As one of the four macronutrients, protein is a vital nutritional element for muscle recovery, maintenance and growth.
Alongside fats and carbohydrates, protein provides calories for energy, and it’s a building block for tissues, hormones, enzymes, and more.
A protein’s molecular structure is comprised of amino acids. Eight of which we need from food (called essential) and another 12 that we can produce on our own (called non-essential).
As a dietary necessity, essential amino acids play a huge role in:
recovery from stress and exercise.
Most of our protein intake should come from whole food – think eggs, milk, chicken, peas, rice, and steak.
But sometimes, it’s unfeasible or even impossible to force those down. Whether that’s down to lack of time in our busy lifestyles or other reasons…
Maybe you’re at the gym and didn’t have time to cook.
Maybe you simply can’t stomach a full meal every time.
Or maybe you need a quick, on-the-go option to get in your protein without having to worry.
That is where protein powders come in as a great option to bump up your protein intake. In an easy, convenient manner.
However, since these delicious, nutritious shakes seem to pop up everywhere, how in the world are you supposed to pick just one?
We wanted to make it easy, so we’ve looked at the market for you.
In this article, you’ll discover:
1. the benefits of protein powder
2. which types get results
3. and our pick for the best protein powder in 2020.
Benefits of Protein Powder
In all of the fad diets that have come and gone, one thing remains constant – solid protein intake.
A higher protein intake correlates with:
better weight management
increased athletic performance.
Like all high-quality supplements, protein powders isolate the nutrients you need to get specific results.
In particular, protein powders focus on the branched-chain amino acids (leucine, isoleucine, and valine). As well as the other essential/conditionally essential amino acids – histidine, methionine, lysine, threonine, glutamine, and phenylalanine.
While other amino acids are included, it’s the varying composition of these amino acids that makes or breaks a protein powder.
For example, BCAAs enhance the rate of muscle protein synthesis.
On top of resistance exercise, ingesting post-workout protein compounds the anabolic effect.
Leucine, in particular, activates the mTOR pathway. This is a cell signaling process that regulates cell growth, proliferation, survival, protein synthesis, autophagy, and transcription.
According to research, 20 grams of post-exercise leucine-dominant BCAA supplementation maximizes muscle growth after resistance training.
Finally, consuming clean protein powder is a low-calorie way to curb hunger without risking a severe insulin spike.
Protein has been shown to slow gastric emptying, sustaining fullness after ingestion.
Unlike high-glycemic carbohydrates, protein powder won’t rapidly raise your blood sugar and decrease insulin sensitivity. Therefore, you safely can add the best protein powders to your snacks or meals while limiting the total caloric intake and hormonal response.
At some point, everyone could benefit from a good protein powder, especially if you struggle to get adequate protein otherwise.
The absolute minimum recommended dietary allowance of protein is 0.8g/kg of bodyweight. However, this is the lowest possible amount you need to avoid illness.
Research suggests that around twice this amount, up to 1.6-2g/kg of body weight is appropriate in active populations.
What are the different types of protein powder?
Protein powder seems to come in all shapes and sizes these days. From your standard whey to brown rice and hemp, here’s a list of the most common types of protein powders:
While whole-food rice is considered a carb, it still contains a surprising amount of protein. If you were to eat a cup of rice, for example, you’d still get 5g of protein.
Fortunately, supplement companies have found a way to concentrate and isolate the protein, removing those pesky carbs.
As a result, you reap the hunger-fighting, muscle-building benefits without risking an insulin spike or extra calories.
Interestingly, normal brown rice protein absorbs slower than whey and faster than casein, making it ideal for everyday use.
However, a patented form of brown-rice protein called Oryzatein® contains rice leucine that has been found to absorb 30% faster than leucine found in whey protein. So, this is why we’re recommending Performance Lab Protein (since its one of the only protein powders to contain Oryzatein®) as our Best option in this article.
