Protein powders are very popular among health conscious people.
There are many types of protein powders, made from a wide variety of sources.
Among the many options, it can be confusing to figure out which will provide the best results.
This article lists the most popular types of protein powder.
What Are Protein Powders?
Protein powders are concentrated sources of protein from animal or plant foods, such as dairy, eggs, rice or peas.
There are three common forms:
- Protein concentrates: These are produced by extracting protein from whole food using heat and acid or enzymes. They typically contain about 60–80% protein, with the remaining 20–30% of calories from fat and carbs.
- Protein isolates: These go through another filtering step that removes additional fat and carbs, further concentrating the protein. Protein isolate powders contain about 90–95% protein.
- Protein hydrolysates: These are produced by further heating with acid or enzymes, which breaks the bonds between amino acids. This allows your body to absorb them more quickly, and your muscles to take them up more easily.
Hydrolysates appear to raise insulin levels more than other forms, at least in the case of whey protein. This can enhance the muscle growth response to exercise.
Some powders are also fortified with vitamins and minerals, especially calcium.
It’s important to note that not everyone will benefit from taking supplements. If your diet is already rich in high-quality protein, you likely won’t see much difference simply by adding protein powder.
However, athletes and people who regularly lift weights may find that taking protein powder supplements helps them maximize muscle gain and fat loss.
Protein powders can also benefit individuals who find it difficult to meet protein needs with food alone, such as the ill, the elderly and some vegetarians or vegans.
1. Whey Protein
Whey protein comes from milk. During cheese-making, it is the liquid that separates from the curds. It’s high in protein, but also contains lactose, a milk sugar that many people have difficulty digesting.
Whey protein concentrate retains some lactose, but whey protein isolate contains very little because most of the lactose is lost during processing.
Whey is a quickly digested protein rich in branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs). Leucine, one of these BCAAs, plays a major role in promoting muscle growth and recovery following resistance and endurance exercise.
When amino acids are digested and absorbed into the bloodstream, they are available for muscle protein synthesis (MPS), or the creation of new muscle.
2. Casein Protein
Like whey, casein is a protein found in milk. However, casein is digested and absorbed much more slowly.
Casein forms a gel when it interacts with stomach acid, slowing down stomach emptying and delaying the absorption of amino acids into the bloodstream.
This results in a gradual, steadier exposure of the muscles to amino acids, reducing the rate of muscle protein breakdown.
Based on the results of most studies, casein appears to be more effective than soy and wheat protein — but not as effective as whey protein — at increasing muscle protein synthesis and strength.
However, one study suggests that when calories are restricted, casein may have an edge over whey in improving body composition during resistance training.
The study followed overweight men who consumed a diet providing 80% of their calorie needs. Some took casein protein and others were given whey protein.
Those who took casein protein had twice the reduction in fat mass, gain of lean mass and increase in chest strength as the whey protein group.
3. Egg Protein
Eggs are well-known for being an excellent source of high-quality protein.
Of all whole foods, eggs have the highest protein digestibility-corrected amino acid score (PDCAAS).
This score is a measure of a protein’s quality and how easily it is digested.
Eggs are also one of the best foods for decreasing appetite and helping you stay full for hours.
However, egg protein powders are typically made from egg whites rather than whole eggs. Although the protein quality remains excellent, feelings of fullness may be reduced when yolks are removed.
Like all animal products, eggs are a complete protein source. That means they provide adequate amounts of the 9 essential amino acids your body can’t make itself.
What’s more, egg protein is second only to whey protein as the highest source of leucine, the BCAA that plays the biggest role in muscle health.
Unfortunately, egg white protein hasn’t been studied as much as whey or casein.
In one study, it was shown to have less ability to reduce appetite than casein or pea protein when consumed before a meal.
In another, female athletes taking egg white protein experienced similar gains in lean mass and muscle strength as the carb-supplemented group.
Egg white protein could be a good choice for people with allergies to milk protein who prefer a supplement that’s based on animal protein.
4. Pea Protein
Pea protein powder is relatively new and especially popular among vegetarians, vegans and people with allergies or sensitivities to dairy or egg proteins.
It’s made from the yellow split pea, a high-fiber legume that contains high amounts of all the essential amino acids except for methionine.
Pea protein is also particularly rich in branched-chain amino acids.
A rat study found that pea protein was absorbed more slowly than whey protein, but faster than casein. Researchers also reported that its ability to trigger the release of the “fullness hormones” PYY, GLP-1 and CCK was comparable to dairy protein.
In a controlled study of 161 men who performed resistance training for 12 weeks, the group who consumed 50 grams of pea protein daily experienced similar increases in muscle thickness to the group who took 50 grams of whey protein per day.
In addition, a study found that humans and rats with high blood pressure experienced a decrease in blood pressure when they took pea protein supplements.
Though pea protein powder shows promise, more high-quality research is needed to confirm the results of these studies.