Heading out the door? Read this article on the new Outside+ app available now on iOS devices for members! Download the app.
Let’s get real. If you’re reading this, it’s not likely that you’re an Olympic athlete or hardcore lifter who simply can’t consume enough protein and calories in a 24-hour period. But there’s a very good chance that your busy (meeting-packed, kid-filled, errand-heavy) schedule makes it hard to sit down for the wholly nutritious meals your body needs. The good news is that today’s premium protein powders can help fill in those gaps. Try these seven great uses for everyday people.
1. Best Protein Powder for Kids
Breakfast for Picky Kids Rare is the child who asks for greens for breakfast.
You can change that with sneaky fruit-and-greens protein powder blends.
Try this: Add vanilla-and-greens protein powder to pancakes or waffles; stir chocolate-and-greens protein powders into oatmeal and top with sliced bananas; freeze vanilla-and-fruit protein powder into ice pops, and let kids eat “ice cream” for breakfast.
2. Best Protein Powder for Lunch
Grab a sandwich or slice of pizza for 500 low-protein (and high-sodium) calories—or plan ahead and pack a protein-rich lunch you can eat at your desk or on the go.
Try this: Stir unsweetened protein powder into hummus; make an easy, savory muffin with eggs and protein powder for a power-packed, one-handed meal.
3. Best Protein Powder for Afternoon Snack
Beat the afternoon slump with this:
Keep the snack bar and coffee shop scones at bay with protein-fortified snacks that feature lots of fiber and natural sugars to boost energy and keep you satisfied until dinner.
Try this: Combine chocolate protein powder, flax seeds, chia seeds, nuts, and dates in a food processor to make a paste, then roll into balls; dredge the balls in cocoa powder or shredded coconut for more fun.
4. Best Pre-Workout, Morning Protein Powder
A full stomach makes it hard to twist and bend, but if you’re doing morning yoga (or any other workout) you’ve gotta have a little fuel to get you going.
Try this: Blend a small scoop of easy-to-digest protein powder, a small handful of berries, and a half cup of skim milk or almond milk, and sip 45 minutes before class to sustain you.
5. Best Protein Powder for Post-Weekend Warrior Workouts
You’ve scaled that mountain, cycled those 40 miles or run that marathon; now, replenish and rebuild muscles.
Try this: Add chocolate protein powder to healthy brownie mix; combine almond butter, oatmeal, and protein powder, and shape into squares.
6. Best Protein Powder for Weight Loss, Pre and Post Workout, and Slimming Dessert
A sugar-filled dessert close to bedtime is a dieting disaster. Instead, indulge your after-dinner sweet tooth with a protein-rich treat that balances blood sugar and makes midnight munchies less likely.
Try this: Purée strawberries, vanilla-matcha protein powder, and low-fat yogurt, and freeze for 20 minutes; microwave bittersweet chocolate until melted, stir in chocolate protein powder and a small amount of milk, and chill until it’s the consistency of mousse; beat egg whites till stiff, fold in vanilla protein powder, and bake at 200°F, then serve with fresh raspberries.
7. Best Protein Powder for Coffee Flavor
Most are off the charts when it comes to calories and sugar—for example, a Starbuck’s Grande Java Chip Frappuccino Blended Coffee made with nonfat milk and whipped cream has 440 calories and 67 grams of sugar. Protein powders pair especially well with coffee and give you that coffee shop-style flavor without the obscene amount of sugar and calories.
Try this: Blend chocolate protein powder with coffee, unsweetened almond milk, ice, and 1 banana; stir protein powder and cream into a cup of hot coffee; add protein powder and coffee into gluten-free brownie mix.
Check out our protein powder recipes
How to Choose the Perfect Protein Powder – Pea, Rice, Soy, Whey, or Hemp?
When it comes to protein powders, there are dozens of different choices. Which is right for you? In general, you’ll want a powder that’s low in sugar, high in protein, free from additives, and reasonably priced. Other healthful additions include green foods, fruit powders, extra fiber, and probiotics. You’ll also find dozens of varieties that feature added herbs and supplements, which may be better targeted to your individual needs.
Flavors are fun, but plain, unsweetened protein powders are the most versatile (and usually lower in sugar). Sweeten them with honey, stevia, or fresh fruit. Look for a complete protein, one that contains all the essential amino acids. It needn’t be of animal origin; blends that combine pea, rice, and/or seed proteins contain complementary amino acids that make the final mixture a complete protein.
Check out these five main varieties, and choose the one that’s best for you:
1. Pea protein is a concentrated protein extracted from peas.
The amino acid profile is similar to soy, but unlike soy, it’s hypoallergenic and good for people with food sensitivities. Like rice protein, it’s a good choice for vegans and forms a complete protein when combined with rice or other grains. It also has many health benefits: studies show that it can increase muscle gain, lower blood pressure, and reduce cholesterol.
2. Whey protein is made from dairy, and was originally the byproduct of the cheese-making process. It’s mild in flavor and smooth in texture.
If you eat dairy, it’s one of the most versatile and easy to use varieties. Whey increases the body’s levels of glutathione, a powerful antioxidant, and it contains other proteins that support immune function. Studies suggest whey can lower LDL, reduce blood pressure, combat inflammation, and protect against cancer. Whey protein concentrates contain small amounts of fat and sugar; isolates are more concentrated sources of protein, and tend to be easier to digest. Either way, always choose organic or grass-fed whey.
3. Soy protein is a low-cost, versatile option for many people, and it may help lower LDL cholesterol and triglycerides, while raising HDL.
Other studies suggest that soy protein can reduce menopausal discomfort and protect against osteoporosis and prostate cancer. However, soy can be hard to digest and is likely to contain genetically modified organisms. Look for non-GMO, organic varieties.
4. Hemp protein is made from a variety of hemp (Cannabis sativa) plant that’s low in THC (tetrahydrocannabinol, the intoxicating agent in marijuana) and doesn’t have psychoactive properties.
It’s high in fiber and essential fatty acids, with an optimally balanced ratio of 1:3 omega-3 and omega-6 fats. Studies suggest that it may protect against high blood pressure. It’s more expensive, but a great vegan option.
5. Rice protein is made by concentrating the proteins from brown rice grains.
It has a mild flavor and is great for vegans or people with food allergies or intolerances. In studies, rice protein is as effective as whey protein in terms of exercise performance, post-workout recovery, fat reduction, and muscle building. Combined with pea protein, it becomes a complete protein—look for combined formulas, or mix them yourself.