While technically not a complete protein (it’s lacking enough lysine), it provides adequate amounts of the amino acids we really care about. As long as you’re eating enough lysine (meat, eggs, beans, potatoes, etc.) there’s no need to fret about it being in your protein powder.
Whey, a type of protein found in milk, comes from the watery byproduct of cheese production. Once this liquid is processed and dried out, you get whey protein powder. As an animal byproduct, whey protein features a strong essential amino acid profile that the human body can absorb quickly. That’s why it’s become so popular as a post-workout drink. Raw whey protein contains around 75-85% protein, and isolates feature 100% protein, with 43% of that coming from essential amino acids.
While whey may be its more popular cousin, the majority of the proteins in milk are actually casein. Although casein contains a similar amino acid profile to whey, the altered chemical structure makes it harder to digest. Therefore, casein releases amino acids into the bloodstream on a slow drip. This extended-release feature makes casein ideal to optimize protein balance during a fast.
On average, a medium-sized egg contains 6-7g of protein, with the yolk containing 17% protein and the white 11%. As the yolk also contains fats, most egg proteins isolate the albumin, or white part, to create their powders. Compared to other animal sources of protein, eggs contain less protein per gram. However, egg protein provides an alternative to dairy or meat for those with dietary restrictions. According to research, its amino acid profile is on par with that of casein, but it falls behind in leucine, even when compared to some plant-based sources.
If you’re vegetarian or vegan, chances are you’ve come across soy protein. Produced from hulled, defatted soybean meal, soy proteins feature additional benefits such as vitamin D and B12. Isolates, however, remove these external factors, leaving only the proteins. According to research, vegetable proteins naturally contain a lower essential amino acid profile than animal-based proteins. Regardless, soy remains a safe, affordable option for vegan or vegetarian protein powder.
An exception to the “vegetables are not complete protein sources” rule, pea protein naturally contains all essential amino acids. Pea protein is produced by grinding dry peas and removing all starch and fiber. What’s left gets added to your tub of protein powder. This protein’s best quality comes in its Protein Digestibility-Corrected Amino Acid Score, or PDCAAS. This scale ranks the bioavailability of all proteins – from meat and whey to soy and pea – on a scale of 1-100. Pea protein scores a whopping 95, making it a strong contender for plant-based proteins.
Hemp proteins have been around forever, but they’re experiencing a resurgence thanks to the decriminalization of cannabis. Yes, hemp and Cannabis sativa are the same things. However, for the plant to be named and commercially sold as hemp, it legally cannot contain more than 0.3% THC. THC is what gets you high, so without it, Cannabis is just any other plant.
Hemp protein powders are made by simply grinding and packaging protein-rich hemp seeds. As such, hemp protein powder contains fiber and healthy fats. It’s also a complete protein source, featuring all nine essential amino acids. Unfortunately, it’s low on leucine, the main amino acid involved in muscle protein synthesis. This makes hemp protein more of a healthy addition to meals and less of a post-workout anabolic stimulus.
Why Oryzatein® Brown-Rice Protein is best:
Sure, whey gets all of the glory, but it’s not necessarily warranted.
For one, a solid portion of the population won’t consume animal-based products, while another large percentage doesn’t tolerate dairy.
In contrast, plant-based sources of protein are widely considered easy to digest and absorb by everyone. They are often recommended to those that experience stomach issues with whey protein powders.
Plus, we have to be real about why whey protein powder is so coveted – its post-workout benefits. Its essential amino acid content plus absorption rate triggers protein synthesis ASAP. Whey helps put you in a net-positive protein balance post-workout so you can recover quickly and put on lean muscle mass.
Yet, after reviewing all forms of protein, two plant-based forms stand out – pea and rice protein.
They both have incredibly strong amino acid profiles, especially when looking at BCAAs specifically. And given that (barring any rare allergies) a plant-based diet serves everyone, these two powders provide an equally effective opportunity for all.
If it comes to choosing any run-of-the-mill brand, pea and brown rice protein are probably tied.
So what makes Oryzatein Brown-Rice Protein better?
