There’s really no way around it, this Protein Powder Showdown is going to be a long post. It’s all about one of our favorite dietary supplements: protein powders. As you probably know, there are roughly 800 million options out there for protein supplements, so how are you to know which protein powder is right for you?
In order to help you find the right protein, be sure to review these three great posts from our blog:
1. How to pick a protein: https://thefeed.com/blog/2014/10/02/understanding-protein-how-to-pick-a-protein-powder/
2. Why protein is important: https://thefeed.com/blog/2014/11/03/why-protein-is-important-for-endurance-athletes/
3. Need a non-dairy protein? https://thefeed.com/blog/2014/11/04/need-non-dairy-protein-heres-what-you-need/
Here at The Feed, we rely on single-serve protein powders on a daily basis. They are great meal replacements, and protein powders tend to have better ingredient lists when compared to protein bars since they don't require an emulsifier to bind everything together.
Today, we're reviewing products that are sold in single-serve packaging so that you can easily try different stuff from different brands, without breaking the bank on a tub with 40 servings. Once you have a protein powder that you like, you might want to order a large tub and save a bit per serving.
We’ll be reviewing 11 protein powders from 9 different brands. Of these 11 protein powders, Whey Isolate is the most common type of protein, although we also have options with casein protein and plant based pea protein for vegetarians and vegans.
Aside from the type of protein, we can easily categorize these powders into 4 categories:
- Paleo / Low-Sugar
- 4:1 ratio carbs-to-protein
- High-calorie / high-carbohydrate.
Paleo / Low-Sugar:
During the winter months, we’ve been focusing a lot on our strength training, and have been using SFH 4-5 times per week for 4-5 months. All of SFH’s protein is derived from A2, grass-fed, free-range cows ensuring a high-quality product without contaminations. Their “Fuel” product has 20 grams of whey protein, but also adds 4.5 grams of MCTs, or coconut fat. MCTs are “medium-chain triglycerides”, a type of fat that is more readily used as energy when compared to long-chain triglycerides. We’ll have more on MCTs in the future, but for now SFH Fuel is a great way to add protein and MCTs into your daily routine. We love the coconut flavor, it’s one of the best-tasting protein powders that we’ve tried.
SFH Recovery Whey is specifically formulated for use immediately after hard workouts. In contrast to SFH’s Fuel product, their recovery whey has 15 grams of protein and 80 calories. Although the recovery product has fewer calories, it adds key ingredients to aid recovery. By adding 2.7 grams of creatine, 1.8 grams of Ribose, glucosamine, co-enzyme Q-10, and glutamine, this product will aid recovery and let you train harder, sooner. SFH Recovery Whey is sweetened by stevia, which gives it a different flavor than other protein powders sweetened with sugar. For the benefit of being sugar-free, we’re happy to have stevia instead.
Like SFH, Gnarly sources high-quality grass-fed whey and adds in 2.75 grams of branch-chain amino acids as well as 2 grams of glutamine. Gnarly only uses natural sweeteners like stevia and monk fruit as opposed to sugar or processed sweeteners. Gnarly also adds pre and probiotics along with digestive enzymes to aid digestion and add healthy flora to your intestine. As is the case with SFH Recovery Whey, Gnarly Whey uses stevia which impacts the flavor pretty dramatically. We recommend trying out the single-serve products with stevia first, before committing to a larger tub of the product.
Plant-based Vega Sport Protein is a great protein option for any athlete. Vega Sport protein gets 25 grams of protein, relying on their “Complete Protein Blend”. This blend includes pea protein, saviseed (sacha inchi) protein, sprouted whole-grain brown rice protein, and alfalfa protein. Vega Sport also has 5,094mg of branched-chain amino acids, and 5,083mg of glutamine. We’ve used this protein powder pretty extensively over the past year, and recommend consuming it with more liquid than other protein powders. When consumed with less liquid, it tends to be thicker and a little tough to get down. The flavors are all very good, but we’d probably lean towards Chocolate as our favorite!
