By Dr. Josh Axe
Once considered to be a supplement mostly for bodybuilders and professional athletes, protein powder has come a far way. With dozens of types now available, protein powders have gained widespread popularity among anyone and everyone looking to gain muscle mass and generally increase their protein intake.
The potential benefits of protein powder extend way beyond the gym; this superstar supplement may help with everything from supporting skin health to healthy immune system function.
Produced from both plant-based and animal sources — such as bone broth, pea, and seed blends — there’s now a protein powder available to suit just about any diet plan. Below we’ll take a look at some of the best protein powders options, their benefits and what makes each unique.
Common Types of Protein Powders
Protein powder is a supplement that provides a concentrated amount of dietary protein from either plant or animal sources.
Some popular examples include:
- Bone broth
- Mixed plant proteins (usually grains/seeds)
Many people use protein powders because they are looking to build muscle mass and maximize fat burning, but they’re also a useful way to increase protein intake for those who may have difficulty meeting their needs, such as vegans, vegetarians or older adults.
You can also use protein powder to increase your caloric intake if you’re wanting to gain weight in a healthy way, such as by using it to supplement your meals and snacks.
There are also several different forms of protein powder, each of which vary based on their nutrient profile and the way that they are processed. The three most common types include:
- Protein concentrates: made by extracting protein from whole food sources, resulting in a final product that contains 60-80 percent of calories from protein with the remaining calories from fat and carbohydrates.
- Protein isolates: further filtered to remove much of the fat and carbohydrates, resulting in a more highly concentrated form of protein powder. In general, protein isolates typically contain between 90-95 percent protein.
- Protein hydrolysates: undergoes a process that breaks the bond between amino acids, creating a type of protein that is thought to be more easily absorbable.
Best Protein Powders
The best protein powders not only provide you with protein in an easy-to-absorb form, but also supply other nutrients such as fiber, vitamins, minerals, herbs and other compounds. These can provide additional health benefits, such as a boost in exercise performance, healthy energy levels and more.
Here’s more about the best protein powders and how each can benefit you:
1. Multi Collagen Protein
As the most abundant form of protein in the body, collagen is found in the muscles, skin, bones and blood vessels. However, collagen levels naturally begin to slowly decline as you get older, so using a collagen powder such as Ancient Nutrition’s Multi Collagen Protein is a smart way to keep your collagen intake up.
- Offering support for your hair, skin, nails, gut and joints.
- Supporting joint health (including support for healthy ligaments and tendons) and joint comfort.
- Supporting gut health, including supporting a healthy intestinal lining.
- Taking a hydrolyzed collagen peptides protein powder helps make the collagen easier for the body to use and absorb, so you can better experience the benefits of collagen.
2. Bone Broth Protein Powder
Bone broth is made by simmering different parts of animals, including bones and connective tissues, into a nutrient-boosted broth, which can then be dehydrated and concentrated into a protein powder.
Not only is Ancient Nutriton’s Bone Broth Protein powder highly nutritious, but it’s also available in an assortment of flavors, which is why it’s often dubbed the best tasting protein powder for baked goods and other recipes.
- Providing you with collagen (which is naturally found in bone broth).
- Supporting a healthy immune system, thanks to amino acids that support gut health (and the gut houses 70 percent to 80 percent of the immune system).
- Offering support for your hair, skin, nails and joints.
3. Plant Protein (made with hemp and other seeds)
Seeds including hemp, flax, chia, pumpkin and others are jam-packed with protein in addition to beneficial fats and minerals.
Seeds combined with herbs and botanicals, which you’ll find in Ancient Nutrition’s Plant Protein+, together make an easily digestible form of protein, meaning your body is able to metabolize and utilize amino acids to get you closer to your goals.
- Easily digestible and uniquely suitable for vegans/vegetarians, and those who avoid dairy/whey/eggs/peas (Keto Plant Protein is ideal for those on a low-carb, plant-based diet).
