Help me choose a protein powder, please!
January 6, 2013 10:03 AM   Subscribe

Please recommend a protein powder for me: the kaleidoscopic variety available is leaving me with a deer-in-the-headlights immobility when I try to choose!

I'd appreciate some suggestions for a good protein powder: I don't have all that many demands or specifications, and I also don't have much personal experience to go on, both of which I think are part of what is leaving me confused with the immense variety available.

I don't (to my knowledge) have any dietary limitations that would impact the choice. I'm not vegetarian/vegan. I will be using it to replace a meal while on a long research trip, so would prefer something that can be mixed into water easily with a spoon (no blender) and is smooth rather than clumpy when mixed. I would also prefer something with no sugar or corn syrup etc. (artificial sweeteners may be okay, depending on which ones, and unsweetened would be excellent - I've largely weaned myself off of sweet things anyway, so a bit of bitterness doesn't bother me). Additionally, I would like something that tastes reasonably good or at least mild: I may mix in some fiber or green powder, but I won't be able to blend with fruit because I'll be on the road with no blender. I'm not going to be trying to build muscles or anything like that (lifting weights, etc.) while using it, if that matters. As a grad student, cost is something of an issue, but I can pay a bit more if it means getting something drinkable.

I'd love any specific recommendations for particular flavors and brands that you all have tried and liked. I'd also appreciate any general recommendations on the differences between different types of protein available (soy, whey, pea, egg, etc.), and which ones I should be concentrating on. Do different kinds do different things, or are processed differently by the body? I've seen previous questions asking for protein powder recommendations, but they included limitations that I don't share, so I thought I'd ask afresh. Thank you!
posted by UniversityNomad to Food & Drink (18 answers total) 18 users marked this as a favorite
I'm a big fan of Optimum Nutrition's line because they actually taste good and seem to mix well. The Gold Standard 100% Whey is the one I really liked (but switched from because whey and my stomach did not get along). My go-to now is MRM All Natural Egg White, which doesn't taste objectionable and seems to mix pretty well, but your choice is pretty much chocolate or vanilla.

I'd definitely suggest getting yourself a shaker bottle to make mixing a little easier, though.

Most of what I know about the differences is broscience, so I'll let others speak to that.
posted by Ghostride The Whip at 10:10 AM on January 6, 2013 [1 favorite]

I only have experience with soy and whey, but I gotta put my vote in 1000% for whey between those two. It tastes a lot better and isn't lumpy. I like the big bags of chocolate flavored, artificially sweetened stuff you can get at Costco. It's cheap too.
posted by scose at 10:43 AM on January 6, 2013

The one I use, muscle milk, doesn't fit your criteria of sugar free. But I do use it in one of those blender bottles that ghostride linked. They're awesome for mixing water and protein powder. They can easily be found in places like Walmart and target, usually in packs of two.
posted by royalsong at 11:02 AM on January 6, 2013

I have tried SO MANY types of protein powder and I just recently found one that actually tastes good. BSN Syntha-6. I got the mint-chocolate flavor. It mixes really nicely in water using a shaker cup (blender bottle), and I can only imagine the other flavors taste good as well. My mom, who has aways avoided protein powders because they're gross, really likes it too. I ordered mine from amazon, and they have lots of flavors as well as subscribe and save discounts.
posted by HermitDog at 11:09 AM on January 6, 2013

Pretty much all protein powders clump up if you don't shake vigorously. That's why blender bottles sell. It's not really an effect of the protein content. You can get the same unpleasant result with flour or cocoa powder.

Pretty much all protein supplements are sweetened. The sweetness isn't masking bitterness, it's masking a mealy, starchy, powdery taste. You'll have a tough time finding an unsweetened protein supplement, but it is easy to find ones sweetened with aspartame.

The popular wisdom is that whey is a "fast-digesting protein," the more expensive casein is "slow-digesting." Vegetable proteins are mostly directed at vegetarian consumers. There's a whole lot of voodoo in consumer fitness nutrition, so it's probably not a good idea to read the marketing copy too closely. Just make sure that protein powder out of a jar isn't the single biggest source of protein in your diet.

Some websites have protein brand selectors that let you narrow down the options by price per serving, sweetener type, and so on.
posted by Nomyte at 11:28 AM on January 6, 2013

Whey is your best choice. Animal proteins are the most bioavailable. The other types are for people who have issues with milk (sometimes whey proteins bother the lactose-intolerant) or vegetarians.

Any normal whey isolate would do you fine. If you want to get fancy, a casein whey protein is best for meal replacement, as it takes a bit longer to digest and theoretically it will take longer for you to get hungry again. Casein is more expensive than your basic isolate thought. Ignore all marketing copy provided by any company except for what you see on the nutrition label and ingredients list.

Optimum Nutrition used to my favorite as the flavors and taste were good, there are billions of flavors, and they were by far the cheapest proteins available out there. Unfortunately whey prices have gone up and now ON is much more expensive. Last time I bought protein I switched to Dymatize (its normal Whey Isolate and 'Elite Casein'), as I also liked the taste and could find it cheaper per pound than ON (both its isolate and casein). Whatever brand you choose, many manufacturing companies offer multi flavor packs so you can try different flavors. If you have the money and are concerned about taste then it would be a worthy investment. If I buy protein powder I'll drink it no matter how gross it tastes, so YMMV.

