The world of protein powders is vast, with different options created from different ingredients and processed in different ways. Each protein powder variety comes with its own set of distinguishing traits: While certain proteins are ideal for people dedicated to maximizing muscle recovery, others may better support plant-based eaters or those prone to indigestion.
Here, we’ll look at reasons to pop a new protein powder into your basket and offer tips for choosing the best type based on your diet, tolerance to various ingredients, and health and fitness goals.
Reasons to Try a New Protein Powder
If the protein powder you’re currently using is working well, by all means, stick with it. However, if your priorities have shifted or something feels off, listen to your body and make a change. There are plenty of other tubs in the sea! Here are some of the biggest reasons to switch things up.
1. You want to increase your overall protein intake
Chugging down protein regularly supports protein synthesis and helps build muscle, especially when consumed post-workout. But certain options out there have more protein per serving to offer than others.
In many cases, whey protein powders are higher in protein per serving than many plant-based alternatives. Whey isolates, in particular, are especially high in protein, if you’re looking to maximize the amount of protein you get per calorie. Check your labels to identify which options offer maximum protein per serving! (Try GHOST Cinnabon Whey Protein if you’re looking for a unique flavor, or go with BodyTech Chocolate Whey Protein Isolate for more of a classic.)
2. You’re going plant-based
If you’re switching to a plant-forward diet, you may be looking to replace your current animal-based protein powder or enlist the help of a plant-based protein to meet your daily protein needs sans animal products. Luckily for you, as plant-based eating continues to trend, so do animal-free protein powders—and the options have never been tastier! (Seriously, gone are the days of gritty plant proteins that taste like dirt, thank goodness.)
Just keep in mind that plant-based proteins can sometimes be lower in certain amino acids than animal-based options. If finding a “complete protein” source is important to you, look for a product made with a blend of various plant protein sources, such as BodyTech Plant Tech or plnt Organic Plant Protein.
3. Your current protein doesn’t agree with your stomach
Some people may experience not-so-nice digestive issues—such as bloating, gas, and indigestion—when taking certain proteins. Other signs of digestive distress (which may be caused by undigested proteins or changes in gut microbiota) include alterations in appetite, pain, and changes in bowel movements. Whey is typically the biggest offender here, but other people may be sensitive to the soy included in some plant-based protein powders, according to Dr. Josh Axe, D.N.M., C.N., a doctor of natural medicine and member of The Vitamin Shoppe Wellness Council.
Worth noting: While whey isolate is much lower in lactose than whey concentrate or whey blend proteins, it’s still not optimal for people with dairy or milk issues.
Read More: 15 Signs That Something Is Off With Your Gut
“If you find yourself experiencing digestive issues such as gas, bloating, or feeling excessively full, it might be time to try a new protein powder,” suggests naturopathic medicine doctor Dr. Chelsea Azarcon, N.M.D. “Some people with digestive issues cannot tolerate plant-based or whey-based powders well. Grass-fed collagen is a great option in these circumstances as it’s well-tolerated.” Egg white protein is another animal-based option that may be better tolerated. Check out The Vitamin Shoppe brand’s Grass-Fed Collagen Peptides Powder or BodyTech Egg White Protein Powder.
For those who tend to have trouble with plant-based alternatives, look for a vegan protein that uses organic, sprouted, or fermented ingredients, suggests dietitian Rebecca Fallihee, M.S., C.N.S., L.D.N.,. These factors all increase the likelihood that you’ll tolerate it without issue. Blessed Plant Protein uses sprouted raw pea protein, while Garden of Life Raw Organic Protein contains a number of sprouted organic plant protein sources.
If you’re still struggling to figure out why your protein is messing with your stomach, consider that some additive ingredients—such as artificial sweeteners or certain fibers like guar gum, psyllium husk, or xanthan gum—may cause bloating and digestive upset, according to Fallihee and Azarcon. The protein source itself may not be to blame at all.
