A Girl’s (Quick) Guide to Protein Powder

I will be the first to tell you I am not someone who drinks protein shakes. For nutrition, I primarily focus on what tastes good. And what tastes good to me, is approximately the same to that what a five year old  eats. While this didn’t negatively affect me during my time as an athlete. I did learn two key things about nutrition:

  1. If you don’t eat, you’ll both feel like crap and perform like crap. Learned this one the hard way after trying to cut 10 lbs to qualify as a lightweight (130 lbs) for rowing. I didn’t lose the weight I wanted, and just felt terrible and made everyone else around me terrible because I spent all my time talking about how terrible I felt.
  2. Just eating pizza doesn’t constitute as a well-balanced diet. When I gave up my all-pizza diet, I got faster. Go figure…

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    Don’t even think about getting between me and my pizza

As I pack for my thru-hike, my propensity to eat like a child is somewhat concerning. And I’m not talking about bland food issues. Butter noodles? I love butter noodles! I’m talking about zero protein. I don’t like most trail protein food (i.e. tuna, most nuts, most jerky/beef products) and I could argue that my current diet is protein deficient. After filling out their form, GNC says I should having 56g of protein a day, 88g while hiking. That’s a LOT of protein for a girl who doesn’t like things with protein in them. This has led me to consider supplementing my diet with protein powder.

BEGINNING THE JOURNEY

The initial journey into protein powder consumer-dom can be daunting. There are so many different types of protein, so many different brands, and it’s a financial commitment. Most of the containers are larger than my head and cost upwards of $30 and that’s on the cheap end. This becomes a whole lot of potentially gross and expensive powder to consume. (I’m the girl that currently has 4 sleeping bags because I can’t make decisions, so you see what the problem is here) But I would like to synthesize what I’ve learned from both my research and conversations with my bro friends.

TYPES OF PROTEIN POWDERS

Protein can be categorized into two groups: plant-based protein, and animal-based (Makes sense right?) I’ll briefly describe major proteins you’ll commonly encounter.

  • Soy – Soy protein is derived from soy. REALLY IT IS! It’s the most common plant-based protein and great if you’re vegetarian (again obvious). It’s also easier on the wallet than other forms of plant-based proteins. However, it might have less grams of protein per serving than animal-based protein and other plant-based forms. Articles are mixed on whether soy is a complete protein – has the essential amino acids and bioavailability to adequately support muscle growth. Some argue that it is, while others say it isn’t. The bros suggest that unless you have allergies or need a plant-based protein, whey protein is better.
  • Other plant-based – Other plant-based protein powders you can find include brown rice, pea, and hemp. There are various health benefits for each. However, I didn’t look too much into them.
  • Casein – Casein is the most common protein found in milk, so if you have milk allergies it’s probably not ideal. It’s a slow-digesting protein which can be be more filling. Good. But it’s more expensive than other proteins. Bad. And it isn’t very water-soluble and subsequently doesn’t blend well with just water. Even worse for the thru-hiker. I don’t know about you, but I’m not planning on bringing a blender.
  • Whey – Whey is another milk protein. However it is a byproduct of the cheese-making process, unlike casein which is found in all dairy . Think Little Miss Muffet sitting on her tuffet. Also unlike casein, it’s a fast-acting protein, which means your body breaks it down more rapidly. It’s also the most prescribed protein supplement by the bros. They argue that for the best bang for your buck, go with whey. It also blends well with water and is for sure a complete protein.
  • _____ Isolate – Most protein comes in isolate form. Think of it as protein concentrate. Instead of protein comprising approximately 75% of the powder, isolates are comprised of 90% proteins. Typically they’re used for post-work out. However, since they undergo more processing, they lose many of the health-promoting concentrates found in the “regular” version. They’ll also cost you more.

MY CHOICE?

I wanted a powder that I could put in my Nalgene with water, go shake, shake, shake, and then gulp. I personally don’t have any milk allergies or any aversion to using animal-based products. For the health benefits, taste, and cost, whey seemed to be the protein  best suited for me.

