While most dietitians recommend trying to get your daily protein requirements from whole foods, a protein supplement can be a handy tool for those who are exercising regularly and are trying to gain muscle, those who are recovering from an injury or are just trying to stay satiated throughout the day.
A protein supplement is also helpful for people who have difficulty reaching their daily protein requirements through food alone, particularly those who are ill, older, or follow a vegetarian or vegan diet.
Health Canada currently recommends that everyone consume 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram of bodyweight per day. This amount may increase, particularly if you engage in regular intense physical activity.
Types of protein powder
There are three main forms of protein:
Heat, acid, or enzymes are used to extract the protein from a whole food source. These products typically contain 60-80% protein, and the remaining 20-40% is made up of fat and carbohydrates.
These go through the same extraction process as concentrates, but then are filtered to remove more fat and carbs. They usually contain 90-95% protein.
Protein hydro isolates
Additional heat or enzymes are used to further break the bonds between amino acids, so your body can absorb them more readily.
Sources of protein
Protein powders are concentrated forms of protein that can come from a variety of plant and animal-based sources.
A protein’s PDCAA Score is a rating of the quality of the protein based on how digestible it is and how many of the essential amino acids it provides. The highest possible score of 1.0 means that after digestion of the protein, it provides 100% or more of the required amino acids.
PDCAA Score: 1.0
Whey protein comes from milk. It digests quickly, and has a diverse profile of branched chain amino acids (BCAAs) to help with muscle growth and recovery. It can also help to reduce appetite, thereby helping with weight loss. Whey concentrate does contain lactose, so if you have an intolerance you should look for the isolate form instead.
PDCAA Score: 1.0
Casein is another protein found in milk that is digested and absorbed much more slowly. This causes the release of protein into the bloodstream to be steadier and more gradual, which can help prevent muscle breakdown.
PDCAA Score: 1.0
Soy protein is a common plant-based protein source, and can help ease menopause symptoms in women and prevent osteoporosis by building bone mass.
Egg white protein
PDCAA Score: 1.0
Egg protein is typically made from egg whites, so offers less satiety because it is missing the fat provided by the yolks. It has not been studied as thoroughly as whey or casein, but is a good option for people with dairy sensitivities.
PDCAA Score: 0.69
Pea protein is arguably the most popular non-animal protein source. It is made from yellow split peas and is high in BCAAs, and is absorbed slower than whey but faster than casein.
Other plant sources of protein include hemp and brown rice, however they are not considered to be complete protein because they are too low in some amino acids. For this reason, they are often combined with other plant proteins to create a complete supplement.
How to choose a protein powder
What are your goals?
In order to choose the right protein powder for you, your first must decide what your goals and reasons are behind trying a protein supplement.
If your goal is muscle gain, for example, you should look for a protein that is easily absorbed and used by the body. Whey is usually your best option in this case.
If losing weight is your goal, you want to avoid supplements with added sugars or sweeteners. You also want to avoid BCAAs, because they are used to promote increased muscle mass and weight gain.
You also must take into consideration any dietary restrictions you may have such, as a dairy sensitivity or allergy, or a vegetarian or vegan lifestyle. Always read the labels carefully if you have any food restrictions, as many powders contain things like gluten or artificial sweeteners that may not be tolerated well by some people.
If you have any health issues or medical conditions, be sure to consult with your doctor before beginning any supplement routine. For example, if you have kidney disease, you may have to follow a low-protein diet, thus a supplement may not be a healthy choice for you.
Best vegan protein powder – Vega Sport Protein
- Nutrition: 150 calories, 30g protein, 3g fat, 5g carbohydrates (3g fiber, 1g sugar)
- Protein source: pea, pumpkin seed, sunflower seed, alfalfa protein
- Cost: $5.97/100g
Vega Sport is gluten-free, non-GMO, and keto-friendly. It gets a perfect score for nutrition because at 30 grams per serving, its protein content makes up 80% of its calories. There are very few plant-based protein powders on the market that offer a protein ratio that is that high.
This powder comes in 4 flavours: chocolate, vanilla, mocha, and berry. The mocha flavour in particular gets very high ratings. It does, however, have a bit of a chalkiness to it, and a very slight aftertaste. That being said, it tastes better than many other plant-based powders out there.
The texture of Vega Sport is very smooth, however it does tend to leave a few chunks, especially when it is mixed in a shaker bottle or by hand. If you use this product, you will most likely end up with a few small chunks, and some un-mixed power left behind.
This product is easy to find on most grocery store shelves. Although it is more expensive than many of the non-vegan powders that are available, it often goes on sale, sometimes by 10 or 20 dollars off.
Because of its high protein content, good flavour, and high availability, Vega Sport is the best vegan protein powder available in Canada.
