According to the Institute of Medicine, we all should consume between 10% to 35% of our daily calories from protein. Athletes and those who engage in regular strength training should aim toward the higher end of that range.  

Though proteins are best derived from whole foods, if your diet is solid and you’re simply trying to add a protein supplement between meals, protein powder can be a useful addition to your diet.

Most people eat about 10% of their protein at breakfast, about 20% at lunch and about 70% at dinner. However, protein intake should be spread out more evenly to increase protein synthesis, and protein powder can help you achieve that goal. What type of protein powder, you ask?


Whey is one of the richest sources of branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs), including leucine, isoleucine and valine. These three gems have been shown to be absolutely critical for muscle growth, and even energy during workouts.

Whey protein also provides antioxidant benefits, boosts immune function, and enhances muscle recovery and growth.

Whey is the liquid remaining after milk has been curdled and strained. The most common whey protein foods include dairy foods such as yogurt, cottage cheese and ricotta.

When you were a kid and read about Little Miss Muffet “eating her curds and whey,” she was actually eating cottage cheese, a great source of whey protein.

Yet, many athletes and exercisers ingest much of their whey in the form of protein powder. However, not all whey protein powders are created equally. Some are made from concentrates, which are high in lactose.

If you are lactose intolerant or can’t digest lactose properly (i.e., you get stomach cramps, gas and diarrhea), but you want a high-quality protein powder with excellent bioavailability, you might try a 100% whey protein isolate powder.

The amount of lactose in whey protein isolate is quite low. The processing of whey into 100% isolate removes the lactose, lessening your chance of feeling gassy and bloated.

What separates whey protein from other forms of protein is its digestion rate; whey digests very rapidly. In fewer than 30 minutes it can fast-track a good portion of its amino acids to your muscles, and that rapid delivery of aminos to muscle cells has been shown to be important for enhancing muscle growth.

To be considered a great, whey protein the product MUST list whey protein isolate or hydrolyzed whey protein isolate as the very first ingredient. That’s because whey protein isolates are the purest form of protein you can get, with some being more than 90% protein. And “hydrolyzed whey protein isolate” means that high-quality whey has been pre-digested into smaller protein fragments for even faster digestion than regular whey isolate.


Whey protein concentrate, on the other hand, goes through less filtering, which means fewer of the natural carbohydrates found in milk are removed. The result is a whey product that is much lower in protein content. Although most whey protein concentrates are somewhere between 70-80% protein, some can be less than 35% protein. This is why isolates and hydrolysates generally cost more.

In order to know if a whey protein powder is top notch, you’ll need to do some math. Take the grams of protein per serving listed on the supplement facts panel and divide it by the serving size (in grams). This will give you the percentage of protein in each serving. To be considered a great whey protein powder, the percent protein per serving (or scoop) should be 80% or greater.

If you are vegan, you might choose a non-dairy protein powder, preferably the organic variety. Pea protein powder and soy protein isolate are good choices. However, it’s important to recognize that not all plant proteins contain each of the nine essential amino acids (EEAs).
EEAs cannot be made by the body. As a result, they must come from food. Animal-based foods have all nine of the EAAs and they are also higher in bioavailability, which is their ability to be absorbed and used by the body. Plant-based foods have lower bioavailability. 
Soy is the only complete plant protein. Soy foods are also rich in vitamins and minerals. 
It’s worth noting that plant proteins generally have less leucine, which is an essential amino acid. Leucine can: increase muscle growth and lean body mass, help in healing skin and bonesincrease production of human growth hormone (HGH), and may help control blood sugar.
However, the following protein powders are good plant-based sources of leucine:
• Soy protein isolate
• Pea protein powder
• Peanut powder
Nonetheless, because it contains all of the essential amino acids and is easily digested, whey protein (including whey protein powder) is considered the gold standard. Add in the facts that whey protein can aid wound healing, boost immune function, provide antioxidant benefits, moderate blood sugar, and might even lower blood pressure, and whey protein should be your go-to powder. 
Yet, what likely matters most to athletes and weight trainers is that whey is a complete, high-quality protein that promotes muscle growth. To that end, some studies show that whey protein may be slightly better than other types of protein, such as casein or soy.
When choosing a hydrolyzed whey protein isolate, make sure to select one with no additives, preservatives or artificial sweeteners. You might want a natural vanilla or chocolate flavor, for example, but you don’t need any of the other junk that may be added. If the only ingredient is whey protein isolate or hydrolyzed whey protein, you’re getting purity, without any other fillers or low-quality garbage.