FLAVOR?

This was a big concern for me and I’m still figuring it out. The guy at GNC said all whey protein powders taste about the same. My bros argue differently. I personally haven’t tried a ton of versions. What did I like?  I’ve liked both the vanilla and chocolate flavors of New Solutions Nutrition Whey which is sold in my local grocery store. The GNC dude suggested this, this, and said this tasted the best. When I asked what was bad, he said Walmart’s version was sub-par in the taste section. But that is one dude’s opinion. I’m unable to verify the accuracy of his suggestions.

If you have a favorite protein powder, brand, or flavor, I’d love to hear from you. I’m open to suggestions.

Related reading: 4 Supplements for Backpacking

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Comments 10

  • Avatar
    Vincent : Mar 10th

    Great read to decide on which type of protein shake suits best! I usually choose one with MCT and CLA so that the fat burning is in action too!

    Reply
  • Avatar
    Mary : Mar 15th

    Depends on what u like, gnc usually lets u test them and has samples. Strawberry to me is the worst ever. I loved gncs double chocolate, usually chocolate and cookies and creme are the best. If u wanna mix two flavors I’ve found vanilla and chocolate are pretty awesome also you can have a variety if you get bored easily

    Reply
  • Avatar
    Nichole Young : Mar 15th

    Please for the sake of your health do not get your nutritional advice from GNC – their job is to sell you protein powder!! If you think you’re not getting enough, talk to someone who actually studied nutrition!

    Reply
    • Avatar
      Renee : Mar 18th

      I see a nutrition counselor and I take whey protein powder (also the amounts she was told are pretty accurate for someone her size, which looks to be similar to my size). In this case, it seems that the salesperson was pretty spot on.

      Reply
  • Avatar
    maurice powers : Mar 15th

    OK…if you are a Pizza connoisseur…when you get to Ct…find a way to get to New Haven…go to Wooster Street and have a Pepe’s Clam Pizza…plan on going one block East afterward and try the Italian Pastry shop … I highly recommend the cannoli and the cheesecake…and they have a espresso machine for your caffiene high. If you have the time and the resources get over to downtown mainstreet Westport Ct and hit Westport Pizzaria at the north end of town and then Oscar’s Deli acouple doors north…you won’t be sorry…happy Trails

    Reply
  • Avatar
    Michael Mata : Mar 15th

    Isagenix indentured whey! Awesome nutritional program . I am considering a thru hike with their meal replacement shakes. They have a variety of products including bars, and recovery shakes. The best protien out there by far.
    Let me know if your interested I’ll send you a link

    Reply
  • Avatar
    Greg : Mar 16th

    Great info! I like muscle milk and Harlan’s whey powder. Packed a bit of each for some variety. Hope to see you on the trail!

    Reply
  • Avatar
    Jennifer : Mar 16th

    I have trouble getting enough protein too. I like the taste of Chocolate Syntha 6. That being said I always mixed it with milk not water. Some of the other protein powders had a “gritty” taste which I couldn’t stand.

    Reply
  • Avatar
    Matt Porter : Mar 16th

    I prefer Isopure Original Protein (Whey Isolate), specifically the chocolate peanut-butter flavor. 50 grams of protein, 25 carbs, 300 calories per a two scoop serving. Requires about 8 ounces of water and mixes easily, nice texture and not gritty. It doesn’t have a lingering after taste that most other protein powers do. It is also lactose and gluten free which is good for me since i’m lactose intolerant. It is on the more expensive side at a retail price of about $50 per 3 lbs tub.

    Reply
  • Avatar
    Josh Snead : Mar 18th

    I stopped in a health store today seeking the same options for my thru hike. The guy recommended that I buy a mass gainer that had 500 calories per Shake and around 20 grams of protein. He figured it’ll all be burnt off anyways. I’m starting nobo on the 3/19! See ya out there!

    Reply

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