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Clean Protein Powders 101

SupplementsScott Carlson80 Comments
 Clean Eating Protein Powders 101

Many of you have been asking about clean protein powders lately and are overwhelmed by all of the products on the shelves – which brand do I buy? Where can I find it?  How much protein do I need?  This article will provide some helpful tips as to which ingredients are to be desired from a clean protein powder.

Stay tuned for a post on which ones taste the best.  I’ve tried several different brands and types over the years, some of which made me want to gag and others that made me feel as though I’m drinking a real cookies n’ cream milkshake that I used to drink!

UPDATE:  Click here for our review of protein powders!

Why should I use protein powder?

If you are an active adult and you are trying to build lean muscle, trim your waistline, or just live a clean and healthy lifestyle then protein powder is a convenient protein source.  It is best to eat whole foods but that is not always possible.

Protein is comprised of important amino acids that are the building blocks of human growth and development.  They help muscle tissue repair and recover…precisely how muscle growth occurs (hypertrophy).  Not only that, protein will help you maintain healthy hair, skin, teeth, gums, and fingernails and boost your immune system.  Needless to say, getting the recommended amount of protein is vital to a healthy lifestyle and proper recovery.  It’s like taking your dirty car in for a wash and coming out with a nice shiny ride that is sure to turn heads!

One important thing is to treat protein powders as supplements to an already healthy diet full of lean protein, plenty of vegetables, fruit and complex carbs.  You should be consuming the bulk of your protein from whole food sources like all natural chicken, turkey, lean and grass-fed red meat, and eggs. Also, you should try to avoid deli meats as they are highly processed, loaded with sodium and (most brands are) laden with preservatives.  With an active lifestyle, busy schedule, and limited budgets, protein powders are a necessity for most people.

How much protein do I need?

We aim for 1-1.5 grams per pound of body weight (at least 0.8 grams per pound and as much as 1.5 grams if you are engaging in intense exercise for more than 1 hour per day and 6-7 days per week).  The FDA recommends only 50 grams per day based on a 2,000 calorie diet but that simply isn’t enough, in our opinion.  FDA recommendations are nowhere close to what the top trainers, dietitians, and nutritionists recommend.

Types of Powders:

It is important to point out that there are several different types of protein powders on the market and they are all designed to cater to your needs.  Here are some of the different types:

  • Whey protein – this is by far the most popular and prevalent type on the market.  It is derived from milk and is absorbed by the body quicker than other protein sources (high biological value) which make it great for morning shakes on the go or peri-workout nutrition (peri-workout means before, during, and/or after a workout).
    • Whey can be broken down into concentrate, isolate and hydrolysates (listed in order of purity).  Most whey protein powders consist of concentrate, but high-quality brands will include a higher amount of isolate.  Hydrolysate is the purest form of whey protein and is absorbed the fastest in your bloodstream…if you have the budget, hydrolyzed powders (hydrolysates) are the optimal source for peri-workout nutrition.
  • Casein protein – this is also another popular protein source and is the other portion of the milk protein that is not used to make whey.  Casein is the protein source you will also find in cottage cheese and greek yogurt.  It is known for slow digestion, so it is very beneficial in shakes that are used as meal replacements or a bedtime shake, but it is not favorable for peri-workout nutrition.  Casein will satisfy your appetite and stay with you much longer than other protein sources.  Our Bedtime Builder shake uses casein...try it out, it is delicious!
  • Blends - many products on the shelves use a blend, which is basically a mix of whey, casein, and egg albumen.  By having the different sources combined into one powder, you get different rates of absorption and create a steady flow of amino acids.  Personally, I don’t use blended powders because most of them are loaded with artificial sweeteners or other unhealthy ingredients…I prefer to make my own blend with the whey and casein we have and add it to a few ounces of liquid egg whites and almond milk (as done with our Bedtime Builder)
  • Soy – I’ve never tried any soy protein powders and would advise against using soy protein powder.  If you are on a vegan diet, there are other high-quality protein powders that you can use such as hemp or pea protein.  Most of the soy in the US is genetically-modified and even though there is conflicting information out there, I’d steer clear of soy.  The reason it’s so prevalent and used by major brands (some companies use it to enhance the protein content of their cereals and snack bars) is because it is a subsidized commodity in the US, thus it is very cheap to produce.  Men should avoid soy at all costs due to the potential effects on hormones.
  • Other - you can find several other protein sources such as egg white protein, hemp, pea, brown rice, and gluten.  Gluten, above all, should be avoided as it is highly inflammatory to most individuals.

The main thing to look for in a clean protein is lack of artificial sweeteners and information on the label stating that the protein is derived from cattle that have not been exposed to synthetic hormones, chemicals or medications. 

We have several different protein shake recipes posted on our recipe page!