What is a protein powder?
The protein powder market is absolutely saturated at the moment. The idea is simple. Hard exercise leaves small tears in the muscles which need to recover between workouts- and, of course, we all hope that our workouts are laying down new muscle too. Protein powders are designed to lay down an easy-to-use, beneficial protein and amino acid source for the body to use to optimise recovery and new muscle growth.
That said, it is an over-saturated market, and the quality of the powder you’re using matters.
What to look for in a protein powder?
Obviously, you’re looking for the best tasting protein powder you can find for yourself, but there are a couple of other things to bear in mind too:
- The most common types of protein powders are whey. It’s a great choice, but as its dairy based, be aware of allergies and try a different source if you need to. You’ll find soy and hemp alternatives for vegetarians, too. Watch out for other ingredients if you suffer a gluten allergy.
- Denatured [i.e. overheated] protein is useless. Look for cold-pressed and cross flow micro-filtered [CFM] powders to avoid this.
- Fillers, chemicals and artificial additives- avoid these to the best of your ability. They’re often added to increase palatability, but its adding a lot of unnecessary and potentially dangerous elements to a supposedly healthy drink. If you have a touch of a sweet tooth, Xylitol, Stevia and natural cocoa are generally held to be the safest.
- If they’re worries for you or you prefer to eat clean, avoid GMO products and try to source whey from cow herds that are antibiotic free and naturally raised. They are out there- New Zealand Whey sources are some of the best at this as national legislation bans the use of antibiotics there.
- If you have very serious goals, you’ll want to look for a supplement with a good amino acid profile. Remember, grams per scoop are not as hugely important as you may think- you can always adjust the serving size a little if you need to.
- Isolate vs. Concentrate can be a personal preference. Concentrate is probably the better option for most people. Isolate may be slightly better tasting, and is suitable for those stripping all fat from their diet, but it is also more ‘tampered’ with as a protein source.
- Some protein powders are not ‘merely’ protein powders, but come with added supplementation, either to facilitate post-workout recovery or for other goals. It may be a choice for you if it matches your workout profile and goals.
So now, about this taste?
Powders that tick the boxes for your goals and the issues mentioned above are all well and good, but they’re pretty useless if you leave them sitting in the cupboard instead of using them! The best protein powder in the world will do you no good if you can’t drink it. You need a powder that will work for your goals and be palatable and easy to mix and use. Powders fall into roughly 3 categories:
- Artificially Sweetened
- Naturally Sweetened
Unsweetened is not to most people’s taste, though it may be right up your alley. Usually, however this category is best left for uses in baking etc, or if you are blending your powder with fruit to suit your own taste. Artificially sweetened products have by far the most versatile and adaptable taste ranges. However, as mentioned above, some people will have concerns about artificial sweeteners, and it’s a personal preference you have to decide for yourself- does their addition concern you? Is it worth a little compromise to get the best taste? It’s up to you and what works for you, although if eating clean is a big priority for you, you will probably want to avoid them. Unlike artificial sweeteners, most natural sweeteners will not be low-cal options, and some people do not like the use of sugars in their exercise routine. Again, its personal preference, and some ranges blend artificial and natural together.
Obviously, the best tasting protein powder for you is going to be a matter of your values, your needs and your taste choices- other athletes may rave about a new chocolate shake, but if you detest that sweet treat you aren’t going to like the powder- but below we look at 3 powder ranges who consistently place high for taste, texture and function.
BSN Syntha 6
The BSN Syntha 6 range contains isolates and concentrates, so it serves either preference. It’s also one of the oldest brands out there- there’s a reason it’s stuck around. The chocolate offering in their range are particularly well thought of, and most athletes seeking to indulge a bit of a sweet tooth rank this one well. There’s a host of other flavours too, from similar things like chocolate mint right through to mochaccino, peanut butter and orange, so you’ll have a nice range to choose from- there’s not many powder ranges that offer this degree of variety. It seems like the chocolate mint and the peanut butter top out as the most popular flavours, but almost all users find a flavour to love in this range, and find them both tasty and useful.
Optimum Nutrition Serious Mass
Optimum Nutrition are a well known name in the supplement market. They also make a big deal about vetting their products, so you can rest assured there are no contaminants in their powders. Their whole range of protein powder lines score well on taste and on use- the Serious Mass range has perhaps the greatest range of flavours, though it’s a high-cal option and if you don’t need that you may want to look at a different line instead. Overall, users complement the taste as well as the results.
Raw Organic Whey’s USDA Certified Organic Whey
This is more of a niche product then the other too- and it won’t be winning any prizes for creative naming- but it scores incredibly highly on Amazon and related sites, and consensus seems to be that it’s among the best tasting alternatives for those looking for a totally clean protein powder supplement that ticks every box imaginable for those with concerns. No preservatives, sweeteners, fillers, soy, hormones, denaturing, gluten, GMO…it’s even US manufactured! Users love it, and in a niche that’s difficult to get a decent taste from, it ranks the best. Obviously, given its profile, there are no flavour options in the range.
Any one of these high quality options will not only support your workout, but will leave you pleasantly surprised with taste and texture to make taking them a treat.