REBECCA FIRKSER in Extra Crispy for Well Done shared that a common post-workout breakfast is often a protein shake or bar, tasting of chalk and chocolate or berry. That vaguely dusty flavor in these meals comes from protein powder, the substance sold in giant tubs in the supplement area of the grocery store. Often selected by those looking to add a significant amount of protein to their diets (without spending all their money on chicken breasts), protein powder helps repair muscles after an intense workout, or simply provide your body with enough nutrients to start the day. Ultimately, protein powders are shrouded in a cloud of mystery, and selecting one tub of magic dust from a shelf of seemingly identical products can be overwhelming. Plus, each jar of the stuff can run you over $30 if you’re not careful, so really, how effective is protein powder? And what’s really in that tub?
Protein powder can be made from a variety of protein-rich ingredients, from whey to hemp to yellow peas. Both animal- and plant-based protein powders offer unique nutritional properties. The most common protein powders are made from whey, boasting high levels of amino acids that are essential to muscle repair. Whey protein is the liquid byproduct of cheese production—though you’re probably more familiar with it as the substance you pour off the surface of your yogurt. Cheap and nutritious, whey protein is often consumed just before or after a hard workout. To become protein powder, the flavorless liquid is dehydrated and mixed with flavorings and sometimes other nutritional supplements.