Go into any gym and you will hear the rattling of a shaker bottle mixing someone’s protein shake. Protein powders are extremely popular now – and not just for athletes looking to gain a competitive edge. Vegetarians are using them to supplement their diet. Others are looking for a quick breakfast fix, because a protein powder can provide a quick and nutritious meal on the run.

With all the buzz about protein, however, you should remember that protein powder supplements are not created equal. Navigating the protein world is daunting, no doubt. There are different proteins, blends, and ingredients to consider. But choosing an ideal protein powder isn’t as hard as it might appear. Start by asking the basics.

What is protein?

Protein is essential for life, and along with carbohydrates and fat, protein rounds out the three macronutrients that provide the fuel and energy for our bodies to survive. Protein – made up of amino acids – contains the raw materials that help build our muscles, bones, connective tissues, skin, hair and nails; protein helps control satiety; and protein plays a crucial role in many chemical reactions going on in the body.

Although each amino acid plays an important and specific role, when it comes to muscle protein growth and repair, one amino acid stands above them all.

During times of physical activity, illness, injury, or undernourishment, the body goes into the state called catabolism, in which the body breaks down internal stores to fuel itself. This process continues until specific nutrients are introduced. It is the essential amino acid leucine that initiates anabolism, the state of creation or building. Research suggests that leucine in the amount of 2.3 to 2.5 grams at a given time is needed to stimulate the recovery and growth process.1

How much protein do I need?

As with all advice on nutrient intake, there is no one-size-fits-all recommendation. Trusted associations have created position guidelines to help you find your own one-size-fits-one answer.

The most quoted guideline for daily protein intake comes from the Institutes of Medicine’s recommended daily allowance (RDA) of 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight daily.RDAs are designed to prevent a deficiency in a majority of the population, which is why the growing consensus among practitioners and scientists is that the current RDAs do not adequately promote optimal health. RDAs do not account for metabolic conditions like illness, physical activity, injury, or aging, all of which can increase a person’s daily demand for protein. The average U.S. adult tends to consume about 1.2 grams of protein per kilogram of weight daily.3

Although these recommendations are calculated using total body weight, athletes and those seeking optimal health should work with a health-care practitioner or a sports science expert to individualize recommended protein intake. The recommendation should be based on lean body weight or fat-free mass for their sport, position, and overall health goals.

Because research varies slightly as to recommendations for an exact protein amount for a given demographic, most researchers agree on the following ranges:

Daily Protein Recommendations4-6

Minimum:  0.8 grams (g) protein per kilogram (kg) of weight daily

Optimal health, moderate training, injury, or Illness: 1.0 to 1.5 g of protein per kg of weight daily

Advanced training, injury, illness: 1.5 to 2.2 g protein per kg of weight daily (the more intense training or an injury/illness is, the closer to the higher end of the recommended range one should aim for)

Pregnancy: 1.6 to 1.8 g protein per kg of weight daily

How much protein is too much?

Some health-care practitioners were initially concerned that a higher protein diet might put a strain on the kidneys, because the kidneys eliminate the waste products of protein digestion. However, a recent review of the literature in the Journal of Nutrition concluded that higher protein diets – defined as more than 1.5 g protein per kg of weight daily – do not adversely impact kidney function in sedentary, middle-aged, overweight, but otherwise healthy adults.7 There are certain instances when clinicians would recommend short-term, very high-protein intakes.

How can I optimize protein intake for muscle protein synthesis? 

Unlike carbohydrates and fat, the body has a relatively limited capacity to store protein for later use. Simply consuming “enough” protein does not mean the body will use that protein optimally. Although some diet plans have a shorter fueling window, the majority of us follow a diet plan that consists of three to four meals throughout the day. But many adults tend to backload protein intake to the evening meal.2 

Studies suggest 40 g of protein per meal, especially in younger-trained individuals, is beneficial for protein synthesis; in most cases, more than 40 g will have minimal impact.Elderly adults can benefit from 40 g or more in a single meal because of inefficient digestion, absorption, and utilization.5

To sum up: A minimum of 20 g and a maximum of 40 g of protein should be consumed at each meal by the average adult.Between 20 and 35 g of high-quality protein is likely to contain 2.3 g of leucine, which will initiate muscle protein synthesis. In most cases, ingesting more than 40 g protein, depending on the rest of your diet, can result in inefficient conversion to sugar or fat.

What protein source is best for me?

