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Choosing the Right Protein Supplement: 5 Questions to Ask

There are a lot of preconceived notions about us Americans out there — we love baseball, hot dogs, and the 4th of July. We’re individualistic workaholics with a penchant for fast food and controlling our own destinies.

And, of course, we’re protein-crazed carnivores, gobbling up excessive amounts of red meat like it’s going out of style.

Look a little closer at that last stereotype and you’ll realize that…it’s not really true. Most Americans are barely hitting the threshold of daily protein requirements and older generations in the U.S. aren’t even doing that.

Time to step up your game, grandma!

Why? Well, if you want your brain and bod to function properly, then getting enough protein — from your food and/or supplements — is crucial. Hence why holistic health hero and wellness wisecracker, Dr. Neal, included it in his highly acclaimed Vital5.

But don’t just buy the biggest jug of protein powder with the biggest bodybuilder on it!

Unless you, unlike most Americans, are cool with wasting time and money. Read on to learn 5 questions to ask before buying a protein supplement to avoid being swindled by slick sales tactics and meddlesome misinformation.

In This Article:

1. What Kind of Protein Supplement is Best for Me?

First step: Figure out what it is that you need from a protein supplement. That will determine which of these two paths you’ll take.

Protein Supplements

Protein supplements in the form of powders, bars, and even cookies deliver a concentrated dose of protein compounds and amino acids. They’re designed to provide an extra boost of protein to support things like muscle growth and repair and cognitive functioning.

Meal Replacement Shakes

Yes, there is a difference!

Meal replacement shakes offer a complete meal in a convenient, drinkable form. Packed with additional food compounds (and often vitamins, too) these shakes are a quick and convenient option for when you’re in a hurry or looking to cut calories.

Which is best?

Both protein supplements and meal replacement shakes have their roles to play, depending on your needs and goals.

In an ideal world, you’d get the bulk of your nutrients in the most beneficial and bioavailable form — directly from food sources. But we don’t really live in an ideal world, do we? The best option ultimately depends on personal preferences, dietary restrictions, and fitness goals, then. 

Are you just looking to fill in some gaps? A protein supplement is the way to go. If you need protein and calories in the quickest, easiest medium, then you may want a meal replacement shake.

2. Which Form of Protein Do I Need?

And then there’s the age-old dichotomy: Plant versus animal protein sources.

On the veggie side, we have:

  • Rice
  • Bean
  • Pea
  • Hemp

On the meat side, we have:

Which is best?

Sorry Ron Swanson, but the answer is decidedly not black-and-white! The truth is, there’s no real winner here. Or they’re both winners, depending on how you look at it.

Both animal and plant-based protein supplements have their benefits and their drawbacks. Each can provide scoops of beneficial, digestible protein compounds (when sourced from a reputable manufacturer) and… Both are highly processed and come with a laundry list of potential contaminants.

So really, it’s up to you and your personal preferences. Whichever team you bat for, just make sure you’re getting a minimally processed, high-quality version of your preferred protein.

Our Recommendations:

Learn More: How Protein Supplements Are Processed (Within an Inch of Their Lives)

3. How Much Protein Do I Need Per Day?

There’s a lot of conflicting information out there about how much protein you need per day. Despite what you may have read, though, there’s no one-size-fits-all number for daily protein intake.

In fact, protein requirements are highly individualized.

After 20 years of clinical practice, working with folks from all walks of life, Dr. Neal created this simple formula for determining your personalized daily dose of protein:

  • Your Weight in Pounds / 2.2 = Your Weight in Kilograms

Boom! That’s it.

Your weight in kilograms is the magic number of protein grams you should be aiming for each day.

But before you start scooping, don’t forget to factor in how much you’re already getting from your diet — there is a small chance you get enough protein from foods and don’t actually need a protein supplement.

4. How Many Servings of This Protein Supplement Do I Need?

Don’t put away your calculators just yet! We’ve got a little more mathing to do. 

Before you hit “Add to Cart”, you should know the protein yield of the supplement you’re choosing. Protein yield, in case you missed this handy blog on the subject, refers to the actual amount of protein you’re getting per serving.

(And knowing how many servings you need to take to hit your protein target will keep you from wasting money on cheap supplements that cost more in the long run. Handy, right?)

As Dr. Neal always says, the lower the yield number, the more fluff you’ll be getting in each scoop.

  • Protein Yield = Amount of Protein in a Serving / Size of a Serving

Here’s an example from the Woodstock Vitamins collection: Our collagen peptides protein supplement offers 18g of protein per 20g serving. The protein yield, then, sits nicely at about 90%.

Learn More: Protein Supplements: Are You Getting Ripped Off?

5. Is This Protein Supplement Overpriced?

And if you really want to make sure you’re not getting ripped off, we have one last calculation: Cost per gram.

Ideally, you’ll be paying about 10 cents or less per serving of your protein supplement. Anything more than that is either a little pricey or a total rip-off.

  • Cost Per Gram = Cost of the protein supplement / Grams of protein in the supplement

Let’s continue with our collagen peptides example, since we’re always proud to walk the walk, too. Our 30-day supply of minimally processed, rigorously tested collagen peptides comes with 300g of protein in total.

Calculate that out at the current price, and the cost per gram of our collagen is $.0783.

Pro-Tips for Protein

Now that you know how to shop strategically and avoid getting swindled, go and make our country proud! By being one of the few Americans hitting their daily protein intake target, that is.

Just don’t forget that you can’t out-supplement malnutrition — you still need to eat diverse, nutrient-dense foods, too.

And if you’re an overachiever like us, you can keep these three protein pro-tips in your back pocket to really get the most bang for your buck and your body:

  1. Check the ingredients for stuff like unnecessary fillers, undigestible vitamins, and endocrine-disrupting colorings or flavorings.
  2. Avoid contaminants like heavy metals and synthetic hormones by buying from an ultra-transparent manufacturer with meticulous standards for product testing.
  3. Consult a pro like one of our supplement experts (shoutout to our free Counterside Consults) for direct guidance on your protein journey.
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