As you look through the incredible and baffling selection of protein powders on the market, one of the many factors that you’re going to have to consider is flavor. Protein powders can be designed to taste like strawberries, cheesecake, plain old vanilla and a host of other options. And, you can pick up unflavored protein powders, too.
But, why would anyone want a flavorless protein powder? Are there any advantages to either flavored or unflavored protein powders? And most importantly, which should you choose?
Below, we break down the strengths and weaknesses of flavored vs unflavored protein powders.
Do You Want Convenience? Choose Flavored Protein Powder
Convenience is the primary reason for choosing a flavored protein powder. If you want your protein shake to have a specific taste or just don’t enjoy the idea of a flavorless liquid snack, then a flavored protein powder would be an easy option.
Since the powder itself carries the desired flavor, that’s really all that’s needed. Of course, you could still blend in other ingredients too, if you want to add some depth. If you like the idea of coming home from the gym and quickly mixing together a great-tasting shake with minimal effort, flavored protein powder is your best bet.
With unflavored protein powders, it’s not that easy. Because the protein powder doesn’t have any built-in flavor, you have to essentially start from scratch. So, if you would like a chocolate protein shake, you need to add something chocolatey.
This may take some advanced planning to make sure that you have the necessary ingredients on-hand. With unflavored protein powder, you will also likely to have to spend more time preparing the shake, especially if you have to blend the ingredients together.
With flavored protein powders, though, you can usually just get by with a shaker cup. In the end - let’s be real, making a shake isn’t rocket science. Using unflavored protein powder isn’t going to cramp your style, it’s just a little bit more effort here and there.
Do You Want Adaptability/Versatility? Choose Unflavored Protein Powder
Flavored protein powders taste like what they taste like. If you purchase a chocolate powder, for example, you are locked into that flavor. And, when you decide to blend in other ingredients, you have to think about what will pair well with chocolate.
The situation gets even more complicated if you have a strong or specific flavor like cookies and cream. Tasty… but highly limiting. What if you’re really in the mood for something that doesn’t pair well at all with cookies and cream – and it’s the only flavor of protein powder you have on hand?
Unflavored protein powders, however, don’t have these limitations. The powder becomes nothing but a nutrient-rich blank slate that you can build all sorts of other flavor combinations on top of. Feel like adding strawberries and bananas one day, but spinach and blueberries the next? Go for it!
Using unflavored protein powder means that you can make every shake completely different, you’ll never get bored with the options, and you’re never stuck with a shake that isn’t exactly what you’re in the mood for.
Do You Want to Use it for Cooking? Choose Unflavored Protein Powder
This versatility is especially useful if you want to use your protein powder for cooking. Unflavored powders can be used to thicken soups and sauces without having a strong impact on the flavor while also delivering a boost of protein to the dish.
You can also use unflavored protein powder to boost the protein content of hot drinks like coffee – of course, some flavors will work well there too, but unflavored protein will leave your coffee just as you like it (just boosted a bit!).
Unflavored plant protein powders are particularly well-suited for baking and cooking because they tend to retain moisture better than whey or casein, allowing you to create nutrient-rich, delicious recipes. Plant-based proteins also tend to be higher in healthy fats, lower in saturated fats and higher in fiber than their animal-based counterparts.
Some plant protein powders also have a natural flavor that’s a bit savory, which may be a nice addition when adding protein to a savory dish. All of this to say – unflavored plant protein powders are a bit more versatile here too.
Do You Want to Eat Clean? Choose Unflavored Protein Powder
It’s also important to remember that in order to achieve that dizzying array of flavors, manufacturers often resort to… unsavory techniques. Generally, this involves the use of artificial flavorings that can have a host of negative side-effects.
Some protein powders are even colored artificially – if it’s not pink, it’s not actually strawberry-flavored, right? According to the watchdog organization Eat Well Group (EWG), the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) does not monitor – and therefore does not test – any flavoring for safety.
Considering the widespread use of artificial flavoring additives, this is a major concern. Many flavored protein powders also contain artificial sweeteners, and this may or may not be something you choose to typically include in your diet. Even when the flavors come from “natural sources”, they may be derived from things you’d rather not ingest – like ground-up beetles.
Yuck! Of course, this isn’t always the case, but wouldn’t you rather rest assured that there’s nothing at all sketchy lurking in your protein powder? For example, Naked Nutrition offers a line of flavored protein powders that use only natural, organic ingredients.
But for those looking to keep their diet as clean as possible, unflavored protein powders are an invaluable tool. Since the ingredients list is often just one or two things – which are generally pretty familiar – you can be confident that you aren’t taking anything into your body that you might regret.
Interestingly, many unflavored plant protein powders naturally have their own flavors – even if they are very subtle. Pea protein powder, for example, has a slightly savory taste similar to what you might expect from pea soup.
Rice protein powder, though, is very lightly sweet. This allows for these proteins to be used in a number of applications, without the need for any unstudied flavorings.
Unflavored vs. Flavored Protein Powders: The Bottom Line
While both flavored and unflavored protein powders have their strengths, we firmly believe that unflavored protein powder should be a regular staple in your pantry.
Whether you opt for unflavored plant-based protein powder (perfect for vegans and vegetarians), unflavored whey powder, unflavored egg white powder, or unflavored casein powder, choosing a protein powder with no artificial sweeteners, colors or flavors means that you can create your own delicious protein shakes using natural foods such as bananas, berries and more.
In the end, the choice is yours. If you’re incredibly busy and don’t have the time to worry about things such as additives and artificial flavorings and you’d like your shakes to always taste like a chocolate peanut butter cup, go for the flavored version.
If you like the aspect of control in both your flavor choices and ingredients found in your protein powder, the unflavored version is probably going to be more useful for you.