What To Look For On Nutrition Labels & Why It Matters

nutrition labels

Knowing what to look for can make or break your gains.

We’ve all seen a nutrition label and know how to read it. But companies often times try to pull fast ones on us and sneak information on there knowing we may not care, or even recognize. But sometimes those ingredients don’t need to be in there, it makes no sense to have it on there, and depending on what the ingredients are, it can even be less than ideal for putting on muscle mass, and can even put on body fat. Knowing how to read and properly manage your labels will allow you the skills to call them out on it if they try to get you to bite, and you can make the most out of your meals.

The major components are calories, our big three macronutrients, which are protein, fat, and carbs, as well as the amount of sugar, depending on your goals of course. A bodybuilder, powerlifter, or other strength athlete is always looking to put the best in their bodies as they grind away and having the right ingredients on your nutrition label is vital to success.

Let’s take a look at nutrition labels and see what the major components are. Knowing how to read them properly can ensure you get the most out of your products and your gains so you never falter.

nutrition labels

Reading The Label

We’ve all seen them and know how to read them but knowing the importance of what is on it can greatly benefit your gains. Plus, with companies trying to pull fast ones here and there, you can call them out and only put the best in your body.

  • Serving Size/ Servings Per Container

This is really for you because you want to make sure there is a reasonable amount of servings for the price you are paying. Some companies will make it seem like you’re getting a deal when the supplement or food item may not even give you a month’s worth of servings.

  • Calories

Of course important for those looking to lose, manage, and gain healthy weight. Knowing your calorie intake will better help you track and keep up with the constant demand to either eat more or less, depending on your goals (1).

  • Total Fat

An important macronutrient, knowing how much fat is in a product or food item is important for you need it, but you want it to be in lower amounts depending on your bodybuilding goals.

  • Total Carbs

You need energy and carbs are that vital source (2). For those looking to cut, you may want to limit your carb intake and knowing where on the label to find this is important for ensuring those gains.

  • Protein

Imperative for muscle growth (3), protein will also help with recovery and weight management so knowing how much is in the product and working to get adequate amounts in your diet is incredibly important.

  • Sodium

Sodium is always portrayed negatively, but it actually plays a role in regulating blood pressure and helping your body hold onto water so this is something to keep in mind but not totally dwell over. Unless of course the number is astronomical, you do not want massive amounts of sodium on a nutrition label.

  • Dietary Fiber

Fiber is crucial for gut health (4) and will also keep you full so if the product has plenty of fiber, you won’t have unwanted cravings and can better tackle those bodybuilding goals.

  • Sugar

We all love sugar, but for those on a diet, or simply wanting to stay healthy, keeping tabs on the amount of sugar in something is what you need most to ensure those gains never falter.

  • Cholesterol

Cholesterol is essential to many bodily functions, and like sodium, isn’t a number to totally get hung up on, but it is nice to know, especially if you are asked by a doctor or just monitoring your health.

protein powders weight loss clean plant-based vegan female

Comparing Protein Powders

In order to fully understand and explain this, we wanted to break down the nutrition label on two protein powders from our Best Protein Powders list. One is a whey protein isolate and the other is a plant-based protein made from rice and pea protein. For comparison sake, we’ll look at some of the major components and move through this label. Your protein powder should reflect all your goals so don’t settle for an average product.

We will be looking at Transparent Labs 100% Grass-Fed Whey Protein Isolate (left) and National Bodybuilding Co. Full Prep Vegan Protein (right).

nutrition labels

Looking at these two labels, we can see the serving size is 10 more servings for Transparent Labs over National Bodybuilding Co., but that is simply the companies’ prerogative. Our calories are virtually the same as is the amount of protein. Of course with a protein powder, looking for the most amount of protein is what gives you that desired muscle growth and enhanced recovery. Next is to look at the amount of carbs and fat. Both these products have 2 grams of carbs which isn’t anything crazy in the grand scheme of things, but our vegan option has 3 grams of fat as compared to our whey isolate with zero. While this isn’t the end of the world, it is something to consider and knowing where to find this is important.

Other areas to look like sugar and fiber all come up at zero and so we see these two products are great protein options. By comparing two, even if they are similar, you can start to see subtle differences that matter and knowing how to read the label and compare products only ensures you get the best in terms of results.

Nutrition Labels Wrap Up

Knowing how to read and manage your nutrition label is important for you want the best gains possible. While we all like to believe that all labels are honest, sometimes companies try to pull a fast one and that only hurts us in the long run. By knowing what to look for you can better manage your goals and your overall health and give yourself the best chance at success without being duped by a nonsense product.

Let us know what you think in the comments below. Also, be sure to follow Generation Iron on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. 

*Images courtesy of Transparent Labs, National Bodybuilding Co. and Envato


  1. Howell, S.; et al. (2017). “‘Calories in, calories out’ and macronutrient intake: the hope, hype, and science of calories”. (source)
  2. Jequier, E. (1994). “Carbohydrates as a source of energy”. (source)
  3. Pasiakos, S.; et al. (2015). “The effects of protein supplements on muscle mass, strength, and aerobic and anaerobic power in healthy adults: a systematic review”. (source)
  4. Lattimer, J.; et al. (2010). “Effects of Dietary Fiber and Its Components on Metabolic Health”. (source)
Austin Letorney is a writer, actor, and fitness enthusiast. As a former rower, he has shifted his focus to sharing his knowledge of the fitness world and strength sports with others.