Understanding the Different Types of Protein Powders
Protein powders are used to add additional protein into the diet to fulfill daily requirements, encourage the body to build muscle mass, or improve overall body composition. However, with so many available options it can be hard to determine which is best for you and your goals. In this article we’ll discuss and compare the various forms of protein and types of protein powders.
The 3 Forms of Protein
The first step to determining which protein powder is right for you is to learn about the various forms of protein. There are three forms of protein, each made through a different process.
- Concentrates: Protein concentrates are the least processed of the three, and are created by extracting protein from different foods using heat and acid or enzymes. They usually provide around 60–80% protein, while the remaining can be made of fat, lactose (sugar found in milk), cholesterol, and carbs. People typically prefer the taste of protein concentrates to the other forms.
- Isolates: Protein isolates are a more concentrated and processed form of protein because they use an additional filtering process. As such, they can cost a bit higher. They typically contain about 90–95% protein, with less fat, lactose, cholesterol, or carbs than concentrates.
- Hydrolysates: Protein hydrolysates (also called hydrolyzed protein) are the most processed form of protein. They are produced through further heating with acid or enzymes and purification procedures. Although they are absorbed more quickly by the body, they unfortunately can taste quite a bit bitter and are usually the most expensive of the three. They can raise insulin levels more than other forms of protein, which can further enhance muscle growth.
Various Types of Protein Powders
Now that we’ve covered the various forms of protein, let’s examine some of the most popular types of protein powders.
Whey Protein: Whey, one of the most popular types of protein, comes from milk. Because it contains trace amounts of lactose, dairy sensitive individuals may want to choose other types of proteins - although note that most of the lactose is lost during processing. Whey conveniently digests quickly and is rich in branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs), which can be critical in muscle growth and recovery. Importantly, it is a complete protein source, meaning it contains all nine essential amino acids.
Casein Protein: Casein is also found in milk, but is absorbed slowly and will typically keep you fuller for longer than whey. Because of the slower absorption, the muscles can be gradually exposed to amino acids, which can be beneficial in reducing the rate of muscle breakdown. It also is a complete protein source like most animal proteins.
Egg-white Protein: Egg-white protein powder typically contains around 80% protein. It is lactose-free, a complete protein source, and is very easily digested. Although eggs themselves are undoubtedly a great source of protein, egg-white protein powders do not contain the fatty yolk so they may not keep you full. Admittingly, more studies need to be done on how egg-whites benefit muscle growth.
Soy Protein: Soy protein is created from soybeans, which are legumes naturally high in protein. Soy protein also contains all nine essential amino acids and is low in fat and carbohydrates. Some may be concerned that soy protein could increase levels of estrogen (the female sex hormone) since soybeans contain phytoestrogens, however there are conflicting opinions on this.
Pea Protein: Pea protein powder is made from yellow split peas, another nutritious legume, and is a popular choice among plant-based eaters. Although it’s low in methionine, it has eight of the nine essential amino acids and is rich in BCAAs and iron. Similarly to egg-white protein, pea protein has not been studied as much as others.
Hemp Protein: When you think hemp you may think of cannabis, but hemp only contains very trace amounts of THC (the psychoactive compound in cannabis). Hemp protein is yet another option for plant-based eaters since it contains no animal products. It appears to be well-digested, rich in omega-3 fatty acids, and contains seven of the nine essential amino acids. However, it does lacks the important amino acids lysine and leucine.
Brown Rice Protein: Brown rice protein powder contains all of the essential amino acids, but is too low in leucine to be considered a complete protein source. Although not many studies on this type of protein exist, it is typically thought to be less effective at building muscles than whey.
Mixed Plant Protein: Mixed plant protein powders are created by combining protein from various plant sources, such as brown rice, soy, pea, hemp, chia, flax, or quinoa. Combining them enables the mixture to provide all or most of the essential amino acids, but each mixture will be different depending on its unique blend. Mixed plant proteins typically contain a lot of fiber, which can lead to slower digestion: slow digestion can be suboptimal because it could limit the availability of the amino acids when your body needs them, like after exercise.
With so many options, it’s important to weigh the pros and cons of each type of protein before making your selection. As always, please check with your doctor before beginning any new supplement. We hope this helped to demystify protein powders and give you a greater understanding of what’s available and how it may benefit your body.