The leucine in Oryzatein® shown to absorb 30% faster than that of even whey protein.
When talking about muscle growth, that’s really the only amino acid that matters.
With whey, you get around 104mg of leucine per gram of protein. In contrast, brown rice protein provides 80mg/g. Now, if you’re worried that’s somehow not enough – consider this:
Most protein powders contain at least 15 grams of protein per scoop, with some up to 30-40 grams. That’s anywhere between 1200-3200mg of leucine in a single scoop of brown rice protein.
On average, research recommends a minimum of 14mg/kg up to 3g of total leucine to stimulate protein synthesis after resistance training. Studies suggest that even during the most intensive training, 40-50mg of leucine per kg of bodyweight induces optimal performance.
Even though whey achieves this a little easier, taking your average brown rice protein easily fits the bill.
Speed up that absorption by 30%, and it’s easy to see why Oryzatein Brown-Rice Protein rules post-workout nutrition.
While leucine is kicked into high gear, the rest of the amino acids in Oryzatein Brown-Rice Protein are slowly absorbed. Therefore, after you capitalize on post-workout protein synthesis, Oryzatein continues to fuel your recovery for hours afterward.
The more amino acids you have readily available in the bloodstream, the less you’ll need to borrow from existing tissue. These other amino acids, such as valine, isoleucine, and glutamine, provide secondary benefits.
Valine, for example, prevents muscle breakdown and contributes to glucose uptake. Glutamine synthesizes peptides and promotes tissue healing. Reduce breakdown and add healing to the anabolic stimulus of resistance training, and you’ve got a recipe for results.
Finally, Oryzatein® is organically-sourced, yielding an eco-friendly brown rice protein powder.
You can’t beat results AND sustainability.
Best Protein Powder 2020
Our pick for best protein powder supplement this year…
Performance Lab Protein
Obviously, we wanted something that featured Oryzatein® brown rice protein, which is the star of Performance Lab Protein.
But their product takes things one step further.
They add a probiotic, along with himalayan pink salt, to enhance absorption and provide essential electrolytes. Leading to the most efficient, direct-to-muscle protein powder we’ve come across.
30% faster leucine absorption.
Vegan, plant-based ingredients.
Gluten and dairy-free.
Enhanced with probiotics for better absorption.
All natural (no artificial sweeteners or flavors/additives).
Only comes in one flavor (chocolate)
Performance Lab doesn’t add additives nor sugars to distort purity. Instead, they use natural flavors like vanilla, cocoa, and cinnamon for flavor.
They naturally thicken it with guar gum and coconut water powder, and it’s sweetened with monk fruit and stevia.
So not only does it work great, but it actually tastes good. Which, if I’m honest, is a big selling point.
Their blend somehow avoids artificial sweeteners without being a watery, tasteless mess.
Avoiding Artificial Sweeteners and Flavors with Protein Powders
Almost every protein powder on the market is filled with artificial sweeteners, coloring, flavoring, or other additives.
Under increasing pressure to reduce calories/sugars, yet still have flavor, artificial ingredients have become the new normal.
For example, sugar alcohols lead to bloating and diarrhea, while emulsifiers induce inflammation that can cause Crohn’s disease, inflammatory bowel disease, and even colorectal cancer.
Even though artificial ingredients run rampant, they’re clearly not worth the risk. Natural supplements are a much healthier option.
The ingredients in Performance Lab Protein not only get results, but they’re pure, clean, and organic. If you’re going to be taking something almost every day, make sure it’s a premium product.
While a protein powder should never replace food, it’s a strong addition to any well-rounded diet. Protein improves exercise recovery, enhances muscular growth, slows down hunger, and decreases the risk of illness.
As a plant-based, organic option, everyone can benefit from Oryzatein® Brown Rice Protein. With amplified leucine and a moderate rate of release, it’s ideal for protein synthesis and general nutrition.
Performance Lab Protein uses Oryzatein as its key ingredient, enhancing its bioavailability with probiotics, flavor with natural ingredients, and purity with third-party testing.