The fitness market is FLOODED with every type of protein supplement for every possible goal. There are the really popular brands like Gold Standard Whey, Muscle Pharm, JYM, and Syntha but there are dozens of others; each one promising they hold the key ingredients for the best results. So how do you decide which to take? Do you even need to take a protein supplement? We'll try to help you answer those questions by the time you finish reading.
Confession: While I am not against protein powders or other forms of protein supplements (I take one myself to get enough calories each day due to my work schedule - I'm and OCR athlete and Personal Trainer), I do think that as much of your nutrition as possible should come from whole foods - eggs, beans, chicken, lentils, turkey, fish, etc. I also understand that time and money are key factors in life and sometimes a supplement makes life much easier or is necessary.
Here are a few very helpful questions that will narrow your choices down dramatically.
1: What is your fitness goal?
If your goal is to build a ton of muscle for aesthetics or competition, you're going to need a lot of protein to repair muscle after workouts. You're ideal supplement will contain 25+ grams of protein, and contain Calcium, Iron, Vitamins B12 & C, Magnesium, and Potassium.
If you're looking for a supplement to your training as an endurance athlete, you'll need something with a high carbohydrate content as well as the protein and other nutrients above. Carbs are the body's main source of fuel.
2: How long is the ingredients list?
Generally speaking, if you're looking at a list of ingredients longer than Oprah's driveway, maybe look elsewhere. The image will give you a sense of what I'm talking about.
Whereas you have some supplements with a list like this:
It's important to know what you're consuming. That's true for both top-tier athletes and the average person cultivating a fit lifestyle.
3: What's your budget?
Sadly, reality sets in when money is on the line. How much can you actually afford to spend on a protein supplement? The popular brands with the longer lists of ingredients will almost assuredly cost much less than the "all natural" supplements. A 5lb tub of MusclePharm is roughly $30 cheaper than a 5lb tub of Naked Whey. For most people $30 is a HUGE difference.
4: Do you REALLY need it?
Are you just working out to stay in good health and shape? Then no, you probably don't need it. Is your goal just to lose weight? Then no, you probably don't need it. Do you think you can't get enough protein from your normal diet? You'd be surprised. Avoid chasing after the popular supplement because it's popular.
Eating really nutritious food on a consistent basis will be enough for most people. If you're training for something more: races, competitions, sports, etc. then look carefully and find the supplement that matches your goal and has great ingredients.
No matter what decision you come to, get to work.