Eating enough protein is vital for exercise performance, healthy aging, and fat loss.
But what about protein powder?
While it’s possible to get enough protein through healthy whole foods, protein supplements are an easy, convenient way to boost your protein intake.
Additionally, there’s evidence that some protein powders offer other benefits compared to whole foods. While they’re not a replacement for a balanced diet, it pays to know how and why protein supplements can boost your results.
Read on to learn the five best protein powders, who should consider taking them, and the best practices for incorporating them into your keto diet.
#1: Whey Protein Isolate
Whey protein isolate is the top protein powder for the ketogenic diet because it’s economical, palatable, and supported by tons of science.
And according to research, whey isolate products low in lactose are well-tolerated by people with dairy allergies[*]. Just make sure to stay away from whey concentrate if you’re lactose intolerant.
Benefits of Whey Protein Isolate
Whey protein powder has probably been studied more than any other protein powder. Most studies examine its effects in exercise recovery and muscle building, but it’s also been studied for weight loss, fat loss, and satiety.
Here are some of the remarkable, scientifically proven benefits:
- Speeds recovery from resistance training and strenuous exercise[*][*].
- Reduces muscle soreness[*].
- Improves exercise performance[*].
- Increases muscle protein synthesis (more lean muscle mass)[*].
- Helps you preserve healthy lean muscle during fat loss[*][*].
- Decreases appetite and hunger[*][*].
- A serving of Perfect Keto Grass-Fed Whey has just 3 grams of net carbs.
And if you’re looking for an occasional meal replacement, whey protein isolate contains all the essential amino acids and then some. It’s a reliable choice if you’re short on time and need a filling, nutritious, portable option. (To learn how to make it even more nourishing, see “Low-Carb Additions to Your Protein Shake” at the end of this article.)
Who Should Use Whey Protein Isolate?
If you’re an athlete, train strenuously, or just need a convenient source of complete protein, whey isolate is the best keto protein powder.
A 30-gram dose of whey isolate is ideal for most people, but if your goal is adding lean muscle mass, you may benefit from up to 50 grams of protein[*].
Not everyone needs a protein powder–some people can do just fine with whole foods and meal prepping–but if you exercise hard or need a portable way to get more protein, it’s a worthwhile supplement.
Just be sure you choose a high-quality, grass-fed whey protein isolate without artificial sweeteners.
#2: Collagen Protein
Collagen is the most abundant protein in your body. It’s the connective “glue” that holds your organs, skeleton, and skin together.
Hydrolyzed collagen, the supplement form of collagen, is very different from whey protein. This protein contains large amounts of the amino acids glycine, proline, hydroxyproline, and arginine.
Benefits of Collagen Protein
When you take hydrolyzed collagen, your body digests the collagen peptides then shuttles them immediately to your skin, bones, and connective tissues for use[*].
According to scientific research, here’s what happens next:
- Collagen may ease pain for athletes or people with joint problems[*]
- Hydrates your skin and may slow skin aging and wrinkles[*]
- Healthier bone metabolism[*]
- May reduce osteoarthritis symptoms[*][*].
- Appetite reduction[*]
- Collagen could help heal your gut*]
And unlike most protein supplements, a little bit of collagen goes a long way. You can get all the benefits of collagen protein with a single 10-gram serving.
Who Should Use Collagen Protein?
People use hydrolyzed collagen to heal their joints, improve their skin quality, increase their bone density, and decrease inflammation.
This is one supplement to consider whether or not you need more protein in your diet.
#3: Casein Protein
Like whey protein, casein protein comes from milk. But unlike whey, it digests very slowly[*].
You can think of casein protein as a time-release protein supplement.
Benefits of Casein Protein
Research shows that casein isn’t as effective as whey protein immediately post-workout, but thanks to its slow absorption, it’s useful in other roles[*].
And because it digests slowly, casein can fill you up longer than other forms of protein[*]. That means you can use it before meals to reduce your appetite, or in your morning smoothie to curb your daytime cravings.
Who Should Use Casein Protein?
For most people, whey protein is more versatile and effective than casein protein.
But if you’re a serious athlete, you can use whey post-workout and casein at other times for the best of both worlds. While whey will boost your recovery post-workout, casein provides a long-lasting source of protein that is appropriate for your rest periods.
If you want to recover better, try 30-50 grams of casein before bed[*].
You can also experiment with casein as an appetite suppressant. While whey is quite effective at decreasing your appetite, you may discover that casein (or a blend of whey and casein) is better at curbing your hunger.