This recovery product is a lot different than similar products on the market because while it is a 4:1 carb-to-protein ratio, it’s relatively low in calories. That is the primary reason why we love this product. Having a low-calorie recovery product is great because it allows you to focus more of your caloric intake on balanced meal of real, whole foods. The Vega Sport Recovery Accelerator also focuses on reducing inflammation and boosting your immune system. It does this by adding maca root, glucosamine, arginine, devil’s claw, american ginseng, astragalus root, turmeric root, and cayenne fruit. The only drawback in our opinion is that Vega’s recovery accelerator is very sweet, so we’ve been mixing this with unsweetened almond milk to avoid adding more sweetness to the drink.
Skoop’s B Strong protein powder has 16 grams of plant-based (pea and brown rice) protein that was designed to be absorbed more quickly so you can get to repairing and building muscles faster. It’s not just protein, but full of things like prebiotic fibers which help break down and absorb the macronutrients, while the fatty acids from flax seeds and olive oil help with hormone functionality. Each serving contains protein that is 4-times more bioavailable than steak, and as complete as an egg. By drinking Skoop B Strong, you’ll recover faster and grow stronger so that you can get back out there and perform better.
4:1 ratio carbs-to-protein:
Fluid Recovery Whey chocolate wave is probably our favorite-tasting recovery product of all time. The thing is that Fluid Recovery is really more focused on recovery from hard endurance events, not on building lean muscle. That’s more than OK for us, and we use this product frequently, but we generally use it more in the summer months as opposed to the winter. There’s a good balance of carbs (27 grams) to protein (7 grams) in this mix, and we really like that they’ve added glutamine to aid muscle repair. Be aware though, that Fluid does have added sugar with dextrose and fructose. For us, that’s OK, but we recommend that you use Fluid at the right time - generally within 45 minutes of a long 3+ hour endurance workout.
Clif Shot recovery mix is made from 70 percent organic ingredients and uses two types of high-quality protein, combined with carbohydrates and sodium to maximize recovery. Each single serving combines 10 grams of whey and casein protein to support muscle building and prevent muscle breakdown. The inclusion of casein is a key distinction for the Clif Shot product when compared to others. If you want to review the difference between whey and casein, go back and re-read our “how to pick a protein powder” blog post. https://thefeed.com/blog/2014/10/02/understanding-protein-how-to-pick-a-protein-powder/
During recovery periods, you need to make sure that you are providing your body with the proper nutrients to replenish what you’ve lost, and build up your muscles to be even strong than before. Recoverite uses maltodextrin for carbohydrates and whey protein isolate for protein in a 3:1 ratio. Recoverite is easy to digest and quickly restores muscle glycogen. It also contains nutrients like L-Carnosine which is a powerful antioxidant and has anti-aging properties as well as a full spectrum electrolyte profile. Recoverite is free of artificial flavors, colors and sweeteners so you can be sure that what you’re getting is exactly what you need for optimal recovery. It is important to mention that Hammer has another whey product that is low-carb and paleo-friendly.
High-calorie / high-carbohydrate:
After a hard training or race day, your body is under stress: glycogen stores are depleted, cortisol levels are high and essential vitamins and minerals are drained from your system. It is these times when the critical thirty-minute glycogen window, or “window of opportunity” immediately following exercise is important. Why? Immediately after exercise insulin sensitivity is at its highest and exhausted muscles are basically waiting to be flooded with nutrients. The Ultragen mix is designed to deliver the right nutrients to the right place at the right time (during the window of opportunity) to help you recover really fast and give you an edge over the competition. Ultragen doesn’t just include recovery nutrients and hope your body absorbs them. Ultragen uses sugar and protein combined with a precise balance of nutrients that the body allows to enter the cell. This synergy maximizes recovery without causing any distress to the body. Ultragen comes in three flavors, we’re partial to the cappuccino flavor, because there is nothing like a cappuccino after a long, hard training day, and if it can help you recover and bounce back, even better.
Infinit’s recovery drink is unique in that it uses a prolonged release of protein in order to maximize the repair of damaged muscle tissue. It also replenishes muscle glycogen levels and boosts your immune system. The chocolate tastes good and dissolves easily in any type of milk. It uses a quick-absorbing all natural casein, soy and whey protein along with a blend of four different carbohydrates, the amino acids Isoleucine, Valine, Leucine with L-Glutamine. All of that is blended with 100% all-natural chocolate flavors and no colors or artificial sweeteners.