Definitive guide to picking a protein powder

protein powder scoop

The definitive guide to picking a protein powder

"How do you go about picking a protein powder?" I get some version of this question often, and ridiculously it's only dawned on me now to write anything about it.

By dawned I actually mean it was directly pointed out to me in a conversation with my awesome client Matt that I should write some sh*t down haha! So thanks Matty, I appreciate you!

There are a ton of protein supplements out there and choosing one can be intimidating and confusing so I want to give you some simple guidelines to vet your potential protein supplement of choice along with a little background on some overall considerations for protein intake. 

Navigating this guide

Reading nutrition label

Why should you care about protein

Out of all the macros protein is the most deficient in the majority of diets. It's a key ingredient if you want more muscle, to be leaner and have better appetite regulation (aka less hangry-ness) .

Protein from any and all sources provides the building blocks our body needs to build new tissues. It has powerful impacts on appetite and how our body uses and distributes energy along with body fat.

For more information on macros and their role check out "Macros for weight loss and performance 101".

How much protein do you need?

The basic recommendation for protein intake is 0.8 grams per kilogram (or around 0.36 g per pound) of body mass in untrained, generally healthy adults. For instance, a 150 lb (68 kg) person would consume around 54 grams a day.

This amount is only to prevent protein deficiency, so that's how much you need to survive not thrive. It’s not ideal for someone who trains hard regularly (which is you now, or soon I hope?).

In that case protein needs might go up to about 1.4-2.0 g/kg (or around 0.64-0.9 g/lb) of body mass. Our hypothetical 150 lb (68 kg) person would thus need about 95-135 g of protein per day.

Do I need to supplement protein powder?

No. There's nothing magical about protein powder, it's just convenient. Where it can help is when time, circumstance or desire isn't conducive to eating a protein rich meal. There are some advantages to high performing individuals when consumed around the workout window but these are minimal and shouldn't be a deciding factor for 99% of people.

Is eating a lot of protein safe?

Eating a high protein diet is generally safe. If you have some pre-existing kidney and liver damage or dysfunction then you should be careful about dramatically increasing protein intake in a short timespan. You should opt to make gradual changes instead and don't hesitate to consult your family doctor as they can usually assist in advising and monitoring this process. For more on the topic check out "Can eating too much protein be bad for you?".

Picking a protein powder

There are 3 questions I'd look to answer when purchasing a protein powder. This will help you make an informed decision regardless of brand.

1. Where is it made?

The first thing I'd recommend is buying a product that is either manufactured in Canada (we have more stringent guidelines for manufacturing supplements) or NSF certified and GMP designated (this will appear on the label). 


Why this matters: This ensures that contents match what is on the label, and that the product does not contain unsafe levels of toxic metals like arsenic and mercury.

2. What's the protein to serving ratio?

The next thing I'd examine the Nutrition facts and determine the total Protein to Serving ratio. To get this take the protein per serving in grams and divide that by the size of the scoop in grams. Multiply the result by 100, this gives you the percentage of protein per serving.

Nutrition Facts with formula

What result to look for:

For animal based proteins you should look for 75%+ protein per serving.

Vegetarian proteins will usually be lower but can still attain 65-70%+ protein per serving. 

Why this matters: This ensures you're getting protein with minimal fillers and/or additives. Manufacturers often add additional sugars, fats or other additives which are cheaper than the protein which saves them on cost. 

3. What's in it?

When picking a protein powder look at the ingredient panel. Take note of the proteins used.

What you'll generally see are variations of:

  • Whey and casein (or calcium caseinate) which are milk based products
  • Rice, pea, pumpkin or hemp based which are vegetarian
  • Beef, fish, and egg protein which are good alternatives for the lactose sensitive 
Nutrition Facts Ingredients

This is the nutrition label for a Magnum Quattro a protein blend

These proteins are filtered and processed in various manners which is where you'll see indicators like concentrate, isolate, hydrolysate on the label.

Why this matters:

The key differentiators in choosing a type of protein is food allergies (lactose tolerance for example) or dietary preference(vegetarian/vegan), speed of digestion required (based on when it's going to be consumed) and taste/texture preference.

Concentrates are moderately filtered, moderately fast to digest. Whey and casein still contain lactose which is something to be aware of if sensitive. Concentrate should generally be the most inexpensive.

Isolates are highly filtered, and quicker to digest than concentrates. Milk isolates have little to no lactose. Isolates are typically moderately expensive but should give you more protein per serving.

Hydrolysates are highly filtered and partially broken down leaving little other than protein so they are quickest to digest and have no lactose. For those who have digestive difficulty when it comes to protein these might be a better solution. They are the most expensive but offer the most protein per serving.

How to use protein powder

When to take protein

The ideal time to supplement protein is:

  • When you cannot get a whole food meal
  • Between meals (replacing a snack for example)
  • Post Workout 

There's been a ton of hype about supplementing protein over the years around the workout window (the time before, during and after the workout). For an athlete or recreational athlete this would be something to consider when optimizing nutrition, but for most people this will have little to no impact so it isn't something to truly worry about.

Most are best served using protein supplements to fortify diets or replace meals.

How much protein can you supplement?

1-2 servings of protein is the most I'd recommend for most people (very situational exceptions exist). Needing more than this likely means you're not eating enough protein rich foods, so I'd review better ways of getting protein from food beyond this. 

Hope this helps answer many of your protein questions. Want to stop guessing if you're doing it right and get clear on how to optimize your training and nutrition to build a body you can be proud of? Book a strategy call here and find out.

About the author 

Coach Jason

Coach Jason Ingham is a personal trainer, nutrition coach, and founder of BID Health and Performance. Jason has spent more than 20 years practicing the art of lifting and coaching, continually refining his skill set to help his clients build bodies they're proud of pain-free while doing what they love.

When he's not in the gym you'll probably find him buried in a book, exploring the city's restaurants, or crushing the latest streaming sci-fi or fantasy series with his partner Bailey.

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