoenfeld, Brad Jon, and Alan Albert Aragon). Look for a protein powder providing around 20-25g of protein. This serving of protein will take 1.5 to 2 hours to absorb, allowing individuals to consume another high-quality protein meal or snack in 3 hours.

  • Branch-chain amino acids are essential to muscle growth because they reduce and prevent muscle damage. Branch-chain amino acids should be listed on the back of your protein powder. Look for a 2:1:1 ratio…two parts leucine, one part isoleucine, and one part valine (Fouré, Alexandre, and David Bendahan). This ratio is suggested to be the ideal ratio for muscle growth and fat loss (Fouré, Alexandre, and David Bendahan).

  • Short ingredient list. The goal of consuming protein powder is to increase protein consumption. Therefore, protein should be the first ingredient. Some manufacturers may add bulking agents, which results in ingredients that are not pronounceable. Products with bulking agents may be difficult to digest.

  • Try to avoid added sugars and artificial sweeteners (xylitol and sorbitol). When looking at a nutrition label, added sugars should be less than 10% of the daily value. The lower, the better!

  • Third-party seal. Supplements do not have to be FDA-approved. Having a third-party seal ensures the consumer they are receiving what is shown. In a study conducted on 133 protein powders, 40% were reported to contain elevated levels of heavy metals. To limit consumption of heavy metals, look for third-party tested products and high-quality ingredients.


  1. West DWD, Abou Sawan S, Mazzulla M, Williamson E, Moore DR. Whey Protein Supplementation Enhances Whole Body Protein Metabolism and Performance Recovery after

  2. Resistance Exercise: A Double-Blind Crossover Study. Nutrients. 2017;9(7):735. Published 2017 Jul 11. doi:10.3390/nu9070735

  3. Bandara, Suren B et al. “A human health risk assessment of heavy metal ingestion among consumers of protein powder supplements.” Toxicology reports vol. 7 1255-1262. 21 Aug. 2020, doi:10.1016/j.toxrep.2020.08.001

  4. Schoenfeld, Brad Jon, and Alan Albert Aragon. “How much protein can the body use in a single meal for muscle-building? Implications for daily protein distribution.” Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition vol. 15 10. 27 Feb. 2018, doi:10.1186/s12970-018-0215-1

  5. Wolfe, Robert R. “Branched-chain amino acids and muscle protein synthesis in humans: myth or reality?.” Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition vol. 14 30. 22 Aug. 2017, doi:10.1186/s12970-017-0184-9

  6. Fouré, Alexandre, and David Bendahan. “Is Branched-Chain Amino Acids Supplementation an Efficient Nutritional Strategy to Alleviate Skeletal Muscle Damage? A Systematic Review.” Nutrientsvol. 9,10 1047. 21 Sep. 2017, doi:10.3390/nu9101047

  7. Cintineo, Harry P et al. “Effects of Protein Supplementation on Performance and Recovery in Resistance and Endurance Training.” Frontiers in nutrition vol. 5 83. 11 Sep. 2018, doi:10.3389/fnut.2018.00083

  8. Carbone, John W, and Stefan M Pasiakos. “Dietary Protein and Muscle Mass: Translating Science to Application and Health Benefit.” Nutrients vol. 11,5 1136. 22 May. 2019, doi:10.3390/nu11051136


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