Best Protein powder

Kate Smyth- Sports Naturopath and Nutritionist

It can be difficult to know how to choose the best protein powder. Protein plays a vital role in any athlete’s eating plan. Irrespective of your chosen sport be that running, triathlon, swimming, team sports, cycling or lifting weights, athletes expend more energy than the average person. Athletes also need more nutrients to recover from intense training or competition.

Protein provides both structural and functional properties to all working cells in the body, making up approximately one sixth of your body weight. Protein helps strengthen muscle tissue, repair damage and is critical to building muscle mass. Protein and amino acids are also vital for healthy bones, cartilage, tendons, skin and blood as explained in our article on collagen and tendons.

But there are many more benefits to including adequate protein in your diet, especially as an athlete. Optimising protein intake as an athlete is vital and needs can vary significantly from that of a more sedentary person.

Benefits of adequate protein

  1. Stable Blood Sugar – more energy and reduced fatigue
  2. Less Cravings for Sweet and Snack Foods- better weight management and reduced energy fluctuations
  3. Improved recovery after sessions and events
  4. Muscle growth and reduced risk of muscle loss, leading to greater powder to weight ratio
  5. Improved immune system, reduced downtime days and disruptions to training progress
  6. Healthy bone maintenance and reduced risk of osteoporosis
  7. Improved metabolism and fat burning capabilities- enabling of a lean physique
  8. Aids injury repair and improved recovery time
  9. Improved nerve function and muscle contraction
  10. Reduced hunger through reducing ghrelin (the hunger hormone) leading to greater satiety

Good sources of dietary protein

Ideally, sources of protein are coming from whole, fresh foods such as lean meat and poultry, fish, eggs, dairy products such as yoghurt, milk and cheese, seeds and nuts, beans, legumes, tofu and some grains, such as quinoa or buckwheat.

While it is possible for elite athletes to reach their daily protein requirements through diet from unprocessed wholefood sources (and this is highly recommended for the majority of protein intake) athletes in high training loads, with requirements for lean muscle mass or when injured, may find protein powders (20-30 grams) beneficial when ingested straight after training. During this time the muscles are more receptive to uptake of amino acids. However, muscle repair continues for 24 hours and therefore regular protein intake throughout the day is important.

Protein supplements such as whey protein or vegan protein powders are practical, convenient when travelling, or in a smoothie as a mid-morning snack.

Best protein powders

A ‘complete protein’ refers to the building blocks of protein – amino acids. There are 20 amino acids that can form a protein, and 9 that the body cannot produce on its own. These are the essential amino acids and we need to be able to get them through diet, or supplementation. All amino acids are required for protein synthesis, and a lack of one or more amino acids may compromise the athlete’s ability to build muscle.

Leucine is the key amino acid linked to muscle building and recovery. Research suggests ingestion of 2.7 grams of leucine results in a robust stimulation of muscle protein synthesis.   Research suggests powders containing the optimal ratio for the branch chain amino acids leucine, isoleucine, and valine in a 2:1:1 ratio in addition to the full amino acid profile are optimal for sports recovery and performance.

What type of protein powder is best?

There isn’t one type of protein powder that is better than others however some powders may be more suited to athletes depending on food preferences and intolerances, and health goals.  Powders with minimal ingredients, natural flavors, a balanced and complete amino acid profile, and organic are suggested to be the healthiest. Some powders may provide added probiotics beneficial for gut health.

Popular protein powder options include:

Plant-based protein

Plant-based protein powders may include combinations of pea, hemp, soy, pumpkin seed, flax seed fava bean, potato, corn and brown rice protein. Plant based options are dairy, whey, casein and egg free.  Leucine, lysine, and/or methionine are key amino acids for muscle-building capacity which may be reduced in plant-based powders.

Plant-based proteins could provide the same amount of leucine by adjusting the amount of protein ingested. Due to the greater leucine content of corn, 20 g of protein needs to be ingested to provide 2.7 g leucine, while the dietary protein dose of the other plant-based proteins would need to be increased to 33 g (potato), 37 g (brown rice), 38 g (pea), 40 g (soy), and 54 g (hemp).

