Pea Protein, Whey Protein, Egg Protein, Soy Protein, Brown Rice Protein, Casein Protein…Concentrates and Isolates… doesn’t it seem like there are hundreds of different protein powders out there?
That’s because there are!
In 2020, the market size was estimated at USD 18.91 BILLION. It’s understandable that picking the right protein powder can be overwhelming.
Today we’re breaking down the different types and how to determine the best one for you.
First, let’s talk about what protein powders are and break down the different types.
Protein powders are concentrated, powdered sources of protein that can come from plant sources (pea, soy, brown rice, hemp) or animal sources (whey, casein, egg). These powders can be helpful to those who are not able to meet their protein requirements through whole food proteins. Protein powder can also help aid in weight loss and muscle gain. However, those who get enough high-quality protein from their diet may not see a benefit to using protein powder.
There are three common forms of protein powders:
- Concentrates: Protein concentrates are 70-80% protein. The remaining 20-30% is made up of carbohydrates and fats.
- Isolates: Protein isolates are 90% protein or higher. Isolates are lacking the nutrients that a concentrate may provide, but are a good option for those who are looking to limit their carbohydrate intake. Additionally, if you choose a milk based protein, but struggle with lactose, this may be a better form as the additional processing removes more of the lactose.
- Hydrolysates: Hydrolysates are typically absorbed more quickly by your body and muscles. Hydrolysates are a mixture of different peptides and are produced by acid and alkaline hydrolysis, by heat treatment and by incubation with enzymes.
As mentioned above, there are several sources of protein powders. Below are a few of the most common, although there are more available.
Plant Based Protein Powders
Pea Protein: Although rich in amino acids and BCAA’s, pea protein is not a complete protein (it’s missing one amino acid!). However, this is a good option for those that are sensitive to dairy or eggs. Due to the high fiber content, pea protein may take longer to digest than animal based protein powders.
Brown Rice Protein: This is another great hypoallergenic option. However, brown rice protein is lacking in lysine to be considered a complete protein. Similar to pea protein, brown rice protein is high in fiber, so it may take longer to digest than animal based protein powders.
Hemp Protein: Hemp is rich in omega-3 fatty acids (tip: hemp seeds are great to sprinkle on salads and in smoothies for additional protein and omega-3’s!), however, it is not considered a complete protein because it is lacking in lysine and leucine.
Soy: Soy protein is a complete protein and is great for muscle growth. It’s important to note that some people can be sensitive to soy.
Blend: A blend of plant proteins is a great option and a way to get all of the amino acids for a complete protein.
Animal Based Protein Powders
Whey: During the cheesemaking process, whey is the liquid that separates from the curd. This protein is fast digesting and rich in BCAA’s. Whey is a complete protein consisting of all 9 amino acids. However, due to the lactose, some people may have difficulty digesting.
Casein: This protein is also found in milk. Compared to whey protein, casein is digested and absorbed slower by the body. Casein forms a gel when mixed with stomach acid, causing digestion to slow down.
Egg White: Egg white protein is a great option for those who prefer a dairy free protein and a complete protein. With the fatty egg yolk removed, this option may not keep you as full as some of the others.
Beef: Beef protein powder is protein that has been derived from parts of a cow. There are limited studies surrounding beef protein, but quality of the protein sources is of concern. Most beef protein powders provide a complete source of protein. However, beef protein is not absorbed by the body as well as the other options.
Do you have to use a protein powder?
Whew! That is a lot of information! After reading all of that, you may be wondering if you have to use a protein powder.
Protein from whole foods is ideal, as whole foods have other vitamins and minerals that are important for your health. However, if you’re not getting enough from whole food choices or have specific health goals that you’re trying to meet, then protein powders are a good supplement choice for you.
Not getting enough protein could cause you to lose muscle mass, have stress fractures, have a slower metabolism, cause you hair and nails to be brittle, and have a weakened immune system.
Another reason that someone may use a protein powder is simply for convenience. When we’re always on the go, it’s much easier to grab a protein shake then prepare a whole food.
It really comes down to your lifestyle and current diet to determine if a protein powder is right for you.
How to choose the right protein powder for you
When determining what protein powder is right for you, the first point to consider is the quality of the protein.
Understanding whether or not a protein powder is a complete or incomplete protein is important. A complete protein will contain all 9 essential amino acids, where an incomplete protein will be lacking in one or more. It’s important to know if the protein powder you choose is a complete protein, a blend making it a complete protein, or an incomplete protein that can still meet your protein needs by eating other protein types throughout your day.
Review the different protein options above and determine if you want a plant based or animal based powder. From there, consider any food intolerances, sensitivities, and/or dietary preferences. Just like whole foods, you’ll want to avoid protein powders that contain ingredients that do not agree with you.
It’s also important to review the other ingredients on the label. Just like most foods, the smaller the ingredient list – the better!
Often linked to obesity, diabetes, and inflammation; avoid sweeteners like surculose and aspartame. Look for natural sweeteners, such as honey, brown rice syrup, coconut sugar, etc., as healthy alternatives.
Protein powders are a great option if you’re struggling to meet your body’s protein needs. However, just like any food, it’s important to choose a quality powder that will support your nutrition.