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Protein powder has been one of the fundamental staples in the sports nutrition health industry for several decades. What started out as a niche bodybuilding product in the mid-20th century has since expanded into a colossal phenomenon, a product you’ll find anywhere and everywhere, used by many different types of athletes and health-focused folk.

In 2015, protein powder sales totaled nearly $5 billion in the United States and was second only to sports drinks in the nutrition consumer marketplace. By 2020, the protein powder market is expected to surpass $7.55 billion making it one of the largest consumer businesses in America.StatistaResearchDepartment2015

The performance and recovery benefits of protein powder have been widely noted in both the athletic and general fitness communities for several decades.Cintineo2018 In the early years, protein powder was used by bodybuilders despite its sub par taste and quality; today, the product has since expanded into a business of its own, with countless products and companies making different types and flavors of protein powder.

In case you weren’t aware, dietary protein plays a critical role in the various physiological processes in the body, ranging from building muscle mass and strength, to recovery, to more general health benefits such as growth and development as well as serving as a precursor for various enzymes needed for physiological pathways.Cintineo2018,Wu2016,Alberts2002

Consuming enough protein is key in the ketogenic diet, but it’s important to ensure you are consuming the right types of protein (and protein powder) so you can produce ketones while staying in ketosis.

In this article, we’ll explore the various health benefits of protein powder along with the best types of protein powder to incorporate as part of your keto diet. Whether you’re looking for the perfect post-workout shake or simply a quality protein to add to your diet—we’ve got you covered with the best protein powders around.

Keto Refresher

Let’s start with a quick reminder on the ketogenic diet: it’s a low-carb, moderate protein, high-fat diet designed to get your body to produce ketones and thus, create a metabolic adaptation. By nearly eliminating carbs, the body becomes more efficient at using fat as a primary fuel source, which helps to release ketones.

Ketones are like the body’s superfuel. Our bodies evolved to create ketones in the cave-people days, when on long hunts between meals, food was scarce. Carbs are the brain’s preferred fuel source, but we can only store so many at a given time. Fat on the other hand, is something our body can store in much larger quantities, but this is when things get a little tricky. Although we have so much energy stored in the form of fat, fat cannot be used by the brain for energy because it cannot cross the blood-brain barrier the way glucose can. When your body runs out of its stored glucose (called glycogen), it will start to oxidize fat for fuel.

One of the byproducts of fatty acid oxidation is ketones and ketones can cross the blood-brain barrier, making them an excellent fuel source for the brain. Our ability to produce and utilize ketones is an evolved mechanism that allowed for survival during periods of limited carbs and/or food.

There are two ways to induce ketosis (which is usually considered ketones present in the blood at > 0.5mM). We have “endogenous ketosis,” which is achieved through diet or fasting. On the keto diet, you’ll be consuming very few carbs (about 5% of your caloric intake or 50g or less), focusing mostly on fat with moderate protein intake. When you’re producing your own ketones, you’re in what’s called a “ketogenic state.”

There’s also “exogenous ketosis,” which is achieved through supplements like exogenous ketone esters. While you aren’t ketogenic (because you aren’t producing your own ketones), exogenous ketones can be used like an “on-demand” ketosis for performance, recovery, or a boost of energy.

In fact, exogenous ketones are said to provide a bout of energy (much like coffee) but without the crash and with the heightened ability to concentrate. A frequent consumer of exogenous ketones, Yusef Q. had this to say about supplementing with exogenous ketones:

“When I take exogenous ketones, I’m laser-focused on everything. I’m able to maximize my performance from a physical perspective.”

Although this is one anecdote, this quote represents the general consensus of those who use exogenous ketone ester.

Because of its focus on low carbohydrate consumption, many people will confuse the keto diet with Atkins or Paleo diet. However, Atkins is high protein while keto is only moderate protein (among other differences) and Paleo consists of increasing protein intake while eliminating certain foods like legumes and grains. And while both keto and Paleo focus on whole foods, they have different philosophies.

Still, protein plays a valuable role on keto. It’s especially important to try and find a low-carb protein, one that won’t kick you out of ketosis while still meeting your protein macronutrient requirement.

Benefits of Protein

Athletes and health professionals alike have openly praised the health benefits of protein for years. Although the industry started out with poor tasting, un-mixable powders—today we have countless companies, brands, and flavors to fit within almost any diet.

If you’re a gym rat or just a hardcore fitness enthusiast, ensuring you have enough protein in your diet is important.

Increased Muscle Mass

If you walk around any gym, you’ll likely come across a number of people with their shaker bottles chugging down protein shakes the moment a workout ends—that’s because it works.