Plant-based proteins that do meet the requirements for essential amino acids include soy (27%), brown rice (28%), pea (30%), corn (32%), and potato (37%). When plant-based proteins are combined (e.g. rice and pea) the amino acid profile can be enhanced.

Microalgae has received considerable attention in recent years due to their high protein content (similar to meat, egg, soybean, and milk), presence of other beneficial nutrients, and production that requires less water and land than other crops or animal foods. 48 g of microalgae protein is required to provide 2.7 grams of leucine.  Plant-based options are often viewed as sustainable, easily digestible, and potentially cheaper.


Whey protein powder is dairy-derived and fairly quickly and easily digested and absorbed. When combined with resistance training, whey protein may help increase muscle mass, support growth, and speed so it’s a great choice for athletes. Whey is also high in branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs), which can help speed muscle recovery.

Of the animal-based proteins, whey protein has the highest essential amino acid content of 43%. Whey protein is available in concentrate, isolate, or hydrolysate form, although many supplements contain a combination of the three. Typically 25g of whey protein provides 2.7 g of leucine.

Although whey concentrate and isolate offer similar benefits, whey protein isolate (WPI) undergoes processing methods that result in a higher concentration of protein and lower amounts of fat, carbs, and lactose. WPI may be a better option for those who are limiting their consumption of fat, carbs, or lactose. Hydrolyzed whey protein powders have been partially broken down to ease digestion and speed absorption.


Casein protein powders are dairy based and keep you feeling fuller for longer as they are digested and absorbed more slowly making them a good option for muscle growth and enhancing sleep when ingested before bed.  Casein has a slightly lower essential amino acid content (34%) than whey  (43%). Casein’s larger molecule size can make it more difficult to digest for some individuals and may be linked to digestive symptoms.


Egg white protein is suitable for those who have an allergy or intolerance to dairy products is paleo friendly and has a higher amino acid content (32%) than many of the plant-based proteins. It is not as easily manufactured and therefore not as widely distributed or found in health food shops.  Egg white typically provides 26 grams of protein in a 30-gram serve.


As mentioned in our blog, collagen is great for bone, joint, and ligament health, and a 20-gram serving of collagen peptides contains 18 grams of protein, no carbohydrates, and no fat.  Collagen has a different amino acid profile to protein powders and therefore can be added to your protein powder or taken before a workout for tissue repair.

If you would like to know how we can best support your sports nutrition goals. Make an appointment here. 

About the Author: Kate Smyth is a Sports naturopath, nutritionist and female centric running coach. She is the founder of the Athlete Sanctuary- a holistic healthcare clinic for athletes of all levels and sporting codes. Kate has a thirst for knowledge with two bachelor’s and a master’s degree under her belt. She has been involved in sports for many decades and competed for Australia in the Commonwealth Games and Olympic Games marathons with a personal best time of 2 hours 28 minutes. For more information visit www.https://https://athletesanctuary.com.au/wp-content/uploads/2023/03/normatec-3-lower-body-system-thumb_720x-1.webp.com.au/wp-content/uploads/2020/05/Seed-Cycle-Blends-scaled-1.jpg.com.au


Athletic requirements for protein intake, Australian Institute of Sport- https://www.ais.gov.au/ . While athlete’s requirements have been widely debated, the Australian Institute of Sports has published this fact sheet on the Athletic Requirements for Protein Intake.

Campbell, B., Kreider, R. B., Ziegenfuss, T., La Bounty, P., Roberts, M., Burke, D., … & Antonio, J. (2007). International Society of Sports Nutrition position stand: protein and exercise. Journal of the international society of sports nutrition, 4(1), 1-7.

Witard, O. C., Garthe, I., & Phillips, S. M. (2019). Dietary protein for training adaptation and body composition manipulation in track and field athletes. International Journal of Sport Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism, 29(2), 165-174.https://journals.humankinetics.com/view/journals/ijsnem/29/2/article-p165.xml

Vitale, K., & Getzin, A. (2019). Nutrition and supplement update for the endurance athlete: review and recommendations. Nutrients, 11(6), 1289.https://www.mdpi.com/2072-6643/11/6/1289/htm

Bleakley S, Hayes M. Algal proteins: extraction, application, and challenges concerning production. Foods. 2017;6(5):33. doi: 10.3390/foods6050033. 


