Which Protein Powder Is Best For Females?

Written by Carina Fabia

Last updated on: Oct 22, 2021

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There is not a single best protein powder for females. The best supplement for any individual will depend upon their own personal goals. An individual wanting to lose weight will have different requirements to one who wants to develop muscle mass.

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Protein powder is a convenient way for women to boost their protein intake. This makes it easier to hit daily protein requirements. Protein is a vital macronutrient which is needed to repair and grow the body. This includes the growth and repair of muscle tissue (1).

In the past many people mistakenly felt protein powders were only suitable for men, looking to gain muscle mass. However, this is not true. Protein powders are a great aid to women pursuing a variety of health and fitness goals. For example, 50% of women in the UK are not getting their recommended, daily iron intake (2). A protein powder such a pea protein isolate is rich in iron. This makes it a great way for women to boost their protein and iron intake using just one supplement.

Protein powders can assist with a wide range of fitness goals, including, weight loss, toning, muscle growth and strength development. Before selecting a protein powder it is important to determine your goal then align your choice of shake with this goal. It is important to check the nutritional values and ingredients of any protein powders you are considering. This is for three reasons.

1) To check the protein powder meets your nutritional requirements.

2) To check the protein powder meets your lifestyle requirements (for example if you are following a vegan diet, is it plant based?)

3) To check the protein powder does not contain any ingredients you are allergic to (for example lactose and milk).

The Best Protein Powders To Support Female Health And Fitness Goals

There are a number of different protein powders for women seeking a supplement to support their health and fitness goals. It is important to remember any protein powder used should be taken as a supplement to a healthy diet. Below we will look at some of the best protein powders for women and the goals which they are able to support.

Whey Protein Powder

Whey is a highly popular protein powder. It provides high quantities of protein per serving and all nine essential amino acids (1). It is made out of the milky by-product of cheese, so is therefore animal-based and unsuitable for vegans (3).

This milky liquid is called whey, hence the name of the protein powder. In the manufacturing process this liquid is collected and carbohydrates, fat and water are removed from it to leave just the protein. The end result is whey protein concentrate. This whey concentrate is spray dried leaving a fine powder. If they whey concentrate is further processes to remove a higher amount of carbohydrate, fat and lactose, the result is whey protein isolate. Research has identified whey protein isolate as the purest protein source available, with protein contents  able to reach levels of 90% or higher (4).

For those looking for a protein powder to boost their protein intake in pursuit of developing strength or growing muscle mass, whey is one of the top protein powders available. Whey protein is complete protein which contains high levels of the branched-chain amino acid leucine (5). Research has found whey protein supports fast muscle recovery in women who are experiencing exercise induced muscle damage (9). Although muscle damage is normal during exercise, fast recovery is extremely important to those seeking performance related goals, as it allows for better recover between training sessions. And the faster progression towards performance goals.

Research comparing the muscle growth promoted by different protein powders have found whey protein is able to stimulate muscle protein synthesis to a greater degree than other protein powder, including casein and soy (6). The development of lean muscle mass is  beneficial from a health and a performance standpoint.  Lean muscle mass in ageing women has been shown to help protect against diseases such as diabetes and obesity. It also been shown to promote the speed at which the body fights off illness.

Whey protein powder also helps promote satiety (7). By increasing satiety an individual feels more full. This makes it a great choice of supplement for those with weight loss goals. A study comparing the amount of weight loss in overweight adults consuming two different protein powders found whey to be superior. The group which consumed 56 grams of whey protein powder outperformed the group consuming 56 grams of soy protein powder. The whey group lost 5 pounds more of weight than the soy group (8).

Those who are lactose intolerant should have no problems with whey protein. Research has found both whey isolate and concentrate protein powders, have lactose levels which are low enough to not cause lactose intolerant individuals issues (43).The only people who will find whey an unsuitable protein powder, are those following a vegan diet and those allergic to milk. Around 17% of people self report an allergy to milk (10).

Pea Protein Isolate

Pea protein isolate is a plant based protein powder. Due to it's high protein intake it is often used as an alternative powder by those who cannot take whey protein. It is hypo-allergenic and free from the 8 main types of allergens (11).

