If you’ve read our article on the importance of protein, you’ll know that this macronutrient plays a vital role in the human body. From muscle building to supporting thyroid function, your body relies on amino acids, the building blocks of protein, for many of its processes.
Unlike carbohydrates, which can be limited in some diets (such as the keto diet) with minimal side effects, adequate protein intake is crucial for overall health. This is why it’s important to know how much protein you’re consuming on a daily basis.
As with most nutrients, most of your protein intake should be coming from whole food sources. However, if you find yourself struggling to reach your daily recommended intake, protein supplements like protein powder can be a great way to supplement your protein intake.
Whether you’re in need of a vegan protein powder or a low-calorie option for weight loss, there are endless varieties of protein powders on the market. In this article, we dive deeper into the importance of protein and share five dietitian-recommended protein powders to add to your diet.
The Importance of Protein for your Health
Protein serves many functions in the body and is critical for muscle gain and increasing muscle mass. But along with supporting processes like muscle growth, thyroid function, and regulating gene expression, protein plays an important role in catalyzing virtually all chemical processes in the body.
Protein is also essential for the following functions:
- Improving insulin sensitivity (although too much protein can have the opposite effect)
- Supporting brain health and cognitive performance
- Digestion (including liver function)
- Regulating reproductive hormone levels
Complete Protein Sources
Complete protein sources are foods that contain all nine essential amino acids. These can include things like pasture-raised poultry and eggs, quinoa, Greek yogurt, wild seafood, soy products, and minimally processed red meats.
The Nutrisense Nutrition Team recommends sourcing most protein from whole food protein sources. However, a high quality protein powder can make a great addition to these foods and help increase your total daily protein intake.
Incomplete Protein Sources
Incomplete protein sources do not contain all nine essential amino acids. However, these types of foods are still a great way to supplement your meals with extra protein and can be paired with other complete sources of protein.
By combining certain incomplete proteins, you can form complementary proteins which can provide adequate amounts of all the essential amino acids. Here are some examples of incomplete protein sources:
- Legumes such as lentils and beans
- Whole grains like brown rice
If you’re on a plant based diet, you may want to vary your protein sources to ensure you’re getting a variety of different amino acids (especially the essential amino acids). As we mentioned, some plant-based protein sources listed above are deficient in certain amino acids.
Complementary proteins do not need to be eaten together in the same meal, as long as the day's overall meals supply them all. Some examples of complementary protein pairings include whole grains and beans, or nuts and legumes.
How Much Protein Should I Be Eating?
When it comes to your diet, you should always discuss your individual health needs with a dietitian or nutritionist. However, when it comes to the adequate amount of protein you should consume daily, here’s what the research recommends:
- Sedentary adults under the age of 65 (with no injuries or illnesses) should be consuming at least 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight.
- Active adults under the age of 65 (with no injuries or illnesses) should be consuming 1.0 to 2.0 grams of protein per kilogram of bodyweight.
- Adults over the age of 65 should be consuming 1.2 to 2.0 grams per kilogram of body weight, whether you are sedentary or active.
- Adults recovering from an injury or illness should consume 1.6 to 2.5 grams of protein per kilogram of bodyweight.
- 1.6 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight can be a good starting place for adults who engage in intense physical activity and are looking to build muscle and strength.
How to Consume Enough Protein on a Daily Basis
Include a Protein Source at Each Meal
Including 0.4 to 0.55 grams of protein per kilogram of bodyweight per meal can help you get to your target range of overall protein consumption. This can consist of a variety of complete and incomplete protein sources (such as a serving of chicken, black beans, and quinoa).
Consume Protein-Rich Snacks
While the protein consumed at each meal should make up the majority of your overall protein consumption, you can also supplement this with high protein snacks. Snacks such as Greek yogurt, dried edamame beans, mixed nuts, turkey and cheese roll-ups, or even a protein bar with simple ingredients can help ensure you hit your protein target.
Add Protein into Smoothies
Including a protein blend in your smoothies or daily shakes is a great way to help you boost your overall protein intake. Not only will this help you if you’re looking to build lean muscle, but it can also be a great way to add extra vitamins and minerals to your diet.
Toss in things like spinach, berries, oats, or peanut butter to give your post-workout protein shake some extra flavor and nutrients.
Five Dietitian-Recommended Protein Powders
There are lots of different protein powders on the market, with popular name brands like Gold Standard from Optimum Nutrition and Orgain’s collagen protein powder rising in popularity. With so many options, it can be hard to know which choices are best for your health.
To help you choose wisely, our dietitians shared their favorite high quality protein powder choices with us. Let’s hear what they are!
1) Marie Funk’s, MS, RD, LDN, Recommendation
Marie says, “I like whey protein powders with minimal ingredients. Options like Raw Grass Fed Whey or Naked WHEY are great because they are clean, simple and have no hidden additives, fillers, or artificial sweeteners. This makes it easy to digest.”
She adds, “You can also easily create your own flavors using other natural foods that can provide other nutrients. Just add in some honey and other ingredients like cacao for flavor. Each brand has 97.5 and 120 calories per serving, respectively.”
Marie doesn’t recommend brands like Quest Nutrition or Isopure protein powders, explaining that, “These brands contain additives like sucralose and carrageenan, which can impair glucose tolerance by altering intestinal microbiota over time.”
2) Amanda Donahue’s, MS, RDN, Recommendation
Amanda shares, “I really like the company True Nutrition for protein powder options. They allow you to customize your protein to the max from choosing the type of protein you want.”
She adds, “You can choose between isolate powders, grass fed whey protein, plant options, add in supplements such as electrolytes, fiber, or starches, and even customize the flavoring. The best part is that their products are third party tested for quality, purity, and safety. You can even choose the packaging you prefer your powder to come in!”
Amanda is hesitant to shop from protein powders sold by third parties online. She cautions, “I don't recommend getting supplements of any kind from Amazon as there's no regulation of resale safety if it's not from the direct source or company.”
3) Kasey Brixius’, RDN, CSSD, IFNCP, Recommendation
Kasey is fond of egg-based protein powders. She explains, “I tend to recommend egg white protein powders, especially for people who have issues with dairy. You can also find some good options for egg white protein powders without extra additives such as artificial flavors, added sugar, and gums.”
She says, “Egg White Protein Powder by Naked Nutrition is a great lactose-free option for anyone who is lactose intolerant. It’s also relatively low in calories (110 calories per serving) compared to other popular options.”
4) Patrick Scheel’s, RD, LDN, Recommendation
Patrick seconds the Raw Grass Fed Whey brand, and explains, “I prefer protein powders with minimal ingredients. This option is one of the best out there, due to not having any ingredients other than whey protein concentrate.”
He explains, “In a pinch, I’ve recommended Isopure zero carb unflavored protein powder. It’s a very affordable whey protein isolate with very minimal ingredients. With an isolate, there are no calories other than from protein.”
Patrick also adds, “The only potential downside to a whey protein concentrate like Raw Grass Fed Whey Is that you do have a few calories from carbs and fat. So, if you want something with fewer calories, this could be a potential factor to consider when looking for the best low-calorie protein powder.”
5) Jordyn Wallerius’, MS, RDN, CD, Recommendation
Jordyn says, “I'm also a fan of Naked protein powders thanks to their limited ingredients. I always recommend their pea protein powder option for my vegan members, which contains 120 calories per serving. It’s a great option if you’re looking for a plant-based protein powder.”
She adds, “I've also had people with GI issues have good luck tolerating Naked’s egg white protein powder. They do sell their products on Amazon, but like Amanda mentioned, it's generally a good idea to buy from the original company when you can.”
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