By Corey Lewis, CPT, CSCS
Protein powder has quickly become one of the most popular nutritional supplements among health-conscious individuals. But, it can be confusing to choose among the various options. Proteins play a significant role in ensuring your health and wellness. When most people think of protein, the first image to pop in their mind is usually a plate of chicken breast or a spoonful of peanut butter. Before we break down the different types of protein powder, let’s consider the various sources of protein, including:
Proteins are molecules that can contain a combination of 20 different amino acids. Each amino acid has a unique shape and function that contribute to the three-dimensional structure and role of the proteins that merge to form who you are today.
While protein macromolecules are vital, keep in mind that too much or too little of a “good thing” can have harmful effects on your body. That may have you wondering, how much protein do you need? The amount of protein that you should consume daily will vary based on several factors. Generally, however, it is recommended that men take in approximately 56 grams per day and women 46 grams per day. To put it plainly, 10% of your caloric intake should come from protein.
Nowadays, the availability of protein powder makes getting your recommended amount of protein as simple as a couple of scoops throughout the day. But, with so many options available and dietary restrictions from vegetarian to keto-based lifestyles, choosing the right protein powder can get a little tricky. Personally, I lean towards grass-fed protein because they are much easier on my stomach, but this pricier option might not fit everyone’s budget. To help you find the protein powder that best works for your lifestyle, I’ve researched seven of the most popular types.
Biochemically, milk is composed of two proteins: whey, and casein. Whey is the watery part of milk that remains after the formation of curds. It is high in protein, but the concentration of protein can vary depending on the processing method. Whey stands out in the arena of protein supplements because it contains all nine essential amino acids and is low in lactose content. The nine amino acids within whey include histidine, isoleucine, leucine, lysine, methionine, phenylalanine, threonine, tryptophan, and valine. Since these amino acids cannot be produced naturally by the body, we must obtain them from the food we eat, thus making them essential.
Not all whey protein is the same. The three main types of whey protein include whey isolate, concentrate, and hydrolysate. Varying processing methods contribute to the nutritional and superficial differences between all three types of whey.
Whey isolate is the more processed whey protein of the bunch. Here is its nutritional value breakdown:
This whey type is for those aspiring to maintain or achieve their physical fitness goals while remaining on a restricted calorie diet. By allowing a person to limit their consumption of carbohydrates and instead fill up on protein, this is the ideal protein supplement for bodybuilders and intense athletes.
On the other hand, whey concentrate is the less processed version of whey isolate. Due to that, the nutritional breakdown looks a little different:
For those with a more intense workout regimen and meal plan, whey concentrate is probably not the best protein supplement. Instead, whey concentrate is more for those who have stricter financial constraints and have more leniency concerning their macronutrient intake.
Diverse protein processes like filtration and purification contribute to the formation of whey isolate and concentrate. As opposed to regular milk, the synthesis of these types of whey leads to a supplement that could provide you with all of your needs without the added fat, carbs, or lactose.
Nevertheless, regardless if you consume whey isolate or concentrate, your body still has to use enzymes in your digestive system to adequately use the incoming protein. To aid the absorption process, manufacturers have created protein hydrolysate that eases the stress put on your digestive system. Thus, whey protein hydrolysate is an exemplary supplement if you are looking to stimulate muscle growth while reducing fat. It has also been known to improve muscle recovery, reduce hunger, and induce thermogenesis.
If you are looking to dive deeper into whey protein and try it out for yourself, Gold Standard 100% Whey Protein has a diverse collection that is sure to help you with your dietary needs.
In addition to whey, casein is the other protein that is found in mammalian milk. More specifically, casein is a family of phosphoproteins that form large colloidal particles in combination with calcium phosphate to create casein micelles. Besides its nutritional roles, casein also serves as a binder to make safety matches, it is a component in quick-drying water-soluble paint, and it can be used to mineralize tooth enamel. It makes up a whopping 80% of cow’s milk and 20%–45% of human milk. Casein comes in two different forms: micellar casein and casein hydrolysate. Micellar casein is the natural form of casein found in milk, while casein hydrolysate is a hydrolyzed protein that is easier for the body to digest.
Despite working in conjunction with whey, casein has distinctly different properties that you should consider. First, while whey protein is easily absorbed, casein protein moves at a much slower pace through the gastrointestinal tract. This is due in part to the delayed release of the protein’s amino acids into the bloodstream. Another difference is that casein protein is much thicker than whey protein, so it requires more water if you are going to make it into a shake. But if you opt not to make it into a protein shake, you can also use casein powder to make delicious homemade protein bars.