Pea protein is made from yellow split peas. During the manufacturing process the outer shell of the pea is mechanically removed. This outer shell consists of predominantly insoluble fibres. Once the shell is removed the pea is milled down into a flour. This flour contains proteins, starches and soluble fibres. As it is water soluble, the proteins are separated from the fibre and starch by wet filtration and centrifugation. Next to obtain pea protein isolate, the protein is precipitated to its isoelectric point. This dry spray is then solubilised. The result is a beige white protein powder known as pea protein isolate. The typical protein content of pea isolate protein powder is approximately 75%.

Studies have shown women are far more prone to having IBS (Irritable Bowel Syndrome) and are also slightly more susceptible to develop Crohn’s disease than men are (12, 13). Research into the anti-inflammatory qualities of pea protein found pea protein can increase intestinal short-chain fatty acid levels (SCFA). These SCFA's are considered anti-inflammatory (14). This combined with the high digestibility rate of pea protein powder makes it a great choice for women who have stomach complaints.  

The high protein content of pea protein isolate makes it a good supplement for those pursuing weight loss goals. Increased protein consumption has been found to help suppress appetite and glycemia (3). A recent study found pea protein hydrolysate to be more effective at increasing satiety when compared with milk and whey protein (15).

Pea protein powder is an excellent supplement for muscle gain (16). It is a complete protein with the required branched-chain amino acids (BCAA) to promote the growth of muscle tissue (17). However, pea protein does have low levels of the essential amino acid methionine. Methionine is used by the body to help with muscle tissue growth and metabolism. The low levels of methionine does not mean you should not use pea protein powder. It just means you should adjust your diet to include foods rich in methionine. Such foods include: oats, sunflower seeds and quinoa.

Whilst its methionine levels might be low, pea protein has high levels of the chain amino acids arginine, leucine, isoleucine and valine. These amino acids help with heart health, the regulation of energy homeostasis, gut health and also boost immunity (18).

Additionally pea protein is naturally rich in iron. It is an easy way for women to increase their iron intake. This is particularly appealing as a study found 50% of women are not getting enough iron (2).

Collagen Powder

Collagen is the most plentiful protein source in the body. It is one of the main building blocks for bones, skin, muscles, tendons and ligaments (19). Additionally, collagen provides several other benefits which support women's health. It has the ability to enhance facial skin moisture and elasticity, whilst reducing signs of wrinkles and roughness (20). One study revealed 69% of the participants who took collagen supplementation over a 60 day period saw a reduction in their facial lines (21). Research has also found collagen has the ability to increase lean body mass in women who are premenopausal. And in postmenopausal women it increases bone mineral density (22).

Collagen has also been found to have anti-inflammatory properties which help reduce joint pain (23). In a study carried out on team sport athletes, collagen was found to assist with recovery. The athletes experienced a significant reduction in joint pain during exercise,  rest and when walking after taking collagen hydrolysate (24). Collagen has also been proven to help increase muscle strength post-workout (25).

In terms of protein content, collagen lacks the essential amino acid tryptophan. This means collagen is not a complete protein (22). However, most collagen powders contain approximately 18 grams of protein per serving making collagen an excellent protein powder for women. It is advised to consume just over 7 grams of protein for every 20 pounds of body weight (26). This equates to 70 grams of protein for someone who weighs 200 pounds.

Collagen powder tends to be hydrolysed and this process makes it easier for the body to absorb. Collagen mixes well into hot and cold fluids, with most collagen protein powders being tasteless. However, collagen powders are not suitable for vegans and vegetarians. The two main types of collagen used are bovine (sourced from cattle) and marine (sourced from fish).

Egg White Protein Powder

Egg white protein is a complete protein, provding all nine essential amino acids. It has good levels of branched-chain amino acids which support muscle growth. A study undertaken on 30 female athletes over an 8-week periods revealed egg white protein supplementation caused a significant increase in both their muscle strength (27).