4. Your fitness goals have shifted
Your individual fitness goals can certainly influence which protein powder is the best fit for you—and when those goals shift, your go-to supplement may need to, too. For example, if you’re focused on getting shredded (which means maintaining muscle mass while dropping body fat), you may want a protein powder with as little sugar and carbohydrates as possible (such as Axe & Sledge Farm Fed Whey Protein Isolate). When you’re honed in on building up as much muscle mass as possible, though, the extra grams of carbs and sweetness may not matter as much.
5. You want to better support your joints and gut
All protein plays a role in tissue repair, collagen synthesis, and metabolic function. However, opting for a bone broth protein or collagen protein may be a good move if you want to really focus on gut and joint health, in particular.
Azarcon loves that these options are easy to digest, great for gut health, and an excellent source of amino acids, including glutamine (which is crucial for a healthy gut lining). Axe also advocates for low-sugar bone broth proteins, as well as collagen (specifically products that include multiple types of collagen), as both can benefit various joints and tissues all throughout the body. Try Ancient Nutrition Multi Collagen Protein or Vital Proteins Bone Broth Collagen.
6. It’s time to switch up your flavor game
Whether you’re sick of the same old chocolate or are currently sipping a super-decadent flavor that’s run its course, wanting to cleanse your palate is a perfectly good reason to start shopping around for a new protein powder.
Read More: 8 Possible Reasons Why You’re Losing Muscle
If you’re not sure whether to pull the trigger on a funky flavor, read through some online reviews to get a feel for what other consumers have to say about how it goes down in plain water, blended into smoothies, and added to other recipes. A few winners worth trying: BodyTech Frosted Cereal Whey Protein Isolate, the classic Optimum Nutrition Vanilla Ice Cream Gold Standard Whey, or RYSE Skippy Loaded Whey Protein.
7. You want to be kinder to your wallet
Plain and simple, if you need to keep more of your hard-earned cash in your pocket, opting for a less expensive protein powder can help you save while still prioritizing your health and fitness. In general, hydrolyzed, organic, and vegan products tend to be a bit more expensive, but prices often come down to the brand and specific sourcing and manufacturing processes. Options like plnt Organic Plant Protein or True Athlete Natural Whey Protein save cash without sacrificing quality.
8. You want to add extra boosts to your blend
In addition to packing in major protein, many of the latest and greatest powders also incorporate other powerful ingredients in order to support your goals. If you want a protein that works double-duty or an excuse to curate your supplement routine, consider switching to one of these jazzed-up options. Dymatize Dunkin’ Cappuccino ISO-100 Hydrolyzed Whey Protein not only tastes like your favorite morning bev, but offers a satisfying buzz, too, with each scoop containing 95 milligrams of caffeine in addition to 25 grams of protein. Or, if you want to turn up the heat on your get-shredded effort, an option like BodyTech Elite Isolate Ripped—which contains a thermogenic formula that includes caffeine, green tea extract, l-carnitine, and more—can help accelerate your progress.
Some Final Advice
The key to selecting a protein powder tailored to your specific health goals, dietary needs, and taste preferences is to understand what makes each option beneficial or potentially problematic for you. Regardless of your unique needs, though, the experts recommend keeping a few things in mind.
“Overall, I generally recommend avoiding fillers, ingredients you cannot name, and various types of sugars in large amounts,” suggests Fallihee. Azarcon agrees and also suggests people avoid artificial ingredients, gums, and industrial seed oils to support long-term health.
Also, it’s always worth mentioning that while protein powders can be a game-changing tool for supporting your health and fitness goals, be mindful of over-relying on them or allowing them to crowd out other foods. “Protein powder should not be used as a replacement for protein from whole food sources such as fish, eggs, and legumes,” explains Axe. “Not only are these foods a good protein source, they also provide tons of important vitamins and minerals.” Use protein powders as supplements (which they’re intended to be!) and they’ll serve you well.