Due to its slow absorbing nature, casein-based powders are best consumed before going to bed because it can help with recovery after an intense workout. If consumed directly before going to sleep, it can provide essential amino acids while you are sleeping and aid with your body’s normal nighttime biological functions. And because casein has calcium and phosphate, this protein source has potential enamel strengthening abilities that can help your teeth fight against acid erosion and damage.
On the flip side, casein powder is not perfect. Recent studies note that casein containing A1 and A2 beta-casein has the ability to cause inflammation of the gut and digestive discomfort. So, as when adding any new component to your diet, proceed with careful consideration.
Ideally, casein is great for individuals who need longer recovery times. So, if you are a professional athlete, you should consider casein brands such as Dymatize Elite Casein Protein Powder.
If cooking up a couple of eggs in a frying pan doesn’t seem appealing to you, you might want to dive into egg protein powders, instead. Typically, when people decide to explore egg protein powders, they are looking to avoid consuming the yolk. The yolk of an egg is the yellow portion of the egg, which makes up about 34% of the liquid portion of the egg. It contains around 55 calories and is responsible for the emulsifying properties of the egg.
Most egg protein powders exclusively focus on extracting and maximizing the benefits of the egg white. The egg white, or albumen, accounts for 66% of the liquid weight of an egg. Healthwise, it contains more than half of the egg’s total protein, no fat, and about 17 calories. Although cooking egg whites arguably provides much of the same benefits as egg white protein powder, adding fat and seasoning as you cook eggs can diminish the egg white’s health benefits. To isolate the benefits of egg whites, many people choose to invest in protein powders that provide a concentrated version of egg whites.
An added benefit of incorporating more egg whites in one’s diet is a significant decrease in bacteria over time. A recent study showed that, when combined with chocolate milk, egg whites were seen to not inhibit the polymerization of coliforms, salmonella, mold, or yeast.
Since egg white protein is directly derived from egg whites, no fat or cholesterol is present in the protein powder. Egg white protein is also lactose-free. So it is a non-dairy protein powder option that suits individuals with a sensitivity to lactose.
It is critical to note that, while protein powder primarily composed of egg whites is high in protein, it is also low in essential vitamins and nutrients. In addition to the absence of egg fat and cholesterol, egg white proteins lack or contain relatively small amounts of certain key vitamins, such as:
It is important to be cautious with just relying on egg white protein to provide all of your nutritional protein needs. You’ll get the protein intake you desire, but you might also miss out on important micronutrients needed for your body to properly function. For example, if you opt for egg white protein, you will not be receiving any vitamin A from this dietary source. A deficiency in Vitamin A can lead to impairments in bone development, vision, reproduction, and skin.
After weighing the pros and cons of egg protein, you can decide if this is the right protein source for you. A good introductory brand to test out is It’s Just! Egg White Protein – Nothing Else! Not only is it keto-friendly, but it also provides you with a cheap launch into egg-based protein.
Vegetarians and vegans need not worry; there are plenty of plant-based protein powders that can help you acquire the protein you desire. Plant-based protein powders, like meat- or dairy-based protein powders, have the ability to provide you with the right amount of protein intake.
Traditionally, pea protein is made from the yellow pea (Pisum Sativum). During the manufacturing process, the outer shell of the pea is removed by mechanical action, and flour containing soluble fibers, starches, and proteins is obtained. Then, to isolate the protein, the solution is either precipitated at the isoelectric point at an abnormally high temperature, or it is brought to its isoelectric point and then solubilized using a dry spray.
Pea protein powder is an ideal protein powder for health. While low in calories, peas are a good source of Vitamin A, iron, folate, thiamin, Vitamin C, Vitamin K, and manganese. These vitamins are essential to maintaining a healthy metabolism and helping the body carry out its normal functions. Pea protein powder also is smooth on your gastrointestinal system, since it is easy to absorb. Unlike whey or egg whites, pea protein is not an allergen, and it is rare that individuals have adverse reactions to consuming it.
