Protein powder is having a moment. It’s been around for decades, but it has never been as ubiquitous as it is today. It’s at the gym, at the health food store… you can even buy protein powder at grocery and big box stores now! So what’s the deal? What is protein powder, and is it necessary? How do you know which one to choose?
This post explains the different types of protein powder so you can decide which one is right for you.
What is Protein Powder and Why is it Important?
You probably already know that protein helps you repair and build lean muscle mass, which is why the Paleo Diet and other high-protein protocols are so popular among athletes.
Protein molecules are made up of amino acids. When you consume dietary protein, your body rearranges the amino acids, creating new protein structures that help your muscles rebuild themselves bigger and stronger after a workout.
Ingesting protein is also shown to help people lose fat, partly because it is filling but contains relatively few calories. It also helps you maintain muscle mass, which is necessary for burning fat.
But protein does a lot more than just build muscles. It supplies your body with energy and helps repair and regulate the cells in every part of your body!
Our bodies use 22 different types of amino acids; 9 of them are considered “essential” and can only be obtained through dietary sources.
Most adults who eat a healthy, balanced diet get a sufficient amount of protein, but some people require supplements, such as those who:
- Want to build muscle
- Are trying to lose weight
- Need recovery support for sports injuries
- Choose vegan or vegetarian diets
Whether you’re working to increase strength, lose fat, or just improve your general health, a convenient way to increase your protein intake is to consume protein powder.
What are the Different Types of Protein Powder?
Protein powder is a concentrated source of protein that is derived from animal or plant foods that you can either drink as a shake or add to the foods you already eat (think peanut butter or oatmeal — you can even make protein powder pancakes).
Here are some of the most common types:
Whey protein powder is probably the most popular among weightlifters and other athletes. It is a complete protein source, which means it provides all of the 9 essential amino acids your body can’t make on its own. It also contains calcium, iron, potassium, phosphorus, and magnesium.
Whey is rich in branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs), including leucine, which plays a big role in muscle growth and recovery. It is digested quickly, it provides a rapid boost of amino acids helps increase muscle mass. Some studies suggest that whey protein may also reduce inflammation and improve some heart health markers.
Whey protein powder comes from dairy, so even though it loses most of its milk sugar during processing, it may not be ideal for people who have difficulty digesting lactose.
Casein protein also comes from milk, but is digested more slowly than whey. When casein interacts with stomach acid, it forms a gel that slows down the rate at which your stomach empties. This delays the absorption of amino acids into your bloodstream, resulting in a more steady exposure of your muscles to the amino acids.
Casein is also a complete protein source, and the delayed absorption means the protein-building benefits can last up to 7 hours.
Eggs are one of the best sources of high-quality protein you can eat. Egg protein powders are a complete protein, and are second only to whey in the amount of leucine they provide.
Egg protein powder is easily digested and is an excellent choice for people with dairy allergies. But because the powder is usually made from egg whites rather than whole eggs, it may not be as filling as other proteins.
Pea protein powder is made from the yellow split pea, which contains all but one of the essential amino acids, and is rich in BCAAs. It’s especially popular among vegans and people with dairy and egg allergies.
Studies suggest that pea protein may promote fullness and muscle growth just as effectively as animal-based proteins.
Soy protein powder is another good, plant-based option for vegans and other people who are dairy-free. Soybeans are legumes that are high in protein while being relatively low in fat.
Soy is a complete protein, especially high in arginine, phenylalanine, and tryptophan. It also naturally contains B vitamins, vitamin E, zinc, iron, phosphorus, and potassium.
How do I Choose the Best Protein Powder?
The first step to choosing the best protein powder is understanding its source and nutrient content, and how much it has been processed.
Protein concentrates are the least processed kind of protein powder. They are produced by extracting protein from the whole food using heat and acid or enzymes, and are usually composed of 60-80% protein and 20-40% fat and carbohydrates.
Protein isolates are made by removing more fat and carbs with additional filtering, which further concentrates the protein. Isolates typically contain 90-95% protein and are considered more pure, but are generally more expensive than concentrates because they have gone through more processing.
Protein hydrolysates are the most processed form of protein powder, and are produced by further heating, which breaks the bonds between amino acids. This process helps hydrolysates absorb more quickly in your body.
Choosing a protein powder is a matter of dietary preference and taste. Experiment with different types and flavors until you find the one that works best for you.
A good place to start is with the THRIVE Lifestyle Mix, a combination of whey, pea, and soy protein that contains our premium blend of vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, enzymes, and probiotics to fill in nutritional gaps and help you feel your best!