Supplements are a hot topic in the fitness industry. While expert opinions vary on what to take to optimize your training, protein powder is one of the most universally used and approved supplements.
Simply put, it’s well-researched and science shows that it helps people reach their goals.
In A Hurry? Here Are The Best Protein Powders For CrossFitters:
- Transparent Labs Grass-Fed Whey Protein Isolate
- Ascent Native Fuel Whey Protein
- Progenex Hydrolyzed Whey
- Optimum Nutrition Gold Standard 100% Whey Protein
- Optimum Nutrition Platinum Hydrowhey
But like anything popular, this comes with a downside– saturation. Business owners want to give you a reason to buy their protein instead of someone else’s.
This can make it difficult to pick the right protein for you.
The truth is, there’s no shortage of viable options on the marketplace. Protein powders are sold by many companies and made with different base products like milk, soy, and more.
In this article, we’ll look at everything a CrossFitter needs to know about protein powder.
You’ll learn the different types, what it’s used for, how to dose it after a workout, and the best protein powders available on the market.
What Is Protein Powder?
Protein powder is a supplement designed to promote an increase in muscle mass. It’s often used as an “post workout” supplement as part of a protein shake (best taken 30-45 minutes after a workout, if not right after) or throughout the day to boost an athlete’s daily protein intake.
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While there are many kinds of protein powders, the three most common forms are whey, casein, and soy.
Whey protein is a milk-based protein source most commonly used after workouts due to the fact that it’s water-soluble, absorbs quickly, and easy to digest after a workout.
Casein protein is another milk-based protein like whey. Casein digests slower than whey and is often used at night or throughout the day as a “steady” source of protein.
Soy protein comes from soybeans and is a plant-based supplement. Science shows that soy protein is less effective at growing muscle than whey and casein, but it’s still a popular option.
Casein & Whey Protein VS Creatine
Whey and casein protein are the two proteins found in cow’s milk.
The two are separated during production, and come with differences that may make one more or less favorable, depending on the situation and your goals.
Whey protein takes about 1.5 hours to fully digest, comparatively much faster than casein. Casein is typically thought of as the “slower brother” of whey protein, providing a steadier absorption rate over several hours.
Conventional fitness wisdom recommends athletes use whey protein after a workout for quick absorption. Whey also contains all nine essential amino acids, offering a number of additional benefits as well as helping to repair and rebuild muscle tissue are tough CrossFit workout.
Casein is better to use at night or between training sessions for a more gradual digestion of protein as you sleep or go about your day.
Creatine works slightly differently from the above two types of protein by increasing your exercise capacity and in turn your overall athletic performance. Because of the benefits offered by creatine, it can be an excellent supplement to take when incorporating weightlifting as part of your CrossFit training.
BCAAs (branched chain amino acids) are the building blocks from which proteins are made up. These branched chain amino acids are leucine, isoleucine, and valine.
Both whey protein and casein protein contain a lot of BCAAs that in turn help to build muscle when combined with exercise.
One thing to consider when shopping for proteins is the amount of BCAAs per serving. This helps speak to the purity and potential effectiveness for recovery of the protein you’re buying.
Some athletes will supplement with BCAAs (taken as a separate supplement) before a workout or during the day in an effort to stave off muscle loss.
What Is Protein Powder Used For?
The uses of protein powder vary depending on your goals. For example, many athletes use protein powder directly after completing a workout to promote recovery of their muscles by quickly absorbing protein into their bodies.
However, that’s not the only use. Some people use whey protein as a dietary supplement or meal replacement. It’s a convenient way to add 25-50g of protein per serving to your daily protein intake.
Protein Supplement Benefits
The benefits of using protein powder after training are well known. Here are some of the things you can expect to gain from supplementing with it:
- Increased Muscle Mass– Combining high intensity exercise with the nutritional value of the high amount of BCAAs that popular proteins like whey offer, you can expect to gain muscle faster by taking a “quick hit” of protein after a workout.
- Faster Recovery– Along the same lines, a rapidly digesting protein puts your muscles on the fast track to recovery, allowing you to train more often, get stronger, and feel recovered after difficult sessions which are likely to cause muscle soreness. Supplements containing the ingredient beta-alanine can also work to delay the onset of lactic acid in the muscles meaning you can exercise for longer without reaching fatigue, or that dreaded burning sensation in key muscle groups.
- Lose Body Fat– Believe it or not, adding protein to your diet can help promote weight loss. Protein has a satiating effect, which means you’ll stave off hunger longer when you eat it. This study found that, after 23 weeks, an additional 56g of protein per day led to an additional 5 lbs of weight loss.
- Perfect Pre-workout Supplementation – Protein powder can also be used before your workout as well as after depending on your needs, energy levels and goals. If you’re looking for more information relating to pre-workout supplements take a look at our dedicated guide.
