There are various types of protein powder, but the two most commonly used protein powders are whey (isolate and concentrated) and casein. Both of these are milk based proteins. Other proteins such as egg white, soy and plant based proteins such as hemp are also available. I’ll be describing each of these below.
Whey is a by-product of cheese production. The liquid that is left when cheese is made is dried and used as whey protein powder. Whey Isolate is different from whey concentrate as it is micro-filtered to remove the lactose creating a one of the purest proteins available. It also has one of the highest amino acid profiles and has the fastest absorption rate of any of the proteins. It therefore makes it ideal to take after a workout. A good whey isolate product can contain around 90% protein content with very little fat. Being as it is so pure and has had the lactose removed it is very easy on the stomach and as long as you buy a good quality product (see my reviews) you shouldn’t get any bloating or other adverse effects.
Due to it’s high amino acid score, protein efficiency ratio and biological value (see table at bottom of page) it is one of the most popular types of protein around. It also mixes very well and is easily digestible. Being a “fast” protein it stimulates protein synthesis (anabolic) . After a workout muscle protein breaks down. If the synthesis of new muscle is greater than the breakdown of muscle protein, you will see gains in muscle mass. That’s why it is useful to take after a workout.
Similar to whey isolate, but not as pure. It contains lactose and higher amounts of fat. It also has a smaller protein content usually only as high as 75% as opposed to 90% in whey isolate. It can also be less easy to mix, so I’d advise using a blender rather than just shaking in a bottle. The big advantage whey concentrate has over whey isolate is price – it is cheaper. It’s still not a bad product to take if you want to save the money, just make sure you read the label for any hidden nasties like fillers, excessive amounts of salt and sugar or lots of artificial additives. Another alternative if you want to save money is a blended whey product which contains both types of whey, this will usually be cheaper than a pure whey isolate product.
Casein is also derived from milk and is the curd that forms when milk sours. Casein is a “slow” protein. It takes between 3 and 4 hours to reach a peak in blood amino acids and protein synthesis and can continue for a period of around 7 hours. It is therefore a good product to take in the mornings or just before bed. As the majority of muscle repairing and rebuilding takes place at night having a slow absorbing and constant supply of protein over a 7 hour period is very beneficial to increasing muscle mass. Casein is known as anti-catabolic and means that it prevents excessive protein breakdown. Therefore it makes sense to take both whey and casein proteins either separately or in a blended protein. I suggest taking them separately as there is some evidence that taking them together will hinder the absorption of the whey protein taking longer for it to be absorbed.
Casein is slightly more expensive than whey protein and if you afford it, it is better to go for the Miscellar Casein protein rather than the cheaper and lower quality Calcium Caseinate. It is also better to use a blender to mix casein as it can come out clumpy if you just shake it in a bottle.
Egg protein is made from the whites of eggs, so is very low in fat and is obviously lactose free – good for anyone who is lactose-intolerant. It has the highest amino acid profile, the highest protein efficient ratio (PER) and a very high biological value (BV) – just behind whey protein.
Egg Protein provides a complete profile of essential amino acids, branched chain amino acids and glutamic acid. Once egg protein is in your system, it is completely absorbed by your body. It absorbs less slowly than whey, but faster than casein. Typically taking between 1.5 – 3 hours and is good for taking in between meals. It is however the most expensive protein powder, it does tend to clump when mixing and isn’t always the best tasting protein (although there are exceptions). This is probably why it isn’t as popular as whey or casein protein powders, although it is the most complete.
Soy protein is derived from the soya bean. It is very low in fat, cholesterol and is lactose free making it an ideal product for vegetarians or vegans. It also provides antioxidant effects. It offers a complete amino acid profile and is fast absorbing – ideal for taking just after a workout.
It’s easily digestible as well. It is around the same price as whey protein so it is one of the cheaper proteins. It does tend to be a bit gritty when you mix it and you will need a blender to mix it thoroughly. Taste-wise, it can leave a bit of an after taste especially if mixed with water. One word of warning though, Isoflavones, the active compounds in soy, have been shown to raise estrogen levels in men and to negatively impact thyroid function when consumed in high amounts.
Plant protein is ideal is you are a vegetarian, vegan, lactose intolerant or have an egg allergy. The 3 main types are: hemp, pea and brown rice. Hemp is high in quality protein and also contains dietary fiber and fats. Hemp powders can contain upto 50% protein (so not as high as animal based products), but it more digestible and contains all the essential acids. It also regulates insulin and blood sugar and is rich in magnesium. make sure you go for the cold-milled versions if you can as it is a more pure product. It mixes easily and tastes OK. On the downside it is the most expensive of all the proteins powders.
Pea protein has the highest protein content of all animal proteins (85 – 90%)and is fast absorbing – again this makes it ideal as a post workout protein shake. It’s also easy on the stomach and completely digestible. It’s amino acid profile is very close to the ideal for human consumption. It is also the cheapest of all the proteins. It would be no.1 choice for a plant based protein powder
Brown rice also has a very high protein content (up to 80%), almost as high as pea protein. It’s also easily digestible. Due to the way it is manufactured, the powder is quite gritty, although it does mix OK. Taste wise, it is one of the worst, especially the natural unfavored varieties. It is cheaper than the hemp protein, but more expensive than the pea protein and overall is around midway price wise if you include all the different protein powders.
As can be seen from this article there are several different types of protein powder that should suit just about all diets. From vegetarians to vegans to people with dairy or soy intolerance and everyone in between.