Protein is found in a wide range of foods – from both animal and plant sources. Higher quality sources have a wider range of amino acids, and some are even considered complete proteins, which means they contain adequate amounts of all nine essential amino acids. High-quality sources include meat, eggs, and dairy. Plant options vary from moderate to low quality, but can be combined to provide the amino acids needed to support your system. Plant options include soy, nuts, seeds, and beans, as well as grains and vegetables like quinoa, rice, broccoli, and peas. For many individuals, the best protein sources are a mix of the above.

Examples of 20 g of protein:

  • 3 to 4 ounces of chicken, fish, pork or beef
  • 1 serving whey protein isolate or plant-based protein
  • 3 to 4 large eggs
  • 1 cup almonds
  • 1 to 1.5 cups milk or Greek yogurt
  • 1.5 to 2 cups cooked black beans or cooked quinoa
  • 5 tablespoons peanut butter

Factors such as food allergies or intolerances, dietary preferences, daily schedules, and access to a kitchen can make it difficult to achieve a targeted protein intake only from whole foods. Therefore, many of us supplement with protein powders as a quick and convenient source of protein. There are many protein powder options on the market with varying amounts of useable protein, ingredients, and quality. At Thorne, we verify and test our protein sources and ingredients, so you don't have to, and we have developed a comprehensive line of protein options to meet your needs.

Thorne Products

1. Whey Protein Isolate (chocolate or vanilla flavored)

What it is: Whey Protein Isolate is a convenient and versatile source of high-quality protein. Whey is a fast digesting protein with a high amino acid content, specifically leucine, the amino acid necessary to start protein recovery and growth.*  One serving of Thorne’s Whey Protein Isolate contains the amount of leucine necessary to trigger the recovery process.* We chose whey protein isolate as our protein source because of its excellent absorbability and digestibility.

To further improve digestibility, we added digestive enzymes derived from papaya and pineapple to minimize the gastric discomfort that some individuals experience with protein powders.

Who it’s best for: Whey Protein Isolate is best for individuals who are seeking a quick, fast-digesting protein source. Because of its high leucine content, whey protein isolate is popular among athletes and active individuals. To support our professional athletes and athletes subject to drug tests, we submit our Whey Protein Isolate to a third-party organization, NSF International, to confirm our protein sources are free of more than 200 substances banned for athletic competition.

2. VeganPro Complex (chocolate or vanilla flavored)

What it is: VeganPro Complex is a dairy-free, vegan alternative to whey protein. After significant testing of multiple plant sources of protein, Thorne chose a unique blend of fermented pea and rice protein with additional chia protein. The protein blend in Thorne's VeganPro Complex provides a superior vegan protein with optimal absorption and digestibility, rivaling animal-based protein sources like whey. The PureTaste® fermented pea and rice protein blend is 50-percent more digestible than a standard pea and rice protein blend without the gritty texture found in other vegan protein powders. The chia protein provides a second source of complete protein, with added dietary fiber and polyunsaturated fats. The protein base for Thorne's VeganPro Complex contains all nine essential and 11 non-essential amino acids, making it a complete protein comparable to the amino acid content of animal-based proteins. Thorne's VeganPro Complex is high in essential amino acids, including the branched-chain amino acids that promote muscle mass and enhance energy production.*

In addition, VeganPro Complex provides a complete multi-vitamin/mineral complex, an immune-supportive mushroom blend, and vegan DHA from algae.

Who it’s best for: Vegans, vegetarians, or anyone who chooses to avoid dairy or wants to diversify their protein sources; anyone looking for an all-in-one protein and multi-vitamin/mineral option.

3. RecoveryPro®

What it is: RecoveryPro is a unique blend of whey protein, L-tryptophan, magnesium, and PharmaGABA (a calming neurotransmitter) that supports restful sleep and optimizes nighttime muscle recovery.* Tryptophan is essential to the synthesis of the hormone serotonin, which in turn supports the production of melatonin, the hormone responsible for telling the body it’s time to go to sleep. It's great tasting and chocolate flavored.

Who it’s best for: Active individuals who want to maximize nighttime recovery or individuals with disrupted sleep patterns from travel, shift work, or stress.*

4. Collagen

What it is: Collagen, the body's most abundant protein, comprises one-third of the total protein in the body, and is what gives structure and toughness to tissues. Collagen provides a support matrix for skin, ligaments, tendons, and joints.

  • Collagen Plus contains 13 grams of grass-fed, hormone-free collagen. The unique extraction technique eliminates the use of harsh chemicals commonly used in other collagen products. In addition to collagen, Collagen Plus contains a patented blend of blackcurrant and redcurrant powder. This unique formula nourishes skin, hair, and nails, and protects them from environmental insults.* 
  • Who it's best for: Anyone wishing to reduce fine lines, wrinkles, or hyperpigmented skin, to improve skin texture, or support skin hydration.*

5. MediBolic® (vanilla-cinnamon flavored)

What it is: MediBoli is the foundation of Thorne’s weight management program and metabolic syndrome program. Its base is a blend of rice protein and pea proteins combined with a complete multi-vitamin/mineral complex. Soluble fiber, specific botanicals, and other nutrients are added to promote a feeling of fullness, maintain a healthy blood sugar level, promote lean muscle mass, support blood vessel flexibility, and enhance fat burning.*

Who it’s best for: Individuals needing weight management or metabolic syndrome support.*

6. MediClear Suite

Thorne's MediClear suite of products rounds out our protein offerings with four options designed to support detoxification and the health of the liver and GI tract.* MediClear combines rice and pea protein and a multi-vitamin/mineral complex with specific ingredients that support the liver's elimination of environmental and dietary toxins.* Combining MediClear with a specific allergy elimination diet is the cornerstone of Thorne’s 10-Day Detox Protocol and Thorne’s MediClear Detox and Allergy Elimination Program (21-day program). 

  • MediClear® combines rice protein and pea protein with a multi-vitamin/mineral complex and liver-specific botanicals, such as green tea and milk thistle. It is lightly sweetened and lightly vanilla-orange flavored.
  • MediClear Plus® is the unsweetened, unflavored member of the MediClear suite that includes the essential detox nutrients and botanicals found in MediClear and adds a well-absorbed curcumin phytosome and grape seed phytosome to provide additional support for the body’s normal inflammatory response to toxic insults.*
  • MediClear-SGS®, the most robust formula in the MediClear suite, contains all the ingredients in the other formulas, but adds sulforaphane glucosinate (SGS), a naturally occurring substance found in broccoli seeds and sprouts. SGS is known to promote the liver’s detoxification capabilities, plus it serves as an indirect antioxidant that protects cells from free-radical damage.* MediClear-SGS is available in delicious chocolate or vanilla flavors.
  • Who it’s best for: Anyone looking to support a detoxification program and/or an allergy elimination diet.*

7. Amino Complex (lemon or berry flavored): not a protein source, but a source of amino acids – the building blocks of protein

What it is: Amino Complex is a comprehensive blend of essential amino acids. By isolating the specific amino acids the body needs most, the first stages of digestion can be skipped, which allows the amino acids to get into the bloodstream faster than a whole protein source.* Two scoops of Amino Complex provide the amount of leucine necessary to initiate muscle protein synthesis.* Although leucine is essential to recovery, research suggests that delivering the complete mix of essential amino acids at the same time as leucine is vital to promoting optimal recovery.* Unlike our protein offerings, Amino Complex does not contribute significant calories. Both flavors of Amino Complex are NSF Certified for Sport®.

Who it’s best for: Individuals managing calorie intake and anyone who has difficulty consuming whole foods or protein powders, particularly after heavy exercise. 


References

  1. Churchward-Venne T, Burd N, Mitchell C, et al. Supplementation of a suboptimal protein dose with leucine or essential amino acids: effects on myofibrillar protein synthesis at rest and following resistance exercise in men. J Physiol 2012;590(11):2751-2765.
  2. Institute of Medicine. Dietary Reference Intakes for Energy, Carbohydrate, Fiber, Fat, Fatty Acids, Cholesterol, Protein, and Amino Acids. 2005. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. http://doi.org/10.17226/1049 [Accessed Dec. 6, 2018]
  3. USDA Agricultural Research Service. Energy intakes: percentages of energy from protein, carbohydrate, fat, and alcohol, by gender and age; what we eat in America, NHANES 2009–2010. 2012. Available from: www.ars.usda.gov/ba/bhnrc/fsrg [Accessed Dec. 6, 2018]
  4. Thomas D, Erdman K, Burke L. American College of Sports Medicine Joint Position Statement. Nutrition and athletic performance. Med Sci Sports Exerc 2016;48(3):543-568.
  5. Jäger R, Kerksick C, Campbell B, et al. International Society of Sports Nutrition Position Stand: protein and exercise. J Int Soc Sports Nutr 2017;14:20.
  6. Wooding D, Packer J, Kato H, et al. Increased protein requirements in female athletes after variable-intensity exercise. Med Sci Sports Exerc 2017;49(11):2297-2304.
  7. Devries M, Sithamparapillai A, Brimble K, et al. Changes in kidney function do not differ between healthy adults consuming higher- compared with lower- or normal-protein diets: a systematic review and meta-analysis. J Nutr 2018;148(11):1760-1775.