To decrease your appetite, 20 grams of casein 30 minutes before a meal should do the trick[*].
#4: Hydrolyzed Whey Protein
Hydrolyzed whey protein is a unique form of whey that contains di- and tripeptides rather than “whole” proteins.
You can think of hydrolyzed protein as “pre-digested.” Because it’s already partially broken down, whey hydrolysate absorbs more rapidly than whey isolate[*].
Benefits of Hydrolyzed Whey Protein
Here’s what the research says about hydrolyzed whey protein:
- Hydrolyzed whey results in higher blood levels of leucine and other compounds that stimulate lean muscle growth, and does so more rapidly than whey isolate[*]
- Whey hydrolysate contains more branched-chain amino acids (which promote recovery and lean muscle development) compared to whey isolate[*]
- One study found that hydrolyzed whey allowed greater muscle recovery over a six-hour period than intact whey[*]
- Hydrolyzed whey may be easier on your stomach if you’re sensitive to whey isolate[*].
Who Should Use Hydrolyzed Whey Protein?
Hydrolyzed whey protein is useful if you need a fast-acting protein. It’s definitely worth a try if you exercise more than once a day.
If you really want to dial in your training regimen, you can compare whey hydrolysate to whey isolate as a post-workout recovery drink. The data isn’t conclusive, but plenty of people feel it is more effective at speeding recovery and boosting performance.
This form of whey isn’t as palatable as whey isolate, and there’s no advantage unless you take it during or right after exercise, so whey isolate is probably preferable for most people.
#5: Egg Protein
Egg protein powders come from dried egg whites, and in some cases from yolks as well as whites.
This form of protein is a high-quality, complete, animal-based source of protein, and it’s vegetarian and lactose-free[*].
Benefits of Egg Protein
You can use egg protein powder in meal replacement shakes or post-workout. The benefits include:
- If you’re sensitive or allergic to dairy products or whey isolate, egg protein is a safe choice.
- Egg white protein increases muscle mass, strength, and recovery[*].
- Egg protein powder is digested easily, absorbed fully, and used efficiently by your body[*].
- Egg whites and yolks contain vitamins, minerals, and healthy fats[*].
- A 30-gram serving of egg white protein has just 3g net carbs.
- Like whey protein, egg protein is suitable for gluten-free baking[*].
Why Should Use Egg Protein?
Egg protein powder is one of the priciest protein options. For most people, it’s not an economical choice.
However, it’s an excellent keto-friendly protein powder for meal replacement shakes, particularly if you choose a product that includes both whites and yolks. Eggs are nutrient-dense and filling.
If you don’t tolerate whey protein well, egg protein may be a better supplement for you. And some people may prefer the taste of egg protein over whey protein, too.
As we’ve already discussed, protein shakes are supplements, not a true replacement for real, healthy, whole foods.
If you are relying on protein powder at every single meal, something’s wrong. You might need to spend more time on meal planning and meal prep, or your macros may be off. After all, protein should only account for around 20-30% of your total calories on keto.
It’s not that too much protein will kick you out of ketosis, but rather the fact that whole foods and healthy fats are more nourishing than mega-doses of protein powder.
On the other hand, you can also blend in low-carb ingredients to balance out the macros of your high protein shakes and make them more nutritious.
As a bonus, you’ll get to enjoy better flavors, different textures, and more variety compared to the basic combo of water and protein powder.
- Extra-virgin olive oil
- Extra-virgin coconut oil
- MCT oil or MCT oil powder
- Full-fat coconut milk
- Heavy cream
- Almond butter
- Ricotta cheese
- Cottage cheese
- Cacao nibs
- Keto-friendly fruits
- Hemp hearts
- Flax seeds
- Greens (try frozen chopped spinach or kale)
- Matcha powder
As you may have noticed, the list goes from most calorie-dense to lowest-calorie options. If you’re trying to keep calories low, be sparing with the ingredients at the top (like pure oils) or just stick with less calorie-dense options.
Conversely, if you want to fuel strenuous training or gain lean muscle mass, you can add plenty of tasty, calorie-dense ingredients to keep your energy intake high.
Regardless of your goals, you can enjoy all of these additions in moderation. And don’t be afraid to experiment–you might discover a winning combo like heavy cream and ice cubes for an ice-cream-like texture, or coconut milk and fruit that mimics your favorite fruit smoothie.