Protein Powders 101

Tucson Nutrition Coach

One of the most common questions I get as a Nutrition Coach is what’s the best protein powder? My first answer is that you should always aim to get protein from real food sources first and supplement when or if needed. My second answer is it depends! It depends on nutritional preference (i.e dairy free) as well as your goals. One other important thing to note is that ingredients matter! Make sure the protein powder you decide to buy has quality ingredients without added sugars.

First a brief overview on protein. Protein is made up of amino acids which serve as building blocks for you muscles, tissues, bones, and blood. There are a total of 20 amino acids- 9 of which are essential amino acids. These are deemed essential because your body cannot produce these amino acids on it’s own, therefore you must get them from food. 

So why is consuming enough protein so important!?  Protein plays a lot of important roles in your body like muscle synthesis and recovery, building blocks for your cells, and hair/skin health. Eating protein helps us maintain, preserve, and build our lean mass which is so important for health and longevity!

Protein powders can help you reach your protein goals if consuming adequate protein rich food is difficult. It can also act as a great, quick post workout option for all the gains. 

So let’s break all the supplement options down.

BCAA’s aka Branched Chain Amino Acids

These are quickly absorbed, they can bypass the liver and go straight to your muscles, which makes them popular for pre, during, and post workout.


This is a milk-based protein that your body can break down quickly which makes this the most popular form of protein powder. High quality protein powders should contain all nine amino acids in order for them to be most effective. I always suggest buying whey isolates as these typically consist of more quality ingredients and less lactose.


This is another milk-based protein but it is absorbed much slower in the body which makes it great as a pre-bed time recovery option. It is believed that consuming this before bed can improve protein balance in the body for better recovery and strength.

*Side note on whey and casein: if you are lactose intolerant or sensitive these are not the best options for you. Signs these might not be a great option- you break out (typically chin or cheeks), and/or you have stomach cramps or bloating after consuming. If you can relate to this try the following protein powders..

Egg White and Beef Protein

If you are sensitive to dairy these types of protein powders are optimal as they contain majority of the essential amino acids. Optimal to purchase powders that are grass fed! 

Plant Based Protein

If you are vegetarian or vegan plant based protein powders are a necessary add-in to your diet. Look for products made from hempseed or pea. And as always check the labels! Also good to be aware that many plant protein powders do not contain all nine essential amino acids so it might be important to supplement with other foods or digestive enzymes.

Insect Protein

Sounds gross but it’s actually full of all of the important amino acids. Typically crickets are used to make insect protein powder so if that doesn’t gross you out go for it!


My absolute favorite! Collagen is the most abundant protein in your body- it helps with skin, hair, nails, muscles, tendons, ligaments, and can improve gut health. However, it is not the most ideal protein source post workout as it take longer to absorb in the body.

When it comes to protein powers it’s important to figure out what best works for YOU! And to keep in mind that supplements can never take the place of real, whole food. Food first, supplement when and if needed

Nutrition coach Kelly Phu will not only help you make better decisions when it comes to nutrition, she will help you create a healthier relationship with food and habits that are sustainable long term. Get started with her by scheduling your free consultation below!

Tucson Nutrition Coach

Kelly Phu, Tucson Nutrition Coach

Bachelor of Science Nutrition, Dietetics Emphasis

Precision Nutrition Level 1 Certified

Being actively involved in the health and fitness industry for over 8 years, Kelly has the knowledge and experience to help others achieve their goals no matter what their stage of life or level of ability. Kelly encourages clients to reach outside of their comfort zones to grow physically and mentally. Kelly loves helping others to find their strength, accomplish their goals, and lead better lives.