Best made in Canada – Canadian Protein Whey Protein Concentrate
- Nutrition: 127 calories, 24g protein, 2.5g fat, 2g carbohydrates (0g fiber, 2g sugar)
- Protein source: Whey protein concentrate
- Cost: $2.50/100g
75% of the calorie content in this supplement comes from protein, making it a solid choice to add high-quality protein to your diet with minimal fat and carbohydrates. While whey protein concentrate is not as easily absorbed by the body as whey protein isolate, it still provides a good dose of protein for anyone from beginners to elite athletes.
This product comes in 17 different flavours, including banana cream pie, birthday cake, salted caramel, and strawberry milkshake. Users report that it tastes great and mixes easily, so it works well on its own and incorporated into smoothies.
Arguably the best aspect of this product is the price- at under $35/kg, you will be hard-pressed to find a price this low with any other product. The downside is that there are no retailers who carry Canadian Protein, and so it must be ordered from their online store.
Best tasting vegan protein – Genuine Health Fermented Organic Vegan Protein+
- Nutrition: 118 calories, 20g protein, 2g fat, 5g carbohydrates (2g fiber, 0g sugar)
- Protein source: yellow pea seed protein, brown rice protein, hemp, pumpkin, flaxseed, mung bean, spirulina protein.
- Cost: $5.55/100g
This product’s protein sources are fermented, which makes them easier to digest, and so users may experience less bloating and gas that is common with protein supplements. With 20 grams per serving, protein makes up about 68% of the calorie content, which is average when compared to other vegan protein supplements.
This product only comes in 3 flavours (vanilla, chocolate, and unflavoured), however they are all rated very well. Most users report that it has a very smooth texture, doesn’t taste chalky the way many other products do, and is not overly sweet.
Users also note that this product mixes well, has very few clumps, and leaves very little product in the bottom of their cup or shaker bottle.
This powder is a bit cheaper than Vega Sport, however it is still more expensive than the average non-vegan protein powder.
Despite its lower protein content, this is still an excellent vegan option for a protein supplement. For those who have difficulty digesting protein powder, this may be the solution, and if taste is your main concern, Genuine Health is a great choice.
Best tasting – Cellucor Isolate Whey Fudge Chocolate Brownie
- Nutrition: 120 calories, 25g protein, 1g fat, 2g carbohydrates (0g fiber, 1g sugar)
- Protein: Whey protein isolate
- Cost: $3.89/100g
Cellucor is a very well-respected brand in the world of sport nutrition, known for high-quality supplements. Their whey isolate product is no exception – 83% of the calories in this product come from 100% whey isolate protein. With minimal fat and carbohydrates, it may help you to reach your fitness goals.
While this product comes in 2 flavours- vanilla wafer and fudge chocolate brownie- it is the brownie flavour that gets the rave reviews in the taste department. Users say it tastes just like drinking brownie mix, or like a milky iced hot chocolate.
In terms of mixability, this product gets high praise as well. It blends well into water with minimal clumps, has a smooth texture, and won’t leave a tonne of grit at the bottom of your cup.
Cellucor’s whey isolate powder is a fairly affordable option, and is on-par with the average cost of most other whey isolate supplements. It is an excellent option if you’re tired of chalky, gritty, bad-tasting powders, and offers a good amount of protein along with it.
Best keto – ANS Performance Ketosys Ketogenic Performance Fuel
- Nutrition: 400 calories, 20g protein, 32g fat, 8g carbohydrates (5g fiber, 1g sugar)
- Protein source: Whey protein isolate (90%), milk protein isolate, micellar casein
- Cost: $4.62/100g
This product offers a much higher fat and calorie content than most other powders on the market, however the ketogenic diet is intended to be high in fat, moderate in protein, and very low in carbohydrates. This supplement fulfills all of those requirements. It can be used as a meal replacement or as a snack for those who are following the ketogenic diet.
While some feel that the powder is too sweet, most users say they enjoy the taste very much. It does not mix well simply by stirring, but as long as you have a shaker cup or whisk, it combines easily with water for a smooth drink.
This product is slightly more expensive than other supplements on the market, however since it can be used to replace an entire meal, it may be worth the slightly higher price tag.
Best for women – Amazing Grass Protein Superfood
- Nutrition: 120 calories, 20g protein, 7g fat, 11g carbohydrates (7g fiber, 4g sugar)
- Protein source: pea, hemp, chia seed protein, quinoa
- Cost: $6.00/100g
This product is high in protein, and satisfies 35% of your daily iron needs, as well as providing some calcium- both nutrients that are particularly important for women. It also offers some additional ingredients, including alkalizing greens and two servings of fruits and vegetables.
