A large scoop of pink protein powder, next to a heaped pile of protein powder.
Centr Team

What to look for in a protein powder

Centr Team

Whey, pea or casein? Isolate or concentrate? Strawberry or vanilla? Shredding or building? The endless options can make choosing a protein powder to support your training feel overwhelming.

To help you make an informed decision in the supplements aisle, we asked resident sports dietitian Angie Asche for the lowdown.

Why do I need protein?

“Protein is made up of a variety of essential amino acids that our bodies use for basic functions,” explains Angie Asche, Centr nutrition expert. “That includes maintaining hair, skin, nails and bones, and producing hormones, enzymes and other chemicals. It’s also the macronutrient we need to build and repair muscles.”

While the Centr approach is to source nutrients from real food first, protein powder is also a staple you’ll find in many of our recipes. Why?

“The main benefit is obviously the convenience factor,” says Angie. “It’s an easy way to add a very concentrated form of protein – with very little extra fat or carbs – to a recipe.”

“The protein in quality powders also usually has high bioavailability, meaning the body can easily absorb and use it."

And despite the images of hulking bodies often plastered across mega tubs, Angie says protein powder isn’t solely for muscle builders.

“Protein powder is a very convenient supplement for anyone looking to increase their protein intake. This may be someone who is struggling to meet their protein needs, for example a vegan or vegetarian, or whose protein needs are increasing, such as older adults, very active people and those looking to lose weight.”

How much protein do I need?

Your daily protein needs will vary depending on your age, goals and levels of physical activity. For active people, it’s recommended you get 1.4 to 2g of protein per kilogram of body weight per day. (1 kilogram is 2.2lbs.)

To support your training goals, it’s also a good idea to plan the timing of your protein intake.

“I’m a big fan of spacing protein out throughout the day, aiming to eat it at each meal and snack time to help promote muscle protein synthesis,” says Angie. “Consuming protein after a workout helps with the muscle recovery process, reducing muscle soreness, and also helps to promote muscle growth.”

Protein is filling, so if your goal is to lose body fat, eating it in small portions consistently throughout the day will help to control hunger. And if you struggle to eat at consistent times, that’s okay. “Meeting your protein needs over the full 24 hours matters more than getting it at any specific time of day,” says Angie.

What should I look for on the label?

There’s a lot to consider when buying a protein powder, and making a choice can be overwhelming when brands are shouting at you from the shelves that they’re “gold standard” or “100% natural”.

To make it a little easier for you, here are Angie’s big 5 non-negotiables.

  1. Look for a protein powder that contains at least 20g of protein per serving.
  2. Look for a powder with at least 2g of leucine per serving. Leucine is the amino acid particularly crucial for stimulating muscle protein synthesis. Unfortunately, many products do not provide an amino acid profile, so this may require a bit of hunting.
  3. If you can consume dairy, whey protein powder is a good option. If you require a dairy-free option, look for products that contain a blend of protein sources such as pea, soy or brown rice to provide an adequate amino acid profile. (More on this below.)
  4. Look for evidence of third-party testing – for instance a NSF ‘Certified for Sport’ or Informed Sport logo. Because supplements are not regulated in the US, testing by independent labs ensures that the ingredients and amounts listed are actually in the products that receive certification.
    Although supplements are regulated for quality and safety in Australia, it’s still a good idea to look for an Informed Sport or HASTA certified product.
  5. Look for a powder that has minimal additives (like sugar) and is mostly made up of whole food sources. Avoid additives such as sugar alcohols and artificial sweeteners, as these ingredients can lead to gastrointestinal distress (such as gas, bloating, diarrhea and upset stomach).

Mocha protein mousse from the Centr meal plan.

Enjoy a protein-packed treat with our mocha protein mousse.

What are the different types of protein?

The most common protein powders you’ll find in stores are made from either dairy or plant-based ingredients.

Lingo tip: You will see the terms “isolate” or “concentrate” on protein products a lot – these terms refer to the way a source (e.g. whey from milk) is processed to produce protein powder.

Angie has broken down the different types of protein powder to help you choose which one is right for you.

Whey (isolate or concentrate)
Made from: Milk
Best for: Quick digestion and absorption, and a high-quality protein rich in branched-chain amino acids (isoleucine, leucine and valine).

Made from: Milk
Best for: Athletes often use it at night as it is digested more slowly, providing a sustained release of amino acids.

Made from: Either one plant source (such as pea) or a variety of sources (e.g. a blend of rice, hemp, soy and pumpkin seed).
Best for: Vegans. Angie recommends choosing a powder made from a variety of plant sources to ensure it contains a sufficient amount of essential amino acids.

Made from: Animal bones, ligaments and tendons.
Best for: Joint and skin health. As it doesn’t have a complete amino acid profile, it’s not ideal for muscle growth.

Other common protein powders are sourced from eggs (egg white protein isolate), and beef (beef protein isolate). Find more information in our supplements guide.

Finding the right protein powder for you may take a bit of research. But as Angie says: “If it helps save you time and stress, and meet your daily protein goals, then it’s worth the investment.”

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