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How To Choose The Healthiest Protein Powder For Your Body

healthiest protein powder

healthiest protein powder

If you walked into a nutrition and supplement store, you might be overwhelmed by the sheer number of protein products staring at you from the shelves. Forearm-sized protein bars, soy isolate, BCAAs, casein, whey, collagen… how is one to know which protein to pick among the seemingly endless choices?

Whether you’re paleo, keto, vegan, carnivore, or anything in between, there are a few important factors to consider when choosing a protein powder or supplement:

  • Bioavailability: If performance and recovery is your goal, then you’ll want to pick a supplement with a full amino acid profile, which is required for protein synthesis. This is especially important when choosing vegan proteins, as most plant isolates have incomplete amino acid profiles. To get around this issue, plant-based eaters should consider combining proteins with different amino acid profiles to get a full spectrum.
  • Ingredient quality: Just like all food and supplements, sourcing is key. Look for protein powders with pure, clean ingredients without added fillers, binders, and sugars. When choosing animal protein, look for organic or grass-fed sources to avoid the added hormones and antibiotics that tend to be used with conventionally-raised animals.
  • Intolerances and allergens: Food intolerances or allergies are another factor to consider when choosing a protein powder. Some individuals are sensitive to dairy, grains, nuts, eggs, or other proteins, which can affect what supplemental protein is best.

With those qualities in mind, you’re about to learn about the most popular protein supplements so you can decide which one is best for your body.


Essential Amino Acids (EAAs)

EAAs are a group of nine amino acids – histidine, isoleucine, leucine, lysine, methionine, phenylalanine, threonine, tryptophan and valine – that are considered essential because they must be obtained through dietary sources.

While whey, casein, gelatin, collagen, pea protein and rice protein contain some or all of these amino acids, EAA supplements are an easier and more effective way to experience the many benefits of protein, as they are one of the most potent, bioavailable protein sources. High-quality EAAs are absorbed by the body in a matter of minutes, compared to the several hours it can take to metabolize proteins from these whole-foods sources.

Additionally, since EAAs are naturally-occurring amino acids in their purest forms, they are typically low-to-zero calorie, allergen-friendly, gluten- and lactose-free, don’t spike blood glucose, and are often made from plant sources. This makes EAAs a great choice for anyone – vegans and carnivores alike – for supporting muscle growth and repair, enhanced athletic performance, and healthy neurotransmitter activity.

If you're interested in EAAs, take a look at Kion Aminos, which check all the boxes for purity and efficacy.

P.S. If you’re surprised we didn’t list BCAAs as a healthy protein source, check out our article on EAAs vs. BCAAs to learn why.

Pea Protein Isolate

Pea protein (unlike peas or legumes themselves) contains low levels of gut-irritating lectins and phytic acid while delivering a complete protein profile when it is extracted through a highly effective hydrolysis process. It’s particularly high in lysine, arginine, branched-chain amino acids, enzymes, vitamins, and minerals.

One study has shown that pea protein is a potent tactic to increase muscle thickness following resistance training since it’s high in the essential branched-chain amino acids leucine, isoleucine and valine. Another study demonstrated that pea protein rivals dairy-based protein powder in its ability to keep you feeling full and satiated.

Because pea protein is both gluten-free and dairy-free, it’s especially useful for avoiding gastric distress if you have a sensitivity to lactose, gluten or gliadin (another common allergen that usually occurs in wheat-containing grains).

The primary downside of pea protein isolate is that it’s deficient in the amino acid cystine (an oxidized form of cysteine), which is necessary for the synthesis of many proteins. So if you opt for pea protein, it’s essential to incorporate a cysteine or cysteine-rich protein source into your diet. One that pairs particularly well with pea protein is rice protein, and you'll often see these two together in vegan protein powder blends.