Definitely do some shopping around to find the best price per pound and shipping for your protein. Amazon will offer free shipping, but last I checked (months ago) had the best overall price when you added together shipping and cost/lbs.

Also: both Costco protein and Muscle Milk were cited for having excess heavy metals in their protein powder a while back. They've hopefully fixed it but it's made me steer clear of those brands since then.
posted by schroedinger at 11:36 AM on January 6, 2013 [1 favorite]

For mixing: I have found using a whisk or a detached hand mixer beater and holding it between my hands while rubbing them together like I'm cold such that it twirls quickly mixes all protein powders into cold liquid WAY better than anything else. With hot it just dissolves, but seriously: spoon + protein powder + cold liquid = clumps. Whisk or beater + protein powder + cold liquid = delicious, frothy beverage.

Also, I like the Biochem whey isolate powders the best.
posted by vegartanipla at 11:48 AM on January 6, 2013

I like Myoplex, the lite chocolate version. A tip when using a mixing beaker; put an inch of water in the bottom, then the powder, then top off with water before you shake it all up. It'll stop the powder from clumping at the bottom of the cup.
posted by essexjan at 12:05 PM on January 6, 2013

I like nectar medical because it has nearly no flavor, no gross sweeteners, and gives you the most (whey) protein for the least amount of calories. It also mixes like a dream.
posted by thatone at 12:06 PM on January 6, 2013

Oh, also: The BSN Syntha-6 is sweetened with sucralose (splenda). I get headaches from artificial sweetners and am fine with this. It is also a "protein blend" so it has some that are fast acting, some that are slow acting. I'm not picky about type of protein, I just need *something*.
posted by HermitDog at 1:01 PM on January 6, 2013

If you are using this as a meal replacement, you might want to get one that is not so low in carbs.

Oats and Whey

This one has some added sugar, but also has oats blended up with the protein powder. It mixes fairly easily, although the oats keep the texture from being super smooth. The best thing about this particular one is that there are no artificial sweeteners. It doesn't taste super sweet (some of the protein powders taste like drinking a milkshake), but has enough sweetness and chocolate in it to taste very good.

As a meal replacement that would be my suggestion, and is what I have for breakfast some days when there isn't enough time to make something else healthy.
posted by markblasco at 2:23 PM on January 6, 2013 [1 favorite]

Pure Protein Whey Protein in Vanilla Cream Shake is delicious and i brlieve it meets all of your criteria. It actually makes my kale protein shake taste kind of like a grassy vanilla milkshake.
posted by anotheraccount at 2:58 PM on January 6, 2013

Whey Protein Isolate, or at least the majority of the powder, is what you want. I went through tons of research trying to find the right stuff. I now use the Optimum Gold Standard.

Beware of anything sold in big box stores. I've read a lot of research suggesting many of those like Myoplex and Pure Protein are far inferior to something like Optimum or BSN products. And by far inferior, I've actually read some research in a few books suggesting it might actually hurt your strength gains because it is absorbing far too quickly and has additional sugar that isn't needed.
posted by MMALR at 4:39 PM on January 6, 2013

Optimum Nutrition's protein powders are quite popular. I use their Natural Chocolate flavor. To improve the taste you can add a spoonful or two of instant coffee. Some redditors measured the protein content of a bunch of protein powders, and found that ON's claimed amounts were pretty reasonable.

Also consider protein bars for meal replacements. I like those from Pure Protein. They're sugar free, have over 30 g of protein, and taste pretty good. A bit less fuss than mixing a shake, though you really need to down them with a liquid.
posted by mnemonic at 5:41 PM on January 6, 2013

I like Syntrax Nectar. It mixes beautifully in a blender bottle and all of the flavors I've tried have been tasty. Lots of people in the low carb community also like Jay Robb, but it is more expensive and to me has a funny stevia aftertaste that I don't like. Nectar and Jay Robb are both whey protein isolates. Here is a quick overview of protein types. And another one.

Designer whey is pretty cheap, but it tastes strongly protein-y and can be hard to choke down after a while. Pure Protein bars also have a very strong taste. And are sweetened mostly with maltitol, which for some people is worse than sugar for causing blood sugar spikes and can cause gastric distress like other sugar alcohols.
posted by monopas at 7:55 PM on January 6, 2013

Jay Robb Egg White protein powder is my go to - Vanilla or Strawberry mixed with frozen blueberries and raspberries, an ice cube, and coconut milk for a shake - since being put on a low GI diet last summer. It has no fake sweetener, about 4g carbs per scoop (type 1 diabetic here) and is generally pretty clean. It also mixes well, unlike a lot of powders out there, so there's no gritty taste. I find it at GNC and Whole Foods.

My doctor recommended egg white for me as he suspected possible intolerance to whey related to autoimmune issues. I have no idea if that has a firm basis in medical research, but I feel great on the shakes and my blood sugar stays incredibly stable. Apart from that, on types of protein, NYC trainer David Kirsch suggests whey protein isolate for reliability and bioavailability. Both will be more expensive, but they're not crap!
posted by pearl228 at 10:40 AM on January 7, 2013

Hemp Protein Powder, e.g. by Trader Joe's
posted by yoyo_nyc at 3:37 PM on January 7, 2013

Response by poster: Thank you, everyone - super helpful! Metafilterites are so great! I'll be researching these and I'll try to remember to update the thread to say which one(s) I pick. Thanks so much for the help!
posted by UniversityNomad at 9:47 PM on January 10, 2013

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