Egg white protein powder is one of the best protein powders for women who want to reduce their carbohydrate intake. When compared to whey protein powder for carbohydrate content per serving. Egg white protein powder has approximately 1.5 grams compared to the 5 grams of a typical whey protein powder.

Egg white protein powders have a very good digestibility rating of around 94.6%, scoring higher than most protein powders including whey (28). It is also dairy-free making it suitable for those with allergens. Egg white protein which isn’t suitable for vegans. However, it is suitable for vegetarians.

Hemp Protein Powder

Hemp protein powder is made from hemp seeds. These hemp seeds are ground into a fine powder. Hemp protein powder is plant based meaning it is vegan-friendly. It is also raw, very little goes into the manufacturing process. The act of grinding the hemp seeds means the majority of oil is removed, however around 10% of the original fat content remains (29).

A benefit of hemp protein is hemp seeds are highly digestible, with research indicating 91–98% of the protein in ground hemp seed as digestible (30). It is believed this is due to its content of the proteins edestin and albumin which are easy for your body to quickly break down and use (31). Hemp protein is also high in fibre.  The average serving contains 18-28% or the recommended daily intake of fibre. The recommended fibre intake for women is 25 grams per day. Supplementing with hemp protein is a great way for individuals to make sure they hit this recommendation (32). The health benefits of a high fibre diet include: improved blood sugar levels, the encouragement of healthier gut bacteria and reduced risk of developing bowel cancer (33).  A high fibre diet is known to help suppress appetite, so hemp protein may be a beneficial protein powder for women trying to lose weight.

Hemp protein powder provides a high proportion of fat per serving. Most of this fat is unsaturated (often referred to as healthy fats, these fats are monounsaturated and polyunsaturated). Whilst this high proportion of fat can increase the calorie levels compared to other vegan protein powders, these healthy fats are excellent for heart health and can help lower cholesterol levels (34).

The nutritional content of hemp protein powder is very appealing; it is rich in Vitamin E and minerals such as phosphorus, sodium, magnesium, calcium, iron, and zinc (35, 36). This iron content makes hemp and attractive protein powder for women as approximately half of women do not get enough iron on a daily basis (2). Hemp seeds also have good levels of antioxidants, this helps the body fight off a range of diseases (37).

Hemp protein powder is a good source of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids. Research into the necessity of omega 3 fatty acids in women’s diets has shown it could play a positive role in the prevention of menstrual syndrome and postmenopausal hot flushes (38).  There is also evidence to suggest individuals with diets rich in omega-3 fatty are likely to improve their cognitive function (39). Research has also found evidence omega 3 can defend against diseases such as heart disease and depression (40, 41).

Brown Rice Protein Powder

Brown rice protein is an affordable plant based protein powder. It is a good source of branch chain amino acids and the only essential amino acid it lacks is lysine (44).

A 50-gram serving of this vegan protein powder typically contains approximately 39 grams of protein and 191 calories. It is a good protein powder for women who want to increase their protein intake. One study has found brown rice protein to be comparable to whey isolate when it comes to improving exercise performance and body composition (45).

One potential problem with this plant based protein is contamination with the heavy metal arsenic (46). To avoid this problem it is important to check the manufacturer of the brown rice protein supplement you are thinking of using checks for arsenic levels. If they do check for arsenic levels brown rice protein is a great protein powder for women to use to assist them with their health and fitness goals.

Checking For Added Ingredient Before Deciding On A Protein Powder

Once you have decided which type of protein powder best supports your fitness and health goals, the last thing to consider is added ingredients. Ingredients such as sugar alcohols should be avoided. This is because large quantities of sugar alcohols, like xylitol or erythritol, can cause stomach upset, even in those who do not usually suffer (42). Instead aim for a protein powder with sugar contents of under 1 gram. With organic powdered fruits or herbs as the preferable form of sweetener.

What Is The Best Protein Powder For Women?

There are a wide range of great protein powders for women. The best supplement for any individual will depend upon their own personal goals. Not only should the individuals health and fitness goals be considered but any dietary requirements they may have. This can include iron deficiency, food allergies and age. If you are unsure which is the best women's protein powder for your own unique situation, you should consult with a medical profession.

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