The Best Protein Powder for Weight Loss

A protein shake can provide a nutritious, convenient and comparatively low calorie breakfast or snack for everyone, particularly for those who are attempting to lose weight while conserving their lean body mass (i.e. muscle). Please note that pregnant or lactating women, individuals with kidney disease and children under 12, should consult a physician before using protein supplements. Shake powders can be easily modified with additions such as probiotics, leafy greens, and/or chia seeds, for example, and then mixed with water as an excellent morning meal replacement, particularly for busy commuters in the early morning. Conversely, for those attempting to gain weight, a shake can be boosted with the addition, for example, of nut butter, fruit and non-dairy beverages for extra, high quality calories, particularly in the evening or at bedtime.
The question is: which shake to use? The variety of shakes currently on the market is truly dizzying, so let’s try to break them down into three main protein categories: whey, soy, or rice (or rice/pea).

Whey protein shakes typically contain more protein per serving than vegan or soy shakes, which may be an advantage for a larger or more muscular person (particularly for men). When choosing a whey shake, however, it is important to know the source of the whey. Consumer Reports conducted an extensive review of several brands of whey shakes in 2010, and found that many popular brands were contaminated with heavy metals (i.e. arsenic, cadmium, lead and mercury) in amounts that exceeded the maximum limits proposed by the U.S. Pharmacopeia for dietary supplements. Historically, the purest whey has been sourced from either New Zealand or from organic farms in the United States. If a manufacturer refuses to disclose the source of the whey, it probably is not from either of those places. In our office we choose to source all of our whey products from New Zealand or the U.S. Whey shakes tend to have a creamier texture than vegan shakes, which may have greater appeal to a “texture sensitive” individual.
Soy protein shakes, while providing adequate amounts of protein, are often poorly tolerated and produce “uncomfortable” digestive symptoms in many people. Another concern with soy products is the fact that most of the soy in the United States is now genetically modified, the implications of which remain to be seen. If choosing a soy shake, try to find an organic brand as this usually (although not always) means that the soy has not been genetically modified.
Rice protein, or pea/rice protein shakes, tend to be the most hypoallergenic of all. This can be an important consideration e.g. for people with Celiac Disease or NCGS (Non-Celiac Gluten Sensitivity), as these people often have coexisting allergies to soy, fructose, dairy and many other proteins. While these other foods can cause gas, bloating, cramping, loose stools or diarrhea in a sensitive person, rice and pea protein powders tend to be more easily tolerated. Pea protein is also an excellent source of dietary iron. Rice protein isolate has been found by researchers to be comparable to equal doses of whey protein isolate for building lean body mass (especially when taken after exercise), reducing fat, and aiding athletic recovery. The vegan formula used in our office contains rice protein and a highly digestible pea protein, which together create a complete or “perfect” protein for a human being. (A perfect protein is one that contains all of the essential amino acids required to support human biological functions.)
Regardless of the protein source you choose, there are other considerations. A common mistake made by those wanting to lose weight by adding protein shakes to their daily intake is to add lots of “healthy fruit” (i.e. sugar) to the shake, or to mix it with milk (dairy or otherwise) rather than water. Any additions to your shake should be either non-caloric (e.g. a probiotic, a few drops of a flavored extract, a fiber supplement) or minimally caloric (e.g. chia seeds). Also, read labels! Most of the shakes available over the counter contain one or more artificial sweeteners, such as aspartame, acesulfame, or sucralose. Choose a product that is not artificially sweetened. Ideally it should also be free of fructose, which has been found in some studies to contribute to visceral fat and elevated triglycedrides.
Lastly, it is possible to “over-do it” with protein supplements. A protein shake can be a great way to start the day, and a valuable late-afternoon snack or post-exercise recovery drink. But be sure to leave room for plenty of “real food” – particularly lots and lots of green and colorful veggies!


These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration.  This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.

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