Protein powders are popular supplements for people looking to lose weight, gain muscle and improve athletic performance.
Although often associated with men looking to bulk up, these supplements are favored by women as well. In fact, many protein powders are now marketed specifically to women.
They’re an effective tool for women looking to lose fat, tone up and improve strength. Plus, protein powders are a convenient and healthy addition to on-the-go meals and snacks.
However, the wide array of protein powders available can confuse even the savviest of shoppers, leaving women wondering what type best suits their needs.
Here are the 7 best types of protein powder for women, plus information on how to choose a quality product.
1. WHEY PROTEIN
Whey protein is one of the most popular types of protein powder and for good reason.
It’s a highly digestible milk-derived protein that contains all nine of the essential amino acids your body can’t make on its own.
This is why whey protein is considered a “complete” source of protein.
Whey protein supplements promote weight loss, enhance muscle growth and reduce hunger in both men and women.
A 23-week study of overweight adults found that adding 56 grams of whey protein per day led to 5 pounds (2.3kg) greater fat loss than the same amount of soy protein or carbs (1).
Whey protein also reduces ghrelin, a hormone that stimulates appetite, which may explain its effectiveness in reducing hunger and boosting weight loss (2).
Plus, whey protein can help increase and preserve lean muscle mass, which is especially important for women throughout their lives.
For example, research showed that whey protein supplements combined with resistance training led to a significant increase in muscle mass and improvement in strength (3).
Additionally, whey protein speeds muscle recovery and reduces exercise-induced muscle damage in physically active women, making it an excellent choice for athletes (4).
However, since whey is made from milk, this type of protein is not appropriate for vegans or those with allergies or intolerances to dairy.
2. PEA PROTEIN
Pea protein is made from dried, ground yellow peas. It’s a favorite among vegans and people who can’t tolerate animal-based protein powders.
Plus, it’s hypoallergenic, making it a safe choice for people who have food sensitivities or allergies.
Although peas aren’t usually considered a powerful source of protein, pea protein powder is highly concentrated and is an excellent source of the essential amino acids leucine, isoleucine and valine.
These amino acids, commonly known as branched-chain amino acids or BCAAs, play an important role in muscle protein synthesis.
One study found that pea protein supplements led to a greater increase in bicep muscle thickness than whey protein, when combined with resistance training (5).
Since lean muscle burns more calories than fat, increasing muscle mass can help women increase their metabolism and lose weight (6).
What’s more, pea protein can help reduce hunger and keep you satisfied between meals.
In fact, pea protein hydrolysate, a type of easily absorbed pea protein, was found to be more effective in suppressing hunger and increasing fullness in overweight adults than whey protein (7).
SUMMARYPea protein can help build lean muscle mass and reduce hunger, both of which can stimulate weight loss. It’s a great choice for vegans or women with food sensitivities.
Collagen is a relatively new contender in the protein powder market.
This multipurpose supplement not only delivers a powerful punch of protein, but can also help reduce joint pain, increase muscle strength and even reduce wrinkle depth (8, 9, 10).
The most common collagen powders on the market are extracted from the skin or bones of animals like cows and pigs, or from the scales and skin of fish.
Most of these powders are hydrolyzed, meaning they are broken down into smaller pieces called peptides that your body can easily absorb.
They typically pack in 18–20 grams of protein per serving, making them an excellent choice for women looking to increase their intake of this important nutrient.
Another benefit of collagen powder is that it easily mixes into hot or cold liquids, upping its convenience factor. Its boost of protein can also decrease hunger and increase fullness.
Adding collagen to your diet also benefits your joints, bones and skin.
A study of 147 athletes found that taking collagen supplements significantly reduced joint pain when walking, resting and exercising (11).
Another study showed that elderly people taking collagen supplements, as well as doing resistance exercises, had significant gains in both muscle and bone mass.
Those who received collagen peptides gained 9.3 pounds (4.22 kg) of lean body mass, while the placebo group gained 6.4 pounds (2.9 kg) (12).
Collagen peptides may also help reduce signs of aging like wrinkles, dryness and sagging skin. In one study, 69% of people saw visible reductions in their facial lines (13).
4. EGG WHITE PROTEIN
Eggs are one of the best sources of protein that you can eat.
Whole eggs provide the most nutrients, but consuming egg whites, which are almost pure protein, can benefit health as well.
Egg white protein powder is a popular supplement used to boost protein intake and enhance athletic performance.
Like whey protein, egg white protein is an excellent source of branched-chain amino acids that help stimulate muscle growth.
It’s also a complete protein, providing all of the essential acids that your body needs to thrive. Plus, egg white protein is highly absorbable and dairy-free, making it safe for those with allergies or intolerance to dairy.
What’s more, it’s lower in carbs than other types of protein powders, which may make it a better choice for women with diabetes or prediabetes.
For example, two scoops (56 grams) of whey protein can contain 10 grams of carbs, while an equal amount of egg white protein delivers under 3 grams (14, 15).
Egg white protein powder has a mild taste and can be easily added to shakes, smoothies and baked goods.
5. HEMP PROTEIN
Hemp protein powder is an excellent plant-based source of protein.
It’s made from the seeds of the hemp plant, which is in the cannabis family.
Although this protein powder is derived from a plant closely related to marijuana, it does not contain THC, the compound that gives marijuana its psychoactive properties.
Hemp protein has a rich, nutty flavor and is packed with beneficial nutrients.
