PCOS resources

How to Choose a Protein Powder for PCOS

Tips for choosing the best protein powder for PCOS.

Protein powders can be a convenient and effective way to up your protein intake and manage your weight when you have PCOS. 

It can be used to help keep your blood sugar in check and also provide a boost of energy throughout the day.

But with so many options out there, choosing the best protein powder can be daunting.

Not all protein powders are suitable for PCOS; some can even make your symptoms worse.

In this guide, we'll explore how to choose a protein powder for PCOS, plus what to look for and what to avoid.

Are protein powders good for PCOS?

Eating high-protein foods may regulate blood sugar levels and promote weight loss. These benefits make protein ideal for women with polycystic ovary syndrome.

Some research suggests protein has a stabilising effect on blood sugar levels, reports Medical News Today. Plus, protein can help you feel fuller longer so it can support your weight loss efforts. 

Protein powders can help supplement your diet with quality sources of protein, such as whey, casein, or plant-based proteins. Protein shakes and smoothies are quick, easy, and tasty meals that can be made for any meal. They can also be used as snacks to prevent cravings and keep you from overeating.

Protein powders can be added to any meal or snack to boost its nutritional value and make it more filling.

Additionally, protein powders can help reduce inflammation and aid in muscle recovery. Research has found that when consumed after a workout, protein powders can increase strength and muscle mass. 

Which protein powder is good for PCOS?

A PCOS-friendly protein powder is low in carbs and sugars and contains essential amino acids. 

Here are some protein powders that may be beneficial for women with PCOS:

  1. Whey protein isolate
  2. Casein protein powder
  3. Pea protein
  4. Collagen protein
  5. Hemp protein
  6. Rice protein

Look for a protein powder that contains all-natural ingredients, such as whey protein isolate or pea protein isolate, which are free from artificial additives, fillers, and preservatives.

When you're out shopping, read the nutrition label and check for any added sugars or carbohydrates. A good PCOS-friendly protein powder should also be low in calories and fat.

Remember to prioritise low-carb options. Many protein powders have added sugar and carbohydrates, which can increase your blood sugar levels and make it harder to manage your PCOS symptoms. So select low-carb or sugar-free options when choosing a protein powder.

6 best protein powders for PCOS

To narrow your options, I'm listing some of the best protein powders for PCOS.

You’ll notice that protein powders are divided into two types of protein powders:

  • Animal-based protein powders: whey, casein, collagen 
  • Plant-based protein powders: soy, hemp, rice, and pea protein powders

Shoshana Pritzker, a registered dietician and sports nutritionist, writes about the key differences between these two types of protein powders in Very Well Fit:

“Animal-based proteins are comprised of complete proteins—they contain all essential amino acids—while plant-based proteins often lack some amino acids. For that reason, plant-based protein manufacturers often combine protein sources to create a complete protein.”

Below, we get into the details of each protein powder type.

1. Whey protein

A whey protein powder is one of the most popular types of protein powders and it’s also one of the best for women with PCOS. It provides your body with nine essential amino acids, which are key for muscle growth and repair. In addition, it’s easy to digest and won’t cause any digestive issues.

Whey protein is derived from dairy products. Specifically, it’s a byproduct of cheese, explains Web MD.

“Whey protein is considered a complete protein, with nine essential amino acids. Your body makes amino acids, but they’re not the kinds found in whey and whey isolate protein.”

One thing to note: there are concerns about whether whey protein interferes with hormones, especially estrogen. This is because of the hormones present in dairy products.

Let’s look at what this research says about whey protein and hormonal imbalances:

  • This 2020 study found that whey didn’t impact the estrogen levels of women with PCOS. Women had whey for seven days.
  • Research published in 2021 examined the effects of whey protein on insulin levels in women with and without PCOS. They found that whey helped to regular insulin levels to a similar level to women without PCOS.
  • A paper from the Texas Women’s University found whey protein also improved insulin levels.

2. Casein protein

Like whey protein, casein protein comes from dairy products. It’s also a complete protein, with all the essential amino acids.

Casein is digested slowly and can make you feel fuller for longer, according to Very Well Fit.

3. Collagen powder

Collagen powder comes from the skin and bones of animals and eggshells.

Low in carbohydrates and high in protein, collagen is a good option for women with PCOS who need to manage their blood sugar levels. It is also rich in amino acids that are important for maintaining healthy skin, hair, and nails.

Per Health Center:

"Collagen has been said to improve skin, joint, hair, nail, and gut health, however the research is limited, and these benefits are not conclusive." 

I add a scoop of unflavoured collagen powder to my daily smoothie.

4. Hemp powder

Hemp protein is plant-based and made from hemp plants. It contains all essential amino acids.

It is also rich in fiber and omega-3 fatty acids, which can help to reduce inflammation and improve insulin sensitivity.

5. Rice protein

Derived from rice, rice protein powder is another plant protein. It is made from the by-product of brown rice, which is a whole grain. Rice protein powder contains all nine essential amino acids and is easily digestible, making it an ideal source of plant-based protein for those with sensitive stomachs. It also has a mild taste, making it easier to mix into smoothies and other recipes.

Rice protein is a great alternative to whey protein for vegans and vegetarians, as it is dairy-free. Additionally, it's low in fat and carbohydrates, making it a great choice for those looking to manage their weight. Rice protein powder can be used to make protein shakes and baked goods. You can also blend it in with oatmeal, yoghurt, and other recipes.

