Protein 101

What’s Included?

  • What’s the difference between protein powders & whole food protein sources?
  • Which option is better?
  • Which protein powders are the best?

Which is Better: Whole Foods or Protein Powders?

First, let us look at the difference between protein powders and whole food sources. Both can meet the body’s daily protein requirements; however, they do not offer equal nutritional value.

Whole foods = bigger nutritional value!

High quality protein sources or complete proteins contain all nine essential amino acids and are foods such as fish, poultry, eggs, beef, pork, dairy, edamame, and tofu to name a few.

Incomplete protein sources are legumes, nuts, seeds, whole grains and vegetables. These foods contain some but not all of the essential amino acids, however when you combine these foods together they make complete proteins.

Example: brown rice and black beans together.

What About Protein Powders?

Food first is always my recommendations; however, when food may not be an option, here are a few considerations when going for that protein powder.

When purchasing a protein powder look for the approved independent testing agency logo on the product. This means the company went through steps and meets standards of quality. If you do not see any type of certifications, do not buy. If you question what the certification means look it up, you will be able to read the qualifications. A few to look for are NSF, informed choice, USDA Organic, non-gmo project verified.

What Are You Looking For?

Look for a protein powder with high biological value, whey protein and whey protein isolates are your best options.
Look for a no added sugar or no added extra sweeteners, stay away from BCAAs as those help promote muscle and weight gain.
Choose one that is not milk based protein, and choose a soy, pea, or hemp based protein powder.
Buy the protein powder over the ready to drink protein shakes, the powders are generally cheaper.
Vital Performance Protein, Garden of Life Sport Certified grass fed Whey, or Naked Whey protein powder
Garden of Life Raw Organic Protein – unflavored, Orgain organic plant based protein – unsweetened.
Orgain organic plant based protein, Garden of Life Raw Organic Protein

When to Consume Protein?

We typically only absorb 20-40 grams of protein per sitting, so it is recommended to space protein intake out throughout the day. It is also important to review the nutrition facts label on the product, to make sure you are not over doing the protein at one sitting, follow serving sizes, some will say one scoop or two scoops. If it says two scoops and has 60g protein, only do one scoop to cut that protein in half.


This food label says that in two scoops you would get 21 grams of protein. You can also see how many calories, and fat as well as sugars per serving by reading the label. By looking at the ingredient list, you can see where the protein source is coming from. Which is helpful to make your decision in which protein powder best fits YOUR needs.

I would suggest taking a protein powder if you are not able to eat a high quality protein source within 1-2 hours after exercise. Athlete’s protein needs vary based on intensity of activity. If you want to learn more about protein intake and how much is needed, it is best to consult with a registered dietitian nutritionist.

Amy Haas
Run with Aim, LLC
UESCA Certified Running Coach
NASM Certified Personal Trainer
NASM Certified Nutrition Coach

Information verified by:
Amy Dunbar LND, LD
Registered Dietitian Nutritionist, Licensed Dietitian