Bodybuilders and resistance athletes alike consume protein powder following their workouts to help hit the so-called “anabolic window.”

This is the hour after a workout when protein synthesis is at its highest immediately following resistance training.

This is because resistance training upregulates mTOR, a protein kinase that is involved with muscle growth.Bodine2006,SongZ2017 Consuming protein immediately after resistance training helps the muscles increase their concentration of the mTOR receptor, allowing mTOR to enter the cell and do its job.Kakigi2014 This means that the combination of resistance training and protein immediately after your workout ends allows you to maximize muscle growth and strength.

There’s no denying protein can help increase muscle mass.

A 2012 meta-analysis looked at 22 random clinical trials with 680 subjects and found that protein supplementation showed a positive effect for increasing fat free mass (muscle growth) and overall strength compared to placebo groups in both young and old individuals alike.Cermak2012

Another recent review looked at 49 studies with 1,863 participants and found that in less than six weeks, protein supplementation has been shown to increase maximum strength, muscle size fibers, and overall fat free mass. They concluded optimal daily protein intake to be 1.6g per kg of bodyweight per day.Morton2018,Bosse2012,Evans2001

Whether you’re a novice or an individual with countless years of athletic experience, ensuring you get the daily recommended amount of protein is crucial.

Increased Strength and Performance

Protein isn’t simply great for building muscle mass, it can also help to increase your overall strength and performance as well.

In the past few decades, there have been various studies that have investigated if and how protein helps with muscle growth, strength, and performance. The results have been consistent and there is a general consensus among sports nutrition scientists and that’s protein is very beneficial for those adhering to a resistance training exercise routine.Morton2018

The benefits of protein can help anyone looking to increase their strength and overall performance, from athletes to everyday people hoping to improve health and physique.

Reduced Appetite and Improved Satiation

They say that a calorie is just a calorie—maybe that’s not so true.

Various studies have indicated that protein may not result in excessive fat gain in the way that carbohydrates do.

A study on 19 subjects looked at different measures including appetite, caloric intake, body weight, and fat mass while increasing dietary protein and maintaining daily consumption of carbohydrates. The study found that satiety was increased and the authors hypothesized that this may be due to leptin sensitivity, however that is speculative.Weigle2005

Another study performed in young and older males showed that insufficient consumption of protein caused an increase in hunger.Apolzan2007 This means that protein may be involved with keeping us full and modulating our energy intake.

Increases Fat Burning

Protein has also been shown to have fat oxidation benefits as well.

Various studies have shown protein’s ability to help boost metabolism through increased energy expenditure. A study on ten men who followed a low-carb, high-protein diet found that additional protein may aide in overall increased energy expenditure.

A secondary study on 25 participants found that adding additional calories in the form of protein resulted in the stimulation of energy expenditure in people both sleeping and awake.Bray2015

Both of these studies showed that adding calories in the form of protein may actually help to stimulate weight loss.

Can Increase Recovery

If you’ve suffered a fitness-related injury, you may be immobilized temporarily. Eating sufficient protein has been shown to help maintain muscle mass.Tipton2015

People suffering from wounds may also see benefit from higher protein intake. Protein deficiency has been shown to cause poor healing rates due to reduced collagen formation and wound dehiscence. A high protein diet along with proper vitamins and minerals has been shown to promote effective wound healing.Russell2001

It is also well established that protein can help with muscle remodeling in those who are actively lifting weights.Vliet2018

An integral part of building muscle is first breaking it down; consuming protein helps your body by increasing the rate at which it synthesizes muscle protein.

If you have recently had surgery, a major injury, or are simply trying to recover faster, having higher protein intake can help.

What’s the Best Keto Protein Powder?

Now you know that protein intake is crucial for increasing muscle mass, strength and recovery. When it comes to a ketogenic diet, it’s important to get enough high-quality protein—even better if it has very few carbs and is high in fat. Finding this type of product all in one might be difficult, but it can help you stay on track during your diet.

What to avoid? Protein powders filled with hidden carbohydrates in the form of various sugar-based ingredients such as maltodextrin.

If you want to stick to a high-fat, low-carb diet, make sure you are getting the optimal amount of protein with few carbs. Protein comes in a number of different forms today, so let’s take a look at some of the best keto protein powders you can incorporate into your diet.

Whey Protein

Whey protein powder is the most abundant protein supplement on the market.

It’s a milk-based byproduct occurring during the cheese-making process. Milk generally contains two proteins—casein and whey. Whey is considered a complete protein as it contains all nine essential amino acids while being low in lactose.Nilsson2007

The bad news is, some whey protein powders contain added sugars which can take you out of ketosis.