In addition, pea protein powder helps promote appetite control and thus helps with weight loss. With its high protein content, it is able to keep you fuller for longer. As opposed to the previously mentioned protein powders, pea protein powder is different in the sense of taste, texture, and processing. Protein powders such as egg, whey, or casein can sometimes be heavily processed, ridding them of their maximum nutrient potential. But pea protein powder is different. As well as being a bit less processed, its sweet flavor and less chalky texture can combine with other proteins for added nutritional benefits.
Besides its plethora of benefits, pea protein powder can be relatively high in sodium, so if you are on a low-sodium diet, it might be wise to moderate your use of this type of protein powder. Besides this one potential issue, pea protein powder is not associated with a lot of side effects. If you are looking to try this type of protein powder, consider Wholistic Botanicals Live Plant Pea Protein Vanilla Powder.
Another veggie protein source is hemp protein. There has been a lot of controversy over the use of hemp. But how many of us know exactly what hemp is?
First, let’s get one thing straight—hemp is not marijuana, so you do not have to worry about accidentally getting high while trying to get your recommended daily amount of protein. Rather, hemp is a variation of cannabis sativa that is used for food, body care, and fuel. On the health side, hemp has proven to be a great source of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids. Omega fatty acids are great contributors to our cardiovascular health. Also, recent studies have identified hempseed as having diversely expansive cardiac and vascular effects.
Hemp protein powder has endless benefits that are associated with its hempseed origin. For one, due to its globular protein components (edestin and albumin), it boosts your immune system. While this may be taken lightly, your immune system is responsible for protecting your body against foreign pathogens. So any strides you can make in improving its functionality can have great benefits for your health.
Furthermore, since hemp contains an abundance of fatty acids, when digested it is able to produce an excess amount of carbohydrates that can fuel your day. These fatty acids in hemp can also contribute to the protein strength of your hair. In addition, its ratio of fatty acids has been known to reduce inflammation, which is no easy feat. Inflammation occurs when the body’s white blood cells and other substances attempt to protect you from bacteria and viruses. This can lead to headaches and other serious medical conditions if not treated properly.
Despite its added benefits, ingesting too much hemp protein powder can have adverse effects on your liver, which may lead to excess nitrogen in your blood. This can also cause diarrhea, nausea, and even death in serious cases. As with any food or supplement in your diet, help protein powder should be used in moderation.
So, if you are on the market for a protein powder that is high in nutritional benefits and components such as fatty acids, hemp protein powder might be the one for you. It must be noted that if you are going to invest in hemp powder, a great introduction might be Nutiva Hemp Protein Powder.
Brown rice protein powder is a lactose-free vegan protein powder alternative. Outwardly, brown rice is distinguished from its counterpart, white rice, because of its dark coloration. Unlike white rice, brown rice maintains its color due to the fact that it is a whole grain that contains all the nutrients, carbohydrates, and antioxidants of natural rice. Additionally, unlike white rice, it has not been hulled, so it contains the three parts of the rice:
Brown rice protein powder is made by extracting brown rice and treating it with enzymes to produce a quality protein powder. Compared to other protein powder types, brown rice protein powder is an extremely beneficial protein powder to have in your cupboard. Brown rice is hypoallergenic, has a faster absorption rate than other protein powders, and is simply better tasting.
Those who choose brown rice protein powders may also see an improvement in their gastric digestion and a reduction in their cholesterol, which can aid weight loss.
But, unlike many of the protein powders mentioned before, brown rice protein powder does not have all nine essential amino acids that are not produced by the body. So, in terms of protein synthesis and repair, this type of protein powder might not be the most complete nutritional choice. In addition, if you are watching your carbohydrate intake, this might not be the type of protein you should opt for. Nevertheless, due to its palatable taste, brown rice protein powder can be used to make delicious treats including low sugar protein bars. A reputable brand to try if you are just diving into this type of protein powder is Naked Rice.
Mixed plant protein powders are a category of protein powders that combine with other plant-based proteins to give you added benefits. So you might find a plant-based protein powder that is mixed with hemp or pea. The beauty of this protein powder is that you can get the benefits from multiple protein sources at once, giving this supplement a more complete nutritional profile. A cheap but effective type of mixed plan protein powder that uses on pea and brown rice is Purely Inspired Organic Protein Shake Powder.
Protein powders are not only for bodybuilders. Nowadays, everyday people utilize this nutritional supplement to fulfill their dietary needs. Considering that protein powders are relatively new to the market, their effects on diet are not completely understood. Make sure you do your research and, in some cases, consult your physician before investing in this nutritional supplement.