If you hit the gym hard, then you're familiar with the saying, "you are what you eat." It's true, and when it comes to rounding out macros and eating clean, whey protein powder can help you reach your nutritional goals.
Whey protein powder comes in three forms: isolate, concentrate, and hydrolysate. This protein-dense supplement typically has between 15 and 30 grams of protein per serving. It helps your body to build muscle, especially when consumed after workouts. While it's usually added to shakes, if you're a savvy cook, you can work it into everyday recipes, too.
Whey, which is derived from milk, is one of the more affordable options for protein powder. It's chock-full of nutrients like protein and amino acids, both of which are essential to muscle growth. Provided you're not lactose intolerant, whey protein is also easy on the stomach compared to other proteins, such as soy.
Types of whey protein powders
Whey concentrate contains between 50% to 80% protein and is often the most affordable variety. Concentrate formulas are also popular for their broad range of flavors, which makes regular consumption enjoyable.
Whey protein isolate contains approximately 90% protein, as the formula removes most fat and nutrients. It's a solid choice to help you reach your daily protein intake goals and limit your carb intake, and it can even serve as a meal replacement.
Hydrolysate powder is more nutrient-dense than isolate and is formulated for quick absorption. It's considered a better choice for a post-workout protein, although there haven't been as many studies on its impact as other whey protein types.
In addition to protein content, it's important to consider the whey protein powder's nutrient contents, which will vary depending on the type and purity of the powder. Some varieties are packed with vitamins, calcium, iron, magnesium, or fiber. There are also whey protein powders that keep certain nutrients on the lower side, such as fat, sodium, sugar, and carbohydrates.
Whey protein powder's most common flavors are chocolate, vanilla, and strawberry. There are manufacturers with as many as a dozen varieties, though they're usually more expensive.
With flavored whey protein powder, keep in mind you'll also end up with sweeteners of some kind. This can affect your overall nutritional impact, so if you're on a strict nutritional plan, opt for unflavored varieties.
Whey, as it comes from milk, obviously isn't recommended for lactose-intolerant individuals. If you have other food sensitivities or allergies, always read the packaging. Some varieties are made in facilities that also manufacture nuts, soy, fish, or gluten.
Whey protein powders are sold in resealable containers, usually as jars or self-sealing bags.
Jars are more reliable when it comes to an airtight seal, but they take up a lot of space in a cupboard or on a counter. Self-sealing bags certainly save on space, though many of them come with substandard seals. This means you may need to put the powder in another container.
Inexpensive concentrates and isolates in small packages run between $10 and $20. If you'd like more flavor and size varieties in concentrates, isolates, and hydrolysates, expect to spend closer to $40. Larger containers, especially three- to five-pound ones, cost between $40 and $80. When comparing products, be sure to consider the price per ounce -- not just the price of the package.
Q. Does whey protein powder ever expire?
A. Yes, and the expiration date should be clearly marked on the containers. Even if you aren't close to the date, if you haven't used it for a couple months, it may be rancid or begin to smell off -- so it's best to buy smaller packages to avoid wasting powder as well as money.
Q. I like my whey protein powder better than others, but I'm bored with the flavor. What are my options?
A. Healthy, flavorful additions like protein ice cream, peanut butter powder, or stevia could give your powder a total makeover. Some people even add a tablespoon of sugar-free powdered pudding mix for a pop of flavor.
Our take: Thicker formula with 25 grams of protein per serving. Has genuine shake consistency if you seek a better texture.
What we like: Available in eight flavors that are delicious and appeal to cravings. Popular for those with sensitive stomachs.
What we dislike: Thorough mixing required to avoid clumping. Uses artificial sweeteners.
Sian Babish is a writer for BestReviews. BestReviews is a product review company with a singular mission: to help simplify your purchasing decisions and save you time and money. BestReviews never accepts free products from manufacturers and purchases every product it reviews with its own funds.
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