Rice Protein

Rice protein and pea protein are a great combination for plant-based eaters. When taken together, they provide a more complete amino acid profile similar to animal sources because their lysine and cysteine amounts compliment each other. In fact, when combined properly, these plant-based amino acids provide some of the same body composition, exercise performance, and recovery benefits as whey protein isolate without the potential for negative allergenic effects. This is exactly why we've chosen to add a combination of plant-based proteins to the Kion Bar.

Gelatin

If you’ve ever eaten Jello, you’ve eaten gelatin. Gelatin is the product of boiling the skin, bones and connective tissue of an animal, like a cow. In fact, you can often purchase bones at your local butcher or health food store so you can make your own. When you take the collagen derived from skin, bone and connective tissue and boil it, partially hydrolyze it and dry it, you get gelatin powder, which then can be mixed with hot liquids to form a gel-like substance.

Gelatin is a highly bioavailable source of a full spectrum of long-chain amino acids for muscle support. These amino acids also serve as the building blocks of your own connective tissue, including bones, cartilage, skin, and tendons.

Not only that, but gelatin is 30% glycine, which is known to improve gut health by repairing the intestinal wall and gut lining, making it a potent tactic to enhance your ability to digest the other superfuels you use. Glycine is also known as an inhibitory neurotransmitter meaning that it supports a healthy mood. The equivalent of half a cup of bone broth provides a gut- and brain-nourishing serving of gelatin.

But before you go gallivanting off to purchase some Jello for a post-workout meal, not all gelatin is created equal. Choosing gelatin is like choosing meat – sourcing counts. Many gelatins are treated with extremely high temperatures or are exposed to air that ends up oxidizing them. Most gelatins also come from cows that are not grass-fed. Consuming those gelatins may actually do more harm than good, as they are often treated with chemicals or sourced from chemical-laden cows and void of any of the nutritional benefits of real gelatin. And most of the broth at the store, often labeled as “stock,” is no good either, as it is also highly heated and treated with preservatives and chemicals.

As mentioned, it's best to make your own gelatin with bones purchased from a local butcher or health food market. If you're not in the mood for soup or broth, you can also reap the benefits of gelatin by looking for products containing grass-fed gelatin. Kion Bar, for example, contains roughly the amount of gut nourishing gelatin you'd find in a half-cup of bone broth.

Collagen

When hydrolyzed in water, collagen breaks down into gelatin (as you already learned), which means that collagen and gelatin contain the same amino acids with a different chemical structure. Collagen is comprised of short-chain amino acids, while gelatin consists of long-chain amino acids.

Research has shown that collagen is extremely beneficial to the health of your immune system. Collagen also directly aids in energy production, maintaining healthy DNA, detoxification, digestion, and the repair of joints, tendons, cartilage, skin, nails, hair and organs.

Collagen protein is made in the same way that bone broth is made, via low and slow heating to preserve the nutrients and amino acids. You may have heard of “hydrolyzed collagen” or “collagen peptides.” These forms are just gelatin that has been more aggressively processed through hydrolysis to provide smaller protein structures, which are more easily broken down and absorbed into your body. Since collagen is odorless and tasteless, it blends well with smoothies, shakes, coffee, and tea.

Whey and Casein

Whey protein is the cheapest and most common form of protein powder, although that’s not to say that there aren’t high-quality dairy-based proteins. Whey is produced after a substance like lemon juice or rennet (curdled milk from the stomach of an unweaned calf) is added to milk to make cheese. The acidity of the lemons or rennet causes the casein proteins in the milk to coagulate, resulting in “curds.” Whey is the liquid that separates from the coagulated casein. This liquid is then dried and turned into powder.

One study found that milk from grass-fed cows contains a higher percentage of beneficial fatty acids than milk from industrially raised cows. One of these fatty-acid compounds, conjugated linoleic acid, is known to be beneficial for cardiovascular health and the prevention of certain cancers. The healthier omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids found in grass-fed milk are also well balanced and help reduce inflammation and even depressive behaviors, making grass-fed whey and casein protein powders effective choices for building muscle, reducing fat mass and improving your overall health.