6. Pea protein

Pea protein powder is made from yellow split peas.

This plant-based protein is low in carbohydrates, high in protein, and has a low glycemic index. Because it's rich in fiber, it may regulate blood sugar levels and help you feel fuller.

Pea protein powder is dairy-free, gluten-free, and digested well, Ashley Koff, an integrative dietitian, tells Prevention. “Also, unlike soy, it’s unlikely to be chemically isolated or genetically modified, though it’s still smart to check.” However, pea protein powder doesn’t contain all the amino acids you need.

3 tips for choosing a protein powder for PCOS

Here are three tips that can guide your selection process.

1.Understand the ingredients you may need to avoid

Knowing the worst ingredients for a protein powder for PCOS will help you steer clear of protein powders that might aggravate your PCOS symptoms.

Protein powders should be free of added sugars, artificial colors, and other additives that may worsen PCOS symptoms.

Here's where reading the label before making a purchase makes a huge difference, explains Medical News Today.

“The label should include a list of all the ingredients and suggestions of how a person should use the product.

“For example, some protein powders are free of gluten, soy, and dairy, making them suitable for people with allergies or intolerances. Also, a person who follows a keto diet may look for a product that is low in carbohydrates.”

Specifically, check if the protein powder contains the following ingredients:

  • Added sugars: Some protein powders contain artificial sweeteners including sucralose (Splenda), aspartame (Nutrasweet), saccharin, and others, writes Mind Body Green. “Aside from being unnatural chemicals, some people experience negative effects, from headaches and gastric distress, to mood issues and weight gain.”
  • Preservatives: Preservatives like sodium benzoate have been shown to worsen inflammation. Some preservatives, such as BHA and BHT, have been shown to disrupt hormones and potentially cause cancer.
  • Vegetable oils: Vegetable oils are sometimes added to protein powders to improve their texture and taste, but they can also have negative effects on health. Some vegetable oils can contribute to inflammation and heart disease.
  • Dairy: protein powder that comes from dairy can cause problems if you are sensitive to dairy. There is a concern about the health effects of dairy on PCOS, but research is mixed. Web MD said whey protein isolate may be a better option for people who struggle to digest lactose. With whey protein isolate, the lactose and fat content of whey is reduced.
  • Soy: Soy may affect estrogen levels, reports Harvard Health. “Soy is unique in that it contains a high concentration of isoflavones, a type of plant estrogen (phytoestrogen) that is similar in function to human estrogen but with much weaker effects. Soy isoflavones can bind to estrogen receptors in the body and cause either weak estrogenic or anti-estrogenic activity.” 

2. Make a shortlist of the best protein powders for PCOS based on your needs

As we've seen, some protein powders are better for your health goals than others.

In A Balanced Approach to PCOS: 16 Weeks of Meal Prep & Recipes, Melissa Groves recommends:

“I recommend finding an unflavored protein powder with as few added ingredients as possible and no added sugars or artificial sweeteners. A protein powder that is pure protein is going to add protein to a recipe without changing its flavor.”

3. Research the manufacturer 

Some protein powder brands have been found to contain heavy metals so it’s good to research the manufacturer.

According to one study, a Consumer Reports analysis found heavy metals in 15 protein powder products. 

Julie Stefanski,  a registered dietician and spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition & Dietetics, tells Live Science:

“Research the company and ensure there have been no issues with contamination of heavy metals or other substances. Look on the FDA website to see if the manufacturer has had any product recalls.”

Rachel Fine, a registered dietitian, tells Eat This:

"Since the supplement industry is largely unregulated, it's important to choose well-known brands with third-party testing standards for safety.”

Protein powder for PCOS: Frequently Asked Questions 

Below, we answer common questions asked about protein and PCOS.

Can I take whey protein if I have PCOS?

If you have PCOS, you can take whey protein as part of a balanced and healthy diet.

Whey protein is a high-quality source of protein that is rich in essential amino acids. These amino acids are key for building and maintaining lean muscle mass. It is also low in carbohydrates, making it a good option to help you manage your blood sugar levels.

However, some women with PCOS may be sensitive to dairy products, including whey protein. If you don't tolerate dairy well, go for alternative protein sources. Plant-based proteins or lactose-free whey protein may be good options.

Which protein is best for weight loss with PCOS?

Eating high-protein foods can help you feel fuller for longer, making them great for PCOS weight loss. 

The best protein sources for PCOS weight loss are those that are low in carbohydrates and also have a low glycemic index, meaning they won't spike your blood sugar.

These include:

  1. Lean animal protein: lean proteins like skinless chicken or turkey breast, fish (such as salmon, tuna, and tilapia), and lean cuts of beef or pork are low in carbohydrates and high in protein.
  2. Plant-based proteins: Examples include legumes (such as lentils, chickpeas, and black beans), nuts and seeds, and soy products (such as tofu and tempeh). These low-carb protein sources high in protein can also help regulate blood sugar levels.
  3. Whey protein: As mentioned earlier, whey protein can also be a good option for weight loss in women with PCOS. 

Find the best  protein powder for PCOS

Choosing the right protein powder for PCOS can be a bit overwhelming.

Opt for protein powders that are minimally processed and free of added preservatives, artificial colors, and sweeteners. This way, you’ll get the most nutritional benefits and avoid potential health risks associated with preservatives.

Do your research and reach out to a professional to help you build balanced a PCOS diet.


Image credit: Photo by Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash