Learning the Label: Helpful Tips to Choose the Right Protein Powder


Many people have turned to protein shakes and powders to help with their health, weight loss, and muscle-building goals. Unfortunately, the wrong shake or powder has a lot of filler that you don’t need, and that may actually do more harm than good.

While this is true, there are some tips you can use to find the right protein powder or supplement for your needs. One of the first things you should do is carefully look at the label. Some tips to help you understand what it says are listed here.

Check the Protein Source

A good option is to choose whey protein isolate. This is usually the most affordable option. It is a complete protein and it is easy for the body to absorb. If you find a casein-based supplement or powder, your body will digest it much more slowly, which makes it much less effective for muscle synthesis. You can find a quality source of protein in some shakes, like the Gundry MD ProPlant Complete Shake, but regardless of what you choose, it is a good idea to know the protein source first to know what it offers.

Look at the BCAA Ratio

BCAA is short for branched-chain amino acids. These are three protein building blocks that are essential for growth and maintenance. Most labels will list BCAAs as a ratio that includes leucine, isoleucine, and valine (typically in that order). A good mix is two parts leucine to one-part isoleucine and valine. According to experts, this is the ratio that is right for fat loss, muscle building, and to help combat fatigue. If you find a protein powder that does not have these amino acids listed, it is a good idea to choose a different one.

Carb Considerations

It is important to find a protein powder that has as much as three percent of your daily value of carbs in each serving. Carbs are responsible for increasing insulin in the body, which will promote the absorption of amino acids. This helps to stimulate muscle growth. By adding your plain protein powder to eight ounces of low-fat milk, you will get the carbs needed after your workout.

Look at the Sugars

Sometimes, protein powder companies use natural zero-calorie sugars or artificial sugars such as stevia to keep the carbs and calories low. While this is a noble pursuit, there is an issue. Based on animal studies, artificial sweeteners may actually be harmful to the good bacteria in your gut. Stevia is the exception to this; however, there are many who claim it tastes “weird.” As a result, it is often mixed with sorbitol and xylitol, which are sugar alcohols that can cause bloating and gas. Your best bet is to choose an unsweetened powder.

Skip the Probiotics

These are helpful bacteria that are good for you, but the type and number of probiotics that are needed to offer any benefit depend on you and your current gut microbiota. It is a good idea to speak with a dietician who can provide recommendations for a specific probiotic food or a supplement that may be better for you.

Trust a Seal from a Third Party

Any type of additional testing or certification for a protein supplement or powder is a good thing. There are several options, such as the National Sanitation Foundation’s “Certified for Sport” seal. What this means is that a product really includes what the label says and that it has been tested for any substances that have been banned by athletic organizations or contaminants. It has also been made in a facility that is audited each year for safety and quality. There are not too many products that have these types of seals or certifications, so it is smart to try to find one that does.

Finding the Right Protein Powder Supplement for You

It is a good idea to try to find a protein powder that is unsweetened and that has as few ingredients as possible. Also, always look to see if the protein is the first ingredient on the list, as this makes a difference. If you are not lactose intolerant, consider whey-protein isolate. By knowing what to look for and what makes a powder quality you can make a decision about which one is right for you and your needs.