Organic whey or casein may be a good option if you have mild lactose intolerance since it contains considerably less lactose than milk. Organic whey isolates have 99.9% of their lactose removed, which may make them excellent protein sources even if you are severely lactose intolerant.

Your body digests casein more slowly than it digests whey due to a more complex interaction with gastric acids. The result is a slower release of essential proteins and amino acids. In fact, some protein powders combine both whey and casein to capitalize on both of them: whey is absorbed rapidly following a tough workout, while casein provides a slower, sustained release of amino acids.

As a side note, whey and casein are not for everybody. Both are known allergens, and while the lactose content of whey and casein products varies (as mentioned above), it may be better just to avoid dairy-based protein powders if you are lactose intolerant. Given the amino acid content of sources like gelatin, collagen, pea protein, and rice protein, you don’t actually have to use whey or casein to build and maintain muscle size and strength.


Summary

There you have it: a simplified guide on how to choose the best protein powder. In case you missed it, here’s a recap:

  • If you’re looking for a plant-based protein, consider pea protein or rice protein. They are some of the most bioavailable, least allergenic sources available for vegans or vegetarians. Pea and rice protein can even be combined to get a more complete amino acid profile.
  • EAAs are another plant-based protein, but unlike pea and rice, they can stand alone as a complete protein source. They are compatible with any diet, highly bioavailable, and virtually zero-calorie.
  • When it comes to animal-based protein powders, whey and casein are some of the most common. However, they may cause issues for those sensitive to dairy. More gut-friendly options include gelatin and collagen, which actually support digestive health, as well as promoting healthy skin and joints. Just make sure to get your animal-based protein from organic or grass-fed sources.

If you’re looking for a done-for-you source of clean protein to fuel your next workout, outdoor adventure or mid-day energy slump, the Kion Clean Energy Bar contains just the right amount of protein from gelatin, pea isolate, and organic rice. It's sweetened with organic honey and free from artificial sweeteners, preservatives, dairy, soy, and other notorious gut assailants.

56 thoughts on “How To Choose The Healthiest Protein Powder For Your Body

  1. Hey, you’re internationals now. Any recommendations on brands in uk? And can we get Kion over here??

    Thanks

    1. Hey Mike, we’ve stopped shipping to the UK for the time being with the Covid crisis, but plan on resuming our shipping there in a few weeks!

  2. Currently taking Kion Aminos to break my fast after my morning cardio workout. I do strength work for maintenance but I’m primarily an endurance athlete. Kion Aminos good for my styles or would you recommend something further? Keep up the good work!

    1. Hey Kris, sounds like Kion Aminos is a great fit for your workout style! If you’re looking to put on muscle or boost strength output, you could look into our Creatine as well. But Kion Aminos is an excellent start.

      1. Good article. My question is how does a gram of EAAs compare to a gram of pea protein or any other type. I’m taking Kion Aminos now for to rebuild an ACL and some muscle growth with great success. Creatine as well

  3. If I need to avoid stevia, what is a good choice for a protein powder (other Kion Aminos since they contain stevia)? Would you consider making a product that contains monkfruit (luo han guo) instead of stevia?

  4. Great article as always. I was wondering if pea protein will cause cold sore outbreaks due to the amount of arginine? Thanks!

  5. What about amino acid utilization? I read Dr. Minkoff’s book after you had him on your podcast and most protein powders aren’t utilized as protein well. I think I’d rather make a yummy smoothie and take EAAs with it to get my protein. Thoughts?

    1. You’re correct, many dietary sources of protein aren’t as effectively utilized as pure amino acids. A smoothie plus EAAs sounds like a great plan!

  6. I am looking to build muscle and need to take a complete protein supplement of 80grams per day. I can’t stomach the taste of protein powders and have been looking to supplement with bone broth Powder but found out it is not a complete protein. Is there a way to take it with something else to make it complete? If so? How much would I need of both parts to make 80grams?

