Choosing A Protein Powder

Choosing Protein Powders : EDITED April 2016

I often get asked:  “What is the best protein powder for me?”  Like all good questions in this industry the answer is: “It depends”….

The Simple Answer

To be honest, 90% of the time if you’re not lactose intolerant I just suggest:

“A low carb, whey concentrate in a flavour you like, mixed with water”. Have after weight training only or in a smoothie for breakfast if you are short on time.  Use real food for all your other meals.   Let me know what size you want, 1.25kg or 3kg and I’ll buy it for you. Bam! As you were”

The Complicated Answer

Find out where the farm is that the protein comes from.  Simply ask the shop assistant.  If they don’t know, maybe go somewhere else for there is a high probability they got hired for something other than their knowledge 😉

Farms that use grass fed, hormone free cows produce superior protein powders.  Southern New Zealand farms are great!  New Zealand makes the best whey cause they have the best grass.  You are what your food eats.

Whey protein is one of the two the major milk proteins (the other being Casein).

Whey is separated from milk through methods such as ultrafiltration, microfiltration, ion-exchange and reverse osmosis which results in the development of several different finished whey products.

These are whey protein concentrates, whey protein isolates, micro-filtered whey protein isolates, ion-exchange whey protein isolates, and hydrolyzed whey proteins.

Lets break them down :

Whey Protein Isolates

Whey protein isolate has the highest protein concentration (90-95%)

Contains very little (if any) fat, lactose and minerals.

Is lactose free and the most expensive of the protein powders

Plant Based Powders

Some people who are lactose intolerant will still react to isolates so will need to buy a plant based powder.  If you are going the plant based protein make sure they have adequate amounts of the 9 essential amino acids.  The best ones are always combinations of plants as that is how you get a better amino acid profile.  The best combinations involve brown rice and pea.

​Leucine is the most important amino when it comes to muscle growth.  Plant protein powders are no where near as studied as often as whey but recent studies suggest brown rice powder is the plant based protein of choice as it seems to be highest in Leucine.

Earlier research suggests that consuming 1.75-3.5 grams of leucine is a key factor when trying to maximize muscle protein synthesis. However, once this leucine level is reached, a protein’s ability to increase muscle protein synthesis effectively plateaus. Plant-based proteins contain about 6-8% leucine while animal-based proteins contain about 8-11% leucine.

So based on this research, 48grams of protein from brown rice will give you your necessary leucine for the day to build muscle.  So basically 2 shakes for most people.

How do they perform when compared to each other?

No statistical difference.  Its all about the leucine.

Whey Protein Concentrates

Whey protein concentrate has a protein concentration ranging from 25-89%. Most are around 80%.

Whey protein concentrates contain some lactose, fat and minerals.

Ion Exchanged Whey Protein Isolates

Ion exchange is a processing technology that is used to concentrate the protein content in the powder.

Has the very highest protein contents per gram.

This type of processing has serious drawbacks in that it literally wipes out all the valuable and health promoting subfraction peptides like alpha lactalbumin, glycomacropeptides, immunoglobulins, and lactoferrin, which are naturally found in whey.

Contains a high amount of beta-lactoglobulin which can cause allergies.

Micro Filtered Whey Protein Isolates

There are several different types of micro filtration technologies. They are all used with the purpose to enrich (or concentrate) various subfractions from the whey.

The micro filtration techniques allows for the production of powders of high quality (un-denatured) protein with very high protein contents (>90%).

Micro filtered when proteins retain important subfractions, and are low in fat and lactose,

Definitely worth their higher price.

Hydrolyzed Proteins

When a protein is hydrolyzed is means that it, by technological processes, has been split to smaller chains of amino acids, called peptides. The hydrolytic process mimics our own digestive actions; Thus it can be said that hydrolyzed protein is a predigested protein.

Contain mostly di-peptides and tri-peptides,

Are absorbed more rapidly than free-form amino acids and much more rapidly than intact (non-hydrolyzed) proteins.

Preferred protein pre and post training due to increased absorption and resulting increase in amino’s in the blood.

Has greater solubility and therefore doesn’t clog in your shaker!

Most popular protein among athletes.


The other milk protein is casein.  It is also an excellent source of amino acids yet differs in one important aspect—whey is a fast-digesting protein and casein is a slow-digesting protein.

Usually casein is taken at night so you don’t go catabolic but if you know anything about catabolic and anabolic states as long as you’re consuming adequate protein you’re not going catabolic in your sleep.  Personally having a casein for evenings and a whey for mornings and day times is micro managing protein powders on a level 99% of the population doesn’t need to bother with.  You’d be better spending your time doing better workouts and having better nutrition as a whole from real food.

However there are some studies that suggest adding a casein to your post workout whey based shake yields better results.

Alan Aragon sums it up like this

” There’s also this false implication that whey, being higher in leucine than casein, is superior. Not true, at least according to the current body of research, which indicates that casein, or at the very least, a blend of casein & whey, is superior to whey alone for affecting a number of parameters bodybuilders care about. What people seem to constantly forget is that net gains in muscle are the result of not just protein synthesis, but the inhibition of protein breakdown. Casein’s antiproteolytic effect is more profound than whey or leucine’s protein-synthetic effect. Hence its lead spot in the current body of research. The name of the game seems to revolve back to the old cliché of mixing things up, and achieving a variety of sources of protein from whey to casein, to flesh, to the range of sea & land flesh, to Asian women. Just kidding, I wanted to make sure everyone was awake. In sum, mTOR activation is just a piece of the puzzle” 

Amount Per Serve

For fat loss post workout :

0.44g protein concentrate per kg of body weight in water.  I’d rather eat my carbs in a fat loss phase and chances are you wont have a lot so the meal directly after this will be where you add you’re pre determined amount of carbs.

For weight gain:

0.44g protein per kg of body-weight in water plus minimum 0.44g of carbs per kg of body-weight dependent on the volume of the session.  The more volume the more carbs. The less volume the less carbs.  But again if you prefer to eat your carbs, you will most likely get enough of an insulin spike from the powder alone.

​(  The rest of your weight gain strategy should come from real food and training skewed towards hypertrophy  )

In Summary

– If you’re lactose intolerant – choose a brown rice based protein powder

– If you can tolerate lactose don’t waste your money and buy whey protein concentrate instead (containing at least 80-85% protein). Whey protein concentrates are not only cheaper than whey protein isolates but also contain more bioactive and health promoting substances.

– Try to find a whey protein concentrate powder that has some hydrolysates mixed in it for greater absorbability and mixability.

– If you really want to micromanage your protein add some casein to your whey.

– Pick a product that is low in carbs and sugar as then YOU can decide to add sugar or not depending on your goal and body composition.  Weight gainers are LOADED with sugar and are basically glorified skim milk powder.

Brad Stocks
Personal Trainer
Bondi Junction