- Containing heart-healthy fats including omega-3 fatty acids.
- Totally plant-based and can be enjoyed on nearly any diet
- Can help support healthy muscle mass, exercise recovery and performance, and healthy energy levels.
- Promoting healthy body composition and fat metabolism.
- Helping to reduce stress-induced food cravings.
4. Keto Protein
Keto protein powder features a macronutrient profile with an ideal ratio of fat-to-protein-to-carbs, supporting you to get into ketosis so you can “burn fat for fuel.”
Some products also contain moderate amounts of caffeine to support healthy energy levels, as well as other nutrients to minimize discomfort while transitioning into ketosis.
For example, Ancient Nutrition’s Keto PROTEIN powder provides high-quality protein and fat from chicken bone broth and coconut MCTs, plus energizing antioxidant and adaptogenic herbs.
- Providing performance fats such as MCTs, to support production of ketones (the primary fuel source for keto dieters).
- Supporting healthy gut/digestive function, joint function, and muscle recovery.
- Featuring organic adaptogens for energy and performance, and a healthy response to stress.
- Supporting mental clarity.
- Helping to reduce stress-related carb cravings.
- Boosting energy and reducing fatigue.
- Helping to boost muscle size and strength, fitness, a healthy metabolism and a healthy weight.
5. Whey Protein
Whey is a type of protein found in milk. More specifically, it is the liquid that separates from the curds during the cheese-making process, resulting in a final product that is high in protein.
Whey protein isolate is the best whey protein option if you have lactose intolerance, as the lactose content is significantly decreased during processing.
- Supporting muscle growth, including when consumed pre or post-workout.
- Providing branched chain amino acids (BCAAs), which can help promote muscle recovery and support muscle synthesis after exercise.
- Helping to control your appetite and cravings.
6. Casein Protein Powder
Casein is a type of protein found in milk. Unlike whey protein, however, it’s digested much more slowly within the body, helping to decrease muscle breakdown. Because it’s derived from milk, casein protein is also higher in several essential nutrients, including calcium.
- Helping to slow muscle breakdown, including during resistance training.
- Supporting muscle growth.
- Supporting exercise performance and strength:
- Helping to improve body composition and support a healthy metabolism.
Not all protein powders are created equally, as many are pumped full of fillers, additives and sometimes sugar/artificial sweeteners.
So how can you make sure you’re getting the best bang for your buck?
- Take a closer look at the ingredients label and skip the supplements that add extra amino acids or fillers like maltodextrin or artificial sweeteners.
- Instead, opt for organic or Non-GMO, naturally sweetened protein powders with minimal ingredients and be sure to always purchase from reputable retailers.
It’s important to keep in mind that more is not always better when it comes to protein powder. Always read and follow label directions when using a protein powder.
Stick to a single serving right before or after working out to maximize muscle gain, or enjoy it throughout the day in your favorite snacks if you’re looking for support in controlling hunger. Additionally, you can add some to your routine if you want to increase your caloric intake for help with weight gain.
Protein powder is a common supplement that delivers a convenient and concentrated amount of protein in each serving.
These supplements can be derived from both plant and animal sources, including collagen, bone broth, hemp, whey and casein.
Each type of protein powder offers a unique set of nutrients and health benefits and can be used to cater to your specific diet and goals.
Protein powder can be added to many recipes, including smoothies, baked goods or sweets.
Coupled with a healthy diet and lifestyle protein powder, using a few of these best protein powders help you reach your fitness goals, increase your protein intake, manage your weight and appetite, and enhance your overall health.
Dr. Josh Axe, DC, DNM, CNS, is a doctor of chiropractic, doctor of natural medicine, clinical nutritionist and author with a passion to help people get well using food and nutrition. He operates leading natural health website DrAxe.com and is co-founder of Ancient Nutrition, a health supplement company. He’s also author of the books Eat Dirt, Essential Oils: Ancient Medicine, Keto Diet and Collagen Diet.