  7. Can you consume too much protein? For example, say I start taking Kion Aminos for workouts/recovery, I take Thorne vegan protein, but then I also consume proteins such as fish, chicken, eggs, etc during meals. Is this putting too much protein into my body at once? Should I not take aminos and protein powder within the same hour of each other? I am not trying to get “bulky” but I am trying to maintain muscle, recover from workouts faster, have more energy and not feel sore after workouts.

    Do you think I could just take Kion as my protein supplement in addition to protein foods that I eat? Will that give me everything my body needs?

    Thanks in advance! great Article!

    1. Hey Jakub, great question. There are no known risks of combining collagen and EAAs. In fact, that would be a great strategy to widen the range of amino acids in your diet, as collagen is high in proline and glycine, two beneficial AAs for skin and joints that are not in typical EAA supplements. You can also drink some homemade bone broth to get a good source of these amino acids. Hope that helps!

  8. Can you explain why taking Kion Amino’s or excess protein powder (an organic fermented pea/rice blend), would turn my pee cloudy and give me high urea? It’s been getting worse over the last 6 months so have backed off the EAAs and protein powder but now I’m not recovering well from strength training (I’m getting DOMS lasting for around 5 days whereas with higher protein I can recover in 1-3 days). I have also lost a significant amount of weight and muscle mass.

    I can’t physically eat any more which is why I turned to the powders for extra fuel but I’m worried that my kidneys aren’t coping too well with it. Do you think it would be safe for me to go back on the Amino’s and protein powders or should I try something else to gain some body mass back?

    1. Dianne, we take reports like this seriously, and we’ve forwarded this to our customer service department. We are not doctors and anything we say can not be taken, interpreted, or construed as medical advice. Please talk with a licensed medical professional about this.

      1. Thanks for your advice. I have seen several doctors, an integrative/functional doctor and a naturopath and no one has been able to figure out what is going on yet. I’ll keep at it. There are still lots of tests I haven’t done yet…..

    1. The important question to ask is why you’re fasting in the first place. If your goal with fasting is to change body composition and improve energy levels, then EAAs will help the process. If your goal is autophagy, then you should not consume EAAs while fasting.

  9. I have just finished a Dr. Gundry 30 day quest, being lectin free. I actually feel a difference, have lots of energy. I am 71 yr, old women. I am going to be starting Ben’s longevity course next week. I am slender, so weight is not an issue, but my muscles have decreased. I have horses, a hill farm haha with only two horses, but love to work outdoors and I sell land for a living, so my world exists outside. I had an ankle replacement in 2016, have had lots of obstacles that have taken me off the path to get strong again. What supplements would give me the extra help in my quest for strength that would be lectin free? I am persistent so plan on winning my goal.

  10. Great article! So, when supplementing with EAA’s, containing only 9 aminos, would that throw off the absorption ability of the other aminos that form complete protein?

    1. The EAAs are the primary amino acids responsible for protein synthesis, so supplementation will not skew the ratio.

    1. It would typically be best to minimize calories from carbs or protein during your fasting window, as too much can revert you from a Ketogenic state to a glucose burning state.

  11. Hi Ben/Team Kion,

    I recently stopped all collagen and protein powders based on data that came out about the quantity of heavy metals found in them in particular the vegetarian varieties like hemp and those whey varieties containing chocolate. Can you please weigh on this topic concerning these protein powder and bar supplements?

    1. Prime example of why it’s so important to find a company that pays special attention to sourcing and ensuring purity of their products… Which applies to ALL supplements

          1. I take kion amino’s and use Dr Gudry’s vegan protein powder. How does Gudry’s
            protein powder shape up against the Thorn protein?