Protein Powder Dosage for CrossFit Athletes
How much, and when, should you take your protein?
A typical scoop of whey protein powder will range from 20-30g of protein. Research shows that anywhere from 20-40g of protein immediately after a workout stimulates muscle growth.
Beyond 40g may or may not make a difference depending on your bodyweight.
When Should You Take It?
Depending on your goals, you might take protein at different times throughout the day.
If you’d like to add lean muscle and recover faster after tough training sessions, you should probably take it within 45 minutes of a training session.
This 45-minute window is what the guys from Barbell Shrugged famously deemed the “Window of Gainz”.
For quicker recovery, combine your protein with a fast digesting carbohydrate source (oats, banana, or other fruit) to give your body a quick hit of glucose.
There’s also some research that says carbs after a workout can increase muscle building growth by creating an anabolic environment in the body.
You can also take protein before bed or as a meal replacement. In this case, you would probably use a slower digesting protein like casein.
Protein Powder Side Effects
To this point, we’ve mostly talked about the positives (and application methods) of protein powders.
You may be wondering if there are any negatives or side effects you should be concerned about when adding protein powders to your diet.
Generally speaking, protein powders are considered to be safe supplements.
Keep in mind that the most popular proteins are milk-based (whey and casein), so if you are lactose or dairy intolerant, you may want to consider other forms of protein.
Side effects of protein powder include:
- Increased bowel movements
- Stomach cramps or pains
If you’re experiencing negative side effects, consider waiting a bit longer after a workout to ingest your protein powder.
Some people simply don’t do well consuming anything right after a challenging. training session, especially after something grueling like a Hero WOD.
Waiting an extra 30-45 minutes might alleviate you of potential negative effects of protein powders you experience.
Best Supplement Reviews – Top 5 CrossFit Protein Powders Products
Transparent Labs Grass-Fed Whey Protein Isolate
If you’re big on the “grass-fed” label, Transparent Labs offers a protein blend made from cows raised on grass-only, free grazing diets. Of the 500+ reviews, users boast that the protein is delivered quickly, tastes good, and mixes well into various types of liquids.
Ascent Native Fuel Whey Protein
Ascent is a little pricey compared to some of the other brands, coming in at about $21 per pound.
However, their formula has 5.7g of BCAAs and 25g of protein per serving, which ranks favorably to some other options on the market.
Besides the protein doing its job to promote muscle recovery, many reviewers brag about the amazing and unique flavors, such as lemon and cappuccino.
Progenex Hydrolyzed Whey
CrossFit and Progenex have gone hand in hand for quite a few years, and their protein is a fan-favorite of many box dwellers.
The Progenex More Muscle 2 lb bag is the priciest option on the list. However, each serving has 31g of protein and only 11g of carbohydrates.
One of the biggest benefits of Progenex is its ability to help you build muscle while also tasting great.
Alternative Progenex products include Omega which uses krill oil instead of regular fish oil meaning the omega 3s are easier for your body to absorb. Check out more from the Progenex blog for an even more in-depth breakdown of fish oil vs kill oil in supplements.
Optimum Nutrition Gold Standard 100% Whey Protein
ON Gold Standard offers one of the best proteins on the market for athletes not looking to spend a fortune on their recovery.
Their standard 5 lb tub has 70+ servings per container. You can’t do much better price-wise. They offer a wealth of flavors, ranging from cake batter to vanilla ice cream.
OPTIMUM NUTRITION Platinum Hydrowhey Protein Powder
As you read earlier in this guide, hydrolyzed whey digests faster than whey or casein due to its additional exposure to heat and acid.
Another ON product, it’s still a bargain, especially when you consider that each scoop has 30g of protein in it.
Type of Whey Protein (whey concentrate, whey isolate, whey hydrolysate)
We’ve already gone through a lot. Are you still with me? Good, because there’s a few more differences to cover.
Not all whey protein is created equally. In fact, there are 3 separate types of whey protein: concentrate, isolate, and hydrolysate.
Here’s the difference:
- Concentrate- Produced by extracting protein from whole food using heat and acid. Contains 60-80% protein and 20-40% fat/carbs.
- Isolate- Extra filtering removes some of the fat and carbs. Usually 90-95% protein.
- Hydrolysate- More heat and acid breaks the bonds between the amino acids, leading to more rapid digestion.
Best Protein Powder For Men
Best Protein Powder For Women
Whey and casein are also great for women. In fact, science shows both types of protein can help to promote additional weight loss.
The Best Protein Powders For CrossFit- Wrap-Up
Protein powders have been proven to help people grow muscle, recover faster, and even lose weight. Your goals may vary, but there’s likely a great chance that protein powder can help you achieve them.
Choose your protein based on personal goals, quality (number of BCAAs and grams of protein per serving are good markers). And if you still can’t decide, perhaps the most delicious sounding flavor can serve as a tiebreaker.