Best collagen for tendon repair

Choosing the best collagen for tendon repair can be challenging. There are so many to choose from. All collagen powders are not created equal. Understanding the different forms and their sources can be helpful when making your decision.  Keep in mind collagen can be helpful in the repair of tendons, bones and ligaments, improving skin elasticity and gut health.

Recent studies have helped to fine-tune dosage recommendations and nutrient combinations to enhance its effectiveness. As the quality and volume of collagen produced by our body reduces with age, master athletes may benefit from consistent supplementation.

What does collagen do?

Collagen is a major structural protein and building block made within your body. Collectively, collagen comprises 30% of the body’s protein as amino-acids, specifically glycine, proline, hydroxyproline and arginine.  Collagen provides structure and acts like glue to your skin, hair, skeleton, tendons, muscles, ligaments, corneas, teeth and blood vessels. Hydrolysed collagen is similar to gelatin but structurally varies. Collagen contains tri peptides whereas gelatin contains simple amino acid chains.  Peptide chains within collagen act as signalling molecules to fibroblasts which increase collagen, elastin and hyaluronic production. They also signal anti-inflammatory agents and increase the production of antioxidants.

There are 29 different types of collagen, all with slightly different roles but 80 – 90 % of the collagen in the body consists of types I, II, and III.  Together all forms serve the same purpose; to help tissues withstand stretching. Although all forms are essential in the body, research tends to focus on types I-III when it comes to athletes. Let’s explore these three types in a little more detail.

Type I  forms the reinforcing rods in bone, cartilage, tendons, teeth and connective tissue and is the most dominant form within the body making up 90% of all collagen. It is also the collagen that forms scar tissue and skin.

Type II (also known as hyaline or articular cartilage) is the major collagen in elastic cartilage and is the gel like substance designed to provide cushioning and allow joints to absorb shock. Its rigid macromolecules provide the strength and compressibility that allow it to resist large deformations in shape during movement.

Type III supports the structure of muscles, organs, and arteries.

Collagen and vitamin C for repair – the research evidence

Recent studies have also shown the combination of 500mg of vitamin C and between 5 – 15 grams of collagen is beneficial when taken one hour before exercise. Positive results do not appear to be dose dependent when within this range. Several studies including a study from the AIS (Australia Institute of Sport) showed significant improvements in achilles tendon injuries when taken for three to six months.

A 2017 study also demonstrated significant improvements in activity-related joint pain in 139 athletes,  positive changes to ankle function and pain following supplementation for sprains.  Collagen also reduces the risk of subsequent sprains for 3 months after supplementation.

Most collagen powders on the market are derived from shellfish, beef, chicken or pork. As a general recommendation, better quality collagen supplements are derived from grass-fed animals or wild-caught seafood. Vegans should be aware plants do not make collagen. There are currently no clinical trials that support bone broth as a reliable source of collagen peptides.

Vitamin C

Vitamin C converts proline and glycine to hydroxyproline.   Pre-clinical studies have also shown vitamin C has the potential to accelerate bone healing after a fracture, increased type I synthesis, and reduce oxidative stress.

Additional dietary intake of vitamin C-rich foods during rehabilitation may also be beneficial. Good sources include berries, red capsicum, broccoli, kiwi, guava, citrus, rosehip and indigenous foods such as camu camu, goji berry and Kakadu plum.

Other beneficial nutrients

Copper also plays a role in production as it activates an enzyme called lysyl oxidase that is required for maturation. Copper is found in beef liver, crab, oysters, sunflower and sesame seeds, cocoa powder, cashews, hazelnuts, peanuts, almonds and lentils.

Zinc helps with the production and activates a protein that remodels collagen during wound healing. Zinc is found in seafood, oysters, pepitas, nuts, poultry and meat.