  12. Hey Kion team,
    I was following keto diet, digestion was great, elimination regular and easy. Than for a month I tool a fitness challenge, where along the high protein very low carb and low fat diet I had to use commercial protein shake once a day. Basically it lead me first time to serious constipation problems – I used protein shake for 2 weeks, than noticed digestion problems (bloating, gas and constipation) and stopped drinking it, could you advise how to get back on normal with my digestion? Thank you in advance!

  13. I thought I read somewhere that Ben developed a chocolate protein powder without artificial sweeteners. Is this true or am I misremembering?

  14. Yes but you haven’t answered your own question? Which is the best to take or are you suggesting taking all of them on rotation

    1. They’re all good options, so if each one works for you, then yes taking all of them on rotation would be a good way to get all of the different benefits each provides. Some people may be allergic to peas, so for that particular person gelatin might be a better option. For a vegan, a pea/rice blend would be a better way to go.

  15. Hello Ben,

    Fantastic and timely article as I have been trying to figure out the best protein powder for our needs 🙂
    Quick question: is there a limit to the amount of hydrolyzed Collagen a person can take? I heard that when in excess, may fuel yeast or fungal growth?

    You’re the best as always! And Kion Rocks!!!

    Rosanna

    1. Hi Rosanna, There isn’t a whole lot of research on this, but it doesn’t appear there is much added benefit of exceeding 40g/day.

  16. Hi Ben,

    Thanks for your work. Been enjoying the podcast for years, this is my first time writing in.

    Anything to look out for regarding combining different proteins……or potential redundancy in the protein supplement intake world? I’m probably over doing it!

    For almost 20 years, my diet has been clean, organic, seasonal-ish and Keto-ish focusing on veg, fruit and meat. With 12 – 16hr. intermittent fasting almost every night / morning.

    Currently, as a single parent, I have very little time for exercise, but I get in a few Founders (Foundation Training), walk steep hills daily, with some steep stair sprints and then a few ballz-out, intense mountain bike rides per month. Staying lean has always been effortless given my metabolism and the above diet / routine, but I’d like to dial in my supplements and cut out anything not serving me… and save money.

    Although I’m always dabbling with new supplements on the side, my regular routine has a lot of protein in the mix:

    I’ve been taking Perfect Amino / Kion Aminos for a couple years now… and I plan to continue.

    I also take Spirulina (Energy Bits) during the day and Chlorella (Recovery Bits) in the evening.

    I take Sovereign Labs Colostrum-LD first thing in the morning and before bed.

    And on days which I make smoothies, I add Primal Kitchen’s Primal Fuel to the Vitamix pitcher…mainly because, its delicious.

    Any concerns, contraindications or just redundant items in my routine?

    1. Hi CW, that sounds like a pretty good variety assuming you’re taking appropriate amounts of each. Another great place to ask questions like this is the Kion Community. Facebook.com/groups/GetKion

  17. Hi Ben,

    I usually have a morning smoothie after a 16 hour fast containing protien, greens and fats and then a smoothie after my 6 pm workout. Do you have any recommendations of blends using the proteins listed in your article for my morning and after workout smoothies for optimal results.

    Thanks!

    1. I’ll let Kion team clarify, but I have heard that for some people, hemp can cause some estrogenic effects (mentioned briefly in the podcast with Dr. Anthony Jay) which may be why Ben did not include this option.

    1. Spirulina is a great protein source. Just be sure it’s organic, non-GMO, contains no fillers and isn’t dried with heat. Also, look for a product from Taiwan as it is typically of higher quality than products from China or Japan.

  18. What about the potential arsenic and heavy metal content in plant based protein products? I have seen a few reports lately pointing this issue out.

  19. Really useful step by step guide to the various protein powders and their benefits, thanks Ben! I hope I’m right in assuming that if I use Collagen Powder then I’m getting the benefits of both collagen and gelatin?

    And useful knowledge about pea/rice protein powder combos as being equivalent benefits to whey without the dairy issues.

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