What protein powder is best for you?

By Gavin Van De Walle
Dietetic Intern with Lizzie Kasparek, MS, RD, CSSD, LN Sports Dietitian

Shopping for your significant other is difficult. But have you ever tried shopping for protein powders?

019056-02481P Profile Perform Product Containers-03_10_2017-RetouchedSome powders are animal based and others plant, some digest quick while others slow, and some proteins are made from concentrate and others isolate.

And last but not least, you have to guess which flavor you might like the best.

To make your protein buying decision easier, here is a breakdown of the most common protein powders on the market.

Concentrate, Isolate and Hydrolysate

The two most common types of protein processing are concentrate and isolate. Protein concentrate is usually 80% protein and the remaining 20% consists of lactose, fat, minerals, and moisture. Protein isolate is the purest — and most expensive — option.

Isolates contains between 90-95% of protein and contains little to no lactose, making it a good option for those who are lactose intolerant.

Concentrate or isolate are available in a hydrolyzed form, which means the proteins are broken down into smaller parts for faster absorption.

But shelling out the extra dough for the isolate or hydrolyzed protein won’t necessarily give you better results.

  1. Whey Protein

Whey protein powder is the most popular choice on the market. It is derived from milk and is the liquid byproduct of cheese making. It is quickly absorbed by the body, making it useful before or after your workout.

Whey protein contains the greatest amounts of leucine, the amino acid that is directly involved in the process that builds your muscles and allows you to get stronger.

Beyond the leucine, whey protein also contains bioactive proteins that may offer other health benefits.

  1. Casein Protein

Unlike the rapidly digested whey protein, casein digests much slower. When consumed, casein forms gels which takes your body approximately six to seven hours to digest it.

In fact, this is why casein proteins were historically used to make glue. Per scoop, casein protein offers up to 60% of you recommended daily allowance (RDA) for calcium.

If you are allergic to milk, you might want to forgo the casein as the allergic response tends to be greater with casein than whey.

  1. Soy Protein

Soy protein is one of the few plant proteins that contains all the essential amino acids, making it a complete protein source for vegetarians.

Essential amino acids cannot be made by your body, so they must come from your diet. Soy protein, however, contains isoflavones, which can act like the female sex hormone estrogen in the body.

For this reason, men fear that soy protein can decrease testosterone levels. Some research supports this, while other research does not.

  1. Rice and Pea Protein

Unlike soy, rice and pea proteins are do not contain all the essential amino acids. Combining them however, makes them a complete protein (one that contains all the essential amino acids).

These proteins are also low allergenic making them appealing to people with egg, dairy or soy allergies.

Interestingly, the combined amino acid profile of rice and pea protein is similar to whey protein making it a great vegan alternative.

  1. Egg Protein

Egg protein powders are made with pure egg white protein, making them low in fat and calories. But, that also means you’re missing out on the yolk which is where all the important nutrients are.

These powders digest at a medium rate, which will keep you satisfied longer than a faster digesting protein. But egg protein powders are one of the most expensive protein supplements on the market.

  1. Hemp Protein

Hemp protein is made from the hemp seed. To clarify the strain of hemp that is used is low in the chemical THC, which is responsible for marijuana’s physiological effects.

Hemp protein is commonly marketed for its content of hearty healthy omega-3 fatty acids. However, the omega-3 fatty acids only contribute around 10% of overall calories.

The omega-3 fatty acids also come from alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), which is not the omega-3 fatty acid found in fish oil (EPA and DHA).

But hemp protein does contain a greater amount of fiber relative to other protein supplements.

Overall Picture

Protein powder supplements are just that – they’re supplements. They shouldn’t replace the whole food in your diet nor are they necessarily needed.

However, they are a convenient – and often tasty – way to increase your protein intake.