If you are looking for a keto-friendly protein powder, you should choose a whey protein isolate as it’s widely considered one of the best low-carb protein powders.

A study looked at whey protein supplementation and whole body protein metabolism after exercise resistance. In a double-blind study on 12 trained men who consumed either 25 grams of protein whey or a placebo, whey protein supplementation enhanced whole body anabolism and improved acute recovery of exercise.West2017 This means it created optimal conditions to help build muscle and recover from workouts simultaneously.

Protein supplements such as Optimum Nutrition Gold Standard Whey can help you keep your protein intake high while having only a few net carbs. If you want your shake to taste a bit better, trying adding a cup of almond milk for every scoop of protein powder.

Casein Protein

Another milked-based protein product is casein. Although casein is also a dairy derived product, it's a slower digesting protein.Dangin2001

Some groups believed that casein protein was best consumed prior to bed due to its slow digestive properties. However, more recent studies have dispelled the myth of casein protein being superior to whey.

A study was conducted on 13 males following a ten-week exercise and diet program while taking 35g of casein daily. The study compared daytime consumption of casein to pre-sleep consumption and found that either method supports increases in overall strength and hypertrophy.Joy2018 As such, casein can be taken any time of day to increase muscle mass and performance.

Interestingly, another study investigated the differences of whey protein and casein protein pre- and post- workout in female basketball players and found no difference.Wilborn2013 However, it has been shown that whey is more efficient at promoting recovery in atrophying muscles, meaning it better aid in recovery.Martin2013

Furthermore, the additional consumption of protein calories from casein have been shown to not increase fat mass despite increased caloric expenditure.Antonio2017

Egg White Protein

If you’re wondering which types of protein are the best, it could be difficult to determine. However, studies have shown eggs to have the highest biological value compared to other protein sources due to its amino acid composition compared to how our bodies can use them.Hoffman2004

Biological value measures protein quality and how efficient the body utilizes protein consumed in the diet.

Due to the high biological value of egg white protein, it’s safe to assume egg white protein powder can be an effective tool to help you meet daily protein dietary needs.

Eggs are widely known as the most nutrient-packed foods around. Not only are they filled with protein, but also essential vitamins and minerals.Miranda2015 Egg whites are one of the best low carb protein sources around, so they’ll fit into almost any diet.

Pea Protein

At first glance, pea protein may seem like a rather odd source of protein. Tiny green vegetables for growing lean muscle may appear to be a stretch, but truth be told, they can pack quite a protein punch.

In fact, several studies have shown pea protein to be just as effective as other types for building muscle, increasing strength, and enhancing performance. A recent 2019 study examined the effects of both whey and pea protein over the course of an eight-week period. During this time, 15 men and women practiced high-intensity, interval-training consisting of four sessions per week. Participants consumed whey or pea protein both before and after training. The results showed similar outcomes in body composition, muscle thickness, force production, performance, and strength.Banaszek2019

Another study was done on 162 males who did 12 weeks of resistance training while taking pea protein, whey protein, or a placebo. Pea protein proved to be just as effective as whey for promoting muscle thickness and muscle strength.Babault2015 The results clearly indicate plant-based proteins such as pea protein can be viable alternatives to traditional standard whey protein.

This is because pea protein contains a high amount of the amino acid lysine. Lysine helps maintain the activation of mTOR making pea protein the best quality plant protein.Sato2014,Yao2017

Collagen Protein

If you’re looking for a non-traditional source of protein, you might want to look into collagen protein powders. These have other benefits outside of just the pure protein itself.

A study was performed on 53 males completing a double-blind placebo controlled study. All participants underwent a rigorous 12 week guided resistance training program while consuming collagen protein or a placebo. After the study, collagen peptide supplementation increased fat-free mass, bone mass, and sensory motor control compared to the placebo group.Zdzieblik2015

Collagen protein can be an effective tool for building muscle mass and strength.

Be sure to choose a high-quality collagen protein powder. Filled with collagen peptides to help support bones, skin, hair, nails and more while boosting recovery and promoting a healthy gut. Also find one with has zero net-carbs, making it perfect for any keto dieters.

Do You Need Keto Protein Powder?

If you’re struggling with weight loss, following a low-carb diet, or simply looking for a meal replacement—keto protein powder supplements can help you stay on track. Just choose a high-quality protein that is low-carb or zero net-carb so you can stay in ketosis.

So what are you waiting for? Be sure your diet has what it needs by getting enough protein in your diet today.

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