Protein supplements are great for many reasons – the main one being that they are the most convenient way to consume the protein you need after a tough workout.  Although you can get protein supplements in some very interesting forms now (like jello, crackers and pudding packs) the most cost effective and versatile of them all would still be the simple protein powder.  But don’t mistake its simplicity as a sign that it’s less useful!  All protein powders contain…well…protein.  But with thousands of these powders on the market, you can bet that many fall short of what is required and others exceed standard expectations.

So what are you looking for?

Think about it.  What are you really looking to get from your protein supplement?  Do you want it to help you lean out?  To assist in gaining weight/building lean body mass?  Or do you simply want it to help you recover after a grueling training session?

Whey Protein

Whey protein powders are extremely popular – and for good reason!  Rich in essential amino acids, it helps your body build muscle while burning calories and fat at the same time.  Most brands are also low in sugar and calories – so you’re free to add your own mix ins (fruit, milk and almond butter anyone?)  To get the most bang for your buck, look for a protein powder that lists “whey protein isolate” as the first ingredient.  Whey protein isolate is the highest quality and most active form which is definitely what you want to be consuming after a workout – not a bunch of fillers and flavorings.  If you are going to add additional ingredients, like fruit, to your post workout drink then look for a powder with 2-5g of carbohydrate and at least 20g of protein per serving.  However, if you’re short on time or even just a little lazy (it’s okay…you can admit it) then there are also plenty of “ready to drink” whey protein shakes out there with carbohydrates already added in.  Just watch the added sugars and calories when it comes to these.  If you’re trying to lose fat, making your own post workout drinks is always a safer bet.

Casein Protein

Casein protein powder is often used when trying to build muscle.  Due to its slow absorption, it protects muscle from being broken down and also helps to add new muscle with a high amino acid content.  It’s best used before bed or with another form of protein – not post workout when you want to get nutrients to tired muscles as quickly as possible.

Soy Protein

Soy protein powder is great for people who are intolerant to whey protein or prefer to not use an animal derived product.  It can be used in the same way as whey protein powder.

Using Protein Powder to your Advantage

Remember that when it comes to protein powder and post workout nutrition – timing is everything.  This is especially true when it comes to your standard whey or soy protein.  These should be consumed immediately following a workout because the amino acids will be rapidly absorbed and used, making it easier for you to build muscle and recover.  If your goal is fat loss or maintenance, add a serving of frozen fruit and skim or an unsweetened alternative milk (almond, soy, coconut).

If your goal is muscle building, make sure your post workout drink contains whey or soy protein but more calories than are standard.  Consider adding a higher fat milk or yogurt as well as some fruit and nut butter.  This will get you the extra energy and recovery that you need after a workout to add mass.  Consider adding a casein protein to your nightly routine to prevent muscle breakdown overnight.

Whatever your goal – protein powder is an effective tool to help get you there.