Manganese activates enzymes such as prolidase that your cells use to make proline and gives collagen fibres their shape. Brown rice, oats, pineapple, peanuts, and pecans all contain manganese.

Amino Acids

Insufficient protein intake or overall energy intake impedes wound healing and increases inflammation to possibly deleterious levels. During the healing process, energy expenditure is increased, particularly if the injury is severe. Energy expenditure may increase between 15% – 50%, depending on the type and severity of the injury.

Given that muscle loss may begin from inactivity during an injury recovery phase within 36 hours and healing processes are heavily reliant on synthesis of collagen and other proteins, the importance of dietary protein should not be understated. If you are in the unfortunate position of being injured, protein intake of 2 grams/ kg of body weight per day is advocated.

Meat, poultry, seafood, dairy, legumes, and tofu are all excellent sources of amino acids. Plant-based athletes may combine protein sources to ensure all essential amino acids are available for protein synthesis.

In addition, specific foods rich in proline and glycine may be beneficial.

Proline is found in egg whites, wheat germ, dairy products, cabbage, asparagus, and mushrooms.

Glycine is found in the skin of pork or chicken and gelatin.

Making your own gelatin chews are an easy way to boost glycine intake.

Gelatin is what is used to set jelly and gummy lollies. Gelatin also contains proline, valine and glutamic acid.

Be wary of sugar!  Sugar interferes with collagen’s ability to repair itself and degrades collagen. It is therefore a good idea to limit your consumption of added sugar and refined carbs when injured for several reasons.

Please remember the guidelines provided in this blog are general in nature. If you are injured, you may benefit from individualised nutritional guidance to help you get back on track. Make an appointment here


About the Author: Kate Smyth is a Sports naturopath, nutritionist and female-centric running coach. She is the founder of the Athlete Sanctuary- a holistic healthcare clinic for athletes of all levels and sporting codes. Kate has a thirst for knowledge with two bachelor’s and a master’s degree under her belt. She has been involved in sports for many decades and competed for Australia in the Commonwealth Games and Olympic Games marathons with a personal best time of 2 hours 28 minutes. For more information visit www.https://https://athletesanctuary.com.au/wp-content/uploads/2023/03/normatec-3-lower-body-system-thumb_720x-1.webp.com.au/wp-content/uploads/2020/05/Seed-Cycle-Blends-scaled-1.jpg.com.au


Clark, K. L., Sebastianelli, W., Flechsenhar, K. R., Aukermann, D. F., Meza, F., Millard, R. L.,  & Albert, A. (2008). 24-Week study on the use of collagen hydrolysate as a dietary supplement in athletes with activity-related joint pain. Current medical research and opinion24(5), 1485-1496.

Dressler, P., Gehring, D., Zdzieblik, D., Oesser, S., Gollhofer, A., & König, D. (2018). Improvement of functional ankle properties following supplementation with specific collagen peptides in athletes with chronic ankle instability. Journal of sports science & medicine17(2), 298.

Frankenfield, D. (2006). Energy expenditure and protein requirements after traumatic injury. Nutrition in Clinical Practice21(5), 430-437.

Lis, D. M., & Baar, K. (2019). Effects of Different Vitamin C–Enriched Collagen Derivatives on Collagen Synthesis. International Journal of sports nutrition and exercise metabolism29(5), 526-531.

Praet, S. F., Purdam, C. R., Welvaert, M., Vlahovich, N., Lovell, G., Burke, L. M., & Waddington, G. (2019). Oral supplementation of specific collagen peptides combined with calf-strengthening exercises enhances function and reduces pain in achilles tendinopathy patients. Nutrients11(1), 76.

Shaw, G., Lee-Barthel, A., Ross, M. L., Wang, B., & Baar, K. (2017). Vitamin C–enriched gelatin supplementation before intermittent activity augments collagen synthesis. The American Journal of clinical nutrition105(1), 136-143.

Zdzieblik, D., Oesser, S., Gollhofer, A., & König, D. (2017). Improvement of activity-related knee joint discomfort following supplementation of specific collagen peptides. Applied Physiology, Nutrition, and Metabolism42(6), 588-595.