Protein powder is a major force in sports nutrition and the supplement industry due to its ability to boost muscle mass, enhance workout recovery, promote weight loss, and improve overall health. Yet, with so many types of protein available, finding the right one to meet your needs can be pretty confusing.
Protein powder is a concentrated form of protein that can be blended with water or milk to produce a smoothie-like drink. It presents a simple and easily digestible way to get this vital micronutrient into your body. In this article, we explore the different types of protein powder, what to look for in a protein powder, and the best type.
Types of Protein Powder
Various protein powder types are available, each derived from different sources and having unique benefits. Here’s an overview of the main types of protein powder supplements you are likely to come across:
1. Whey Protein
Derived from cow’s milk, whey protein powder is by far the most popular form of protein powder on the market. It is well-regarded for its fast absorption rate and high level of bioavailability. Whey is considered a complete protein because it contains all of the nine essential amino acids. It is generally regarded as the best type of protein powder for muscle gain. Three different forms of whey are sold:
Once the milk has been curdled and strained in cheese-making, a filtering process separates the whey protein concentrate.
This concentrate has more lactose (milk sugar), fat, and carbohydrates than other forms of whey and all nine essential amino acids required for muscle growth and repair, making it a complete protein source.
The protein content of whey concentrate is between 70-80%. The other 20-30% contains water, ash, lipids, and carbohydrates. Whey concentrate creates a creamy, rich flavor when mixed with water or milk.
However, it does contain more lactose than other forms of whey. This can be a problem for people who are lactose intolerant.
Check out our favorite whey protein concentrate protein powder.
Whey protein isolate is a highly refined type of whey. It has undergone more processing than whey concentrate to remove most of the fat, lactose, and other non-protein components. This improves the purity of the content to more than 90%. Whey isolate is a preferred whey source for people who are lactose intolerant.
Whey isolate is fast absorbing, allowing the amino acids to go directly into the muscle cell to promote muscle protein synthesis and speed up workout recovery.
Isolate is also very low in fats and carbohydrates, making it ideal for people who are on a low-carb diet like Keto.
Whey isolate tends to mix better than concentrate and has a smoother texture and flavor.
Think Whey Isolate is right for you? Check out our article on the Best Whey Protein Isolate Powders.
Whey protein hydrolysate, or hydrolyzed whey, is whey that has undergone a process called enzymatic hydrolysis that divides its molecules into smaller peptides and amino acids.
Because the protein has been partially digested before being ingested, this produces a form of protein powder that is easier to digest and has a higher bioavailability rate.
The additional processing involved makes whey protein hydrolysate more expensive than either whey concentrate or isolate. It also tends towards a more bitter flavor. As a result, hydrolysate is often mixed with flavors or ingredients to produce a more pleasing taste.
You can buy our favorite hydrolyzed whey protein powder here.
2. Casein Protein
Casein is one of the two main proteins found in cow’s milk, along with whey. Around 80% of milk protein is casein. This is a slower digesting form of protein than whey, with its amino acids released into the bloodstream over a longer period of time. That is because casein protein forms into a gel-like compound in the stomach when ingested.
The gradual release nature of casein makes casein an excellent protein to use when you want an extended muscle protein synthesis, such as when you’re fasting or sleeping. It provides a consistent flow of amino acids to the muscles. This helps to reduce post-workout muscle breakdown and promotes muscle growth.
Casein has been shown to be more satiating than other forms of protein, so it fills you up faster and for longer. This helps with hunger control and weight management.
In addition to providing an excellent form of protein, casein is also a good source of calcium, promoting healthy bones.
We’ve compiled our favorite Casein Protein Powders if you want try some for yourself.
3. Beef Protein Powder
Beef protein powder is sourced from such beef sources as lean meat. The protein is removed from the meat, processed, and then concentrated into powder form.
It typically has between 70-90% protein content. Beef protein concentrate also contains the nine essential amino acids, making it a complete protein, and is particularly rich in the BCAAs: leucine, valine, and isoleucine.
Beef is also abundant in the B vitamins and such minerals as iron and zinc. Most people will tolerate this type of protein, and it is easily absorbed into the body.
Think Beef Protein Powder is the protein for you? Check out our Beef Protein Powder pick.
4. Plant Proteins
Plant-based protein powder has become increasingly popular over the past decade. These vegan protein powder variations are sourced from plant-based proteins. Here’s an overview of the five most popular types of plant protein powders:
Soy protein is a kind of vegan protein that comes from soybeans. It comes in a number of forms, including soy protein isolate, powders, soy milk, tofu, and tempeh. Soy protein is one of the few plant-based protein sources that provides all nine essential amino acids. Soy protein powder typically has a 90% protein concentration.
Soy protein powder has been shown to help reduce bad cholesterol and lower heart disease risk; It’s also a good source of polyunsaturated fats, fiber, vitamins, and minerals.
It contains a subclass of phytoestrogens called isoflavones, which are able to lower the risk of some cancers and improve bone health.
It should be noted that soy products can cause allergic reactions in some people.
Follow the link for our recommendation on a soy protein protein powder.
Hemp, also known as cannabis sativa, is a plant that produces seeds that are used to make hemp protein. Hemp provides a rich source of protein, containing between 20 and 30% by weight.
Hemp contains all nine key amino acids the body needs, making it a complete protein. It is especially high in arginine, which is important for our immune response, wound healing, and hormone regulation.