Some users say that the initial smell of the product when it is first opened is off-putting, but the vanilla flavour does a good job at masking the grassy taste from the greens. Some say that mixing the product with almond milk helps mask the earthy flavour even more.
This product mixes well in both water and almond milk, with minimal clumps. The greens powder does, however, create a slightly grittier texture.
The price is the major downfall of this product, since the cost is much higher than most non-vegan products, as well as many vegan products
Despite its high cost, however, this product is a great option for women because along with a good amount of protein, it offers other nutrients that are particularly important for female health that aren’t often found in other protein supplements, including iron and calcium.
Best for men – Optimum Nutrition Gold Standard
- Nutrition: 120 calories, 24g protein, 1.5g fat, 3g carbohydrates (0g fiber, 1g sugar)
- Protein source: Whey protein isolate
- Cost: $3.76/100g
Optimum Nutrition is another very well-respected brand among fitness enthusiasts and professionals. With 80% of its calories coming from protein and only 1 gram of sugar per serving, this product is an excellent option to help you achieve your nutrition and fitness goals.
Most users give this product an average rating for taste, however with 10 different flavours to choose from, you will likely be able to find one that you enjoy. It mixes fairly well in water, but does leave a few clumps, and some say that the consistency is somewhat watery. You may need to experiment with the amount of water that you add to suit your preference.
A benefit to this product is that it can be purchased in large quantities, which helps drive down the price. If purchased in the largest container size (2.26kg), it is slightly below the average cost of a whey protein isolate supplement. This is similar to many other protein supplements on the market, and so is an affordable option for most people.
Overall, this product contains high-quality ingredients that are third-party tested, and is an excellent product for men who are looking to enhance their nutrition or improve their results in the gym.
Best for weight-loss – Garden of Life Raw Organic Fit
- Nutrition: 170 calories, 28g protein, 2g fat, 10g carbohydrates (8g fiber, 0g sugar)
- Protein source: pea and brown rice protein
- Cost: $10/100g
65% of this product’s calories come from protein, which is fairly standard for vegan protein supplements. What sets it apart is that it contains added ingredients that are said to assist in weight loss, including Svetol® Green Coffee Bean Extract, Raw Food Created Chromium and Organic Cinnamon.
This product comes in 4 flavours, and while most users agree that the taste is pretty good, it does have a fairly chalky texture that many find undesirable. It also does not mix quite as well as other products on the market, so it does require thorough mixing, perhaps in a blender, to remove any clumps.
The biggest drawback to this product is the price. Unless you purchase it online, most retailers only carry the 457g tub, which costs much more on a per-serving basis than most other supplements on the market.
Despite its high cost, this product’s added ingredients to assist with fat burn and metabolism may help you achieve your weightloss goals.
Best for weight (muscle) gain – MuscleTech Nitro Tech
- Nutrition: 160 calories, 30g protein, 2.5g fat, 4g carbohydrates (0g fiber, 1g sugar)
- Protein source: Whey protein isolate, whey protein hydro isolate, whey protein concentrate
- Cost: $3.90/100g
Approximately 75% of this product’s calories come from protein, which is a good ratio for individuals who are looking to gain some muscle. It also contains 6.8g of Branched Chain Amino Acids (BCAAs) and 3g of creatine, which helps to boost muscle gain when consumed with protein.
Whether or not you like the taste of this product, however, depends on whether or not you have a sweet tooth. The main complaint for some users is that the powder is far too sweet, so if you should take that into consideration before purchasing. Most users report that it mixes well and has a smooth texture with few clumps.
The price of this product is on par with most of the other major protein brands, particularly when purchased in the larger, 1.8kg-sized tub.
If building muscle is your primary goal, and taste is less of a consideration, this product’s added ingredients to assist in muscle gain makes it a good option for you.
Best whey protein powder – Dymatize ISO100
- Nutrition: 110 calories, 25g protein, 0g fat, 1g carbohydrates (0g fiber, 0g sugar)
- Protein source: hydrolyzed whey protein isolate, whey protein isolate
- Cost: $4.44/100g
90% of this product’s calories come from protein, making it one of the best supplements purely for protein content on the shelf. The protein in this product has been hydrolyzed, which means that it contains enzymes that help you absorb the protein more effectively and efficiently.
This product comes in a variety of flavors, however most Canadian retailers carry only five of them- chocolate, vanilla, cookies and cream, fruity pebbles, and birthday cake. Most agree the taste is good, but some users say that when mixed in water, the product turns out to be thinner than they’d like, and it does tend to leave a few clumps.
The cost of this product is slightly higher than the market average, however the protein content might be worth the slightly higher price.
Overall, this is a high-quality whey-based protein, that is easily absorbed by the body, that is also gentler on your digestive system.