It’s a good source of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids in a favorable ratio of 3:1.
Many diets are too high in omega-6s, which are abundant in vegetable oils and processed foods, yet lacking in omega-3s, which are found in foods like fatty fish, nuts and chia seeds.
This imbalance can cause inflammation in your body and has been linked to numerous health issues including heart disease, obesity and Alzheimer’s disease (16).
The good news is that women who follow diets rich in omega-3 fatty acids have a lower risk of cognitive decline, heart disease and depression (17, 18, 19).
Furthermore, hemp protein powder is an excellent source of protein, delivering 14 grams per 28-gram serving size. However, it doesn’t pack as much protein as other vegan-friendly options, like pea protein, and it can be pricey (20).
Nevertheless, hemp protein contains an impressive amount of fiber, healthy fats, iron, magnesium and potassium, making it a nutritious option for women looking for a well-rounded protein powder (21).
6. BROWN RICE PROTEIN
Brown rice protein is another vegan-friendly option for increasing protein intake.
For women who are intolerant to dairy or who want to avoid animal products, brown rice protein is the way to go.
It’s one of the most hypoallergenic types of protein on the market and is easy to digest.
Although it’s not a complete source of protein, like whey or egg whites, brown rice protein provides many health benefits.
It’s a great choice for women looking to improve strength and increase muscle mass.
In one study, brown rice protein was just as effective as whey protein for improving exercise performance and body composition.
People who consumed 48 grams of brown rice protein on strength training days experienced increases in lean body mass, improved power and strength comparable to a group who consumed the same amount of whey protein (22).
This is good news for women who can’t tolerate whey protein but want a protein powder that can help them reach their fitness goals.
7. MIXED PLANT-BASED PROTEIN POWDERS
Plant-based protein blends contain a mixture of protein sources. They vary in texture and come in a number of flavors.
Common proteins found in these supplements include:
- Pumpkin seed
Mixing plant-based proteins together into one supplement boosts its nutritional value.
However, most plant-based protein sources are incomplete, meaning they are lacking in one or more essential amino acids (23).
Nevertheless, combining a few different proteins can fill in those gaps. For example, brown rice protein is low in lysine, while pea protein is a rich source of this important amino acid.
Although there are a number of excellent plant-based protein powders, a blended product ensures you’ll receive all the amino acids your muscles need to recover and thrive.
HOW TO CHOOSE THE BEST PROTEIN POWDER
You can choose from a number of excellent protein powders depending on your dietary preferences and health goals.
However, many products contain ingredients that aren’t good for your health, so it’s important to know what to avoid when shopping for a protein powder.
CHOOSE PRODUCTS WITH FEW INGREDIENTS
Like any food, protein powders with limited ingredients are always the best choice.
Many products contain high amounts of preservatives, artificial colorings and other chemical additives.
Therefore, stick to products that contain just one ingredient, such as whey protein isolate or collagen peptides.
SKIP HIGH-SUGAR PRODUCTS
Many protein powders come in sweet flavors like vanilla, chocolate and strawberry.
Some companies use a slew of sweeteners like corn syrup and fructose to make their products taste delicious.
Look for protein powders with under 4 grams of sugar per serving, or choose brands that use natural, no-calorie sweeteners like stevia or monk fruit.
DON’T OVERDO IT
Before purchasing a protein powder, find out if your diet is truly lacking in protein.
Although there’s nothing wrong with having a protein shake, you may not need to consume one every day.
While supplements can boost protein for women with increased needs, like athletes and pregnant women, you can fulfill your daily protein requirements by eating whole foods.
Protein-rich whole foods include eggs, poultry, dairy, beans, meats, seafood and nuts.
HOW TO USE PROTEIN POWDER
Protein powders are extremely versatile and are perfect for busy women who need a quick but healthy meal or snack.
Simply combine your favorite protein powder with water, milk or a non-dairy alternative like almond milk.
Protein powder makes a great addition to smoothies, providing a nutrition boost that will help keep you fuller for longer.
When using protein powder to speed recovery after strength training, it’s best to consume it immediately before or after a workout (24).
If weight loss is the goal, having a protein-rich snack like a shake made with greens, fruit and protein powder may help curb your appetite later in the day (25).
Additionally, there are many ways to consume protein powder other than in smoothies and shakes. Here are a few ways to incorporate protein powder into your diet:
- Mix a scoop of protein powder into your morning yogurt
- Add collagen peptides to your morning coffee for a creamy protein boost
- Use protein powder in baked goods like bars, breads and muffins
- Add protein powder to pancakes
- Try a scoop of vanilla protein powder in your oatmeal
- Make energy bites using protein powder, oats, dried fruit and nut butter
- Make gummies with collagen peptides, cooked berries and lemon juice
SUMMARYThere are plenty of ways to incorporate protein powder into your diet. From protein shakes to homemade energy bites, this supplement can be added to a number of foods and beverages.
THE BOTTOM LINE
Women use protein powder for a variety of reasons, including muscle growth, speeding recovery after workouts and stimulating weight loss.
These supplements provide a concentrated source of high-quality protein in a versatile and easy-to-use powder, which can be added to shakes, smoothies and many more recipes.
Whey, pea, hemp, egg white, brown rice and collagen, as well as plant-based blends, all make excellent choices for women looking to increase their intake of this vital nutrient.
While whole foods are always the best source of protein, powder supplements are a smart and convenient way for busy women to meet their nutritional needs.