Hemp protein is a vegan protein powder that also contains omega-3 and omega-3 fatty acids. This benefits the cardiovascular system and the brain and assists in reducing systemic inflammation. Hemp is also a great source of soluble and insoluble fiber, helping control blood sugar levels and fill you up.
As a protein source, hemp is a great source of such minerals as magnesium, iron, and zinc, along with antioxidants and vitamins, including vitamins E and B.
The flavor of hemp protein varies depending on the brand and processing techniques. It is mildly nutty and earthy. It can be purchased in powder form and used as a topping for yogurt and cereals, as well as oatmeal, smoothies, shakes, and baked goods.
It should be noted that Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the hallucinogenic component found in marijuana, is not present in hemp protein in significant concentrations.
For a list of great options, read our article on the Best Hemp Protein Powders.
Brown Rice protein
Brown rice protein powder is produced from brown rice, with a protein content of approximately 70-80%. It does not contain some of the essential amino acids, so it does not represent a complete protein source. It is very low in lysine but comparatively high in arginine and glutamine. Mixing it with hemp or pea protein can create a complete protein source.
Brown rice protein is gentle on the stomach and easy for most people to digest. In addition to protein, it represents a good source of dietary fiber to support the digestive system, along with B vitamins, magnesium, and iron.
Brown rice powder is available in powdered form. It has a pleasant, slightly nutty taste and mixes easily with milk or water.
We’ve found that our favorite Brown Rice Protein Powder is here.
Pea protein powder is created by extracting the protein from yellow peas and turning it into a powder. This produces a product with 80-90% protein content by weight.
Containing all nine essential amino acids, pea protein isolate is considered a complete protein source. It is especially high in BCAAs, which are key amino acids for building and repairing muscle tissue.
In addition to protein, pea protein powder is a good source of vitamins and minerals like iron, zinc, and B vitamins. The taste of pea protein is pretty neutral, meaning it can be used in dishes with overpowering other flavors.
We have an extensive article on the Best Pea Protein Powders here.
Plant blends are made by combining different types of plant proteins in order to produce a mix that has all the essential amino acids. Blends often contain the following protein sources:
Plant protein blends contain various other nutrients, including omega-3 fatty acids, fiber, and lignans. Pumpkin seeds are a very good source of magnesium, iron, zinc, and antioxidants, while chia seeds are filled with fiber and healthy fats to help keep you full and satisfied.
Plant protein blends may be more gentle on the stomach for some people than consuming only one type of protein at a time. Combining various plant proteins can help reduce any digestive problems that may arise from consuming a particular protein source.
Our article on the Best Vegan Protein Powders gives some great options for those looking for plant-based proteins.
5. Egg White Protein
Egg white protein powder is produced from egg whites. They contain a high protein concentration of about 80-90% protein and all nine essential amino acids. Egg white protein is easily digested, absorbed, and used by the body. It also represents a protein source that is low in fats and carbohydrates.
Egg white protein powder is relatively mild in taste, making it an excellent option for mixing various flavors to create a range of tasty combinations.
There are a lot of egg white protein powder options available, and our list can give you some guidance.
6. Collagen Protein
Collagen protein powder is made up of broken particles of collagen called peptides. It is an incomplete protein but is high in the amino acids glycine, proline, and hydroxyproline. Glycine is a helpful nutrient that can keep your gut lining healthy and potentially improve your digestion and gut function.
Taking collagen protein powder can help improve the health of your skin and give you a more youthful look. Collagen also plays a crucial role in maintaining the health of our joints and bones.
Collagen protein is highly bioavailable and digestible. It has a neutral taste.
For our recommendation, check out our Collagen Protein Powder pick.
What to look for in a protein powder
Choosing the right protein powder for you requires ticking off some key requirements. Here are five things to look out for:
1. Protein Source and Quality
Choose a protein supplement that uses a high-quality protein source, such as whey, casein, soy, pea, hemp, or a blend of plant proteins. The best protein sources should be pure, free from additives, and have undergone third-party testing for quality and purity.
2. Protein Content per Serving
Look for a protein powder that provides adequate protein, typically around 15-30 grams per serving, depending on your requirements.
3. Amino Acid Profile and BCAA Content
The protein source should contain all nine essential amino acids and a sufficient amount of the branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs), leucine, isoleucine, and valine.
4. Additional Ingredients and Additives
Check the ingredient list to ensure it is free of additives, sweeteners, flavorings, or preservatives. The best types of protein powder avoid products with artificial sweeteners or excessive fillers.
5. Taste, Texture, and Mixability
Some protein powders may have a chalky texture or an aftertaste, while others may mix well and have enjoyable flavors. Check reviews or try samples if possible to find a protein powder that suits your taste preferences.
Which protein powder is best?
In the end, the protein powder that’s right for you is the one that meets your nutritional needs fits your lifestyle, and aligns with your personal preferences, budget, and goals. Trying out various protein powders and seeking expert advice can help you discover the one that works best for you.
Whether you’re striving to boost your athletic performance, recover faster from workouts, or maintain a well-balanced diet, protein powder can be a valuable tool in your protein intake journey. In this article, we’ve explored some of the most popular types of protein powder, from whey and casein to plant-based alternatives like pea and hemp protein. Each type has its unique characteristics and benefits, making it essential to understand your goals and dietary requirements when making your protein choice.
Grass-Fed Whey Protein Isolate is sourced from grass fed American Cows! It contains one of the industry’s highest protein-by-weight ratios at 88% (28 grams of protein per 32 gram scoop)…
For a look at our top picks across the board, check out our article on the Best Protein Powders.