Different types of Protein Powder
Whey protein is the fluid protein portion of milk after it has been separated from the curd, more commonly known in the process of making cheese. Curds and whey? This fluid is then dried and powdered to make whey protein powder which in its basic form is called whey concentrate and is around 80% protein. Whey concentrate is a cheap, rapidly absorbed protein with all 20 of the amino acids (building blocks of proteins). This makes it a high quality and affordable protein supplement option. Whey protein is probably the most well researched protein powder and has been found to help with muscle growth and repair (1) and may increase fat loss and improve muscle retention whilst on a fat loss diet (2).
If you like your protein powder to have less fat, carbohydrate, lactose (milk sugar) and calories or pack a higher protein punch you may want to choose whey protein isolate instead. This is whey protein that has been further processed to remove more fat and sugars, making it around 90% protein. For this reason whey isolate tends to be more expensive than whey concentrate. Ultimately, it comes down to personal preference because quite honestly it is unlikely you will see a physiological difference between using either concentrate or isolate.
Casein is also derived from milk, however it is typically digested and absorbed much slower than whey protein. Casein thickens in the stomach and takes much longer to break down therefore the amino acids (building blocks of protein) reach the bloodstream slowly but can be sustained for a longer period of time. This is not as useful for rapid recovery and muscle growth so you wouldn’t necessarily want to take it first thing in the morning or after a training session. However it may have huge benefits for those dieting, to keep them fuller for longer and allow amino acids to stay in the system for longer periods in between meals. It has also gained popularity as a pre-bed protein option. Casein can keep amino acids circulating and therefore reduce the risk of muscle loss overnight. Now most people aren’t suddenly losing muscle overnight however those with high protein requirements, consuming limited food or carrying out large amounts of weight training may benefit. There is no obvious downside to using casein so if you fit into one of these groups and you’re curious, you might as well try it.
Plant based proteins
Plant based proteins are, as the name suggests, derived from plants. These include proteins predominantly from grains, legumes or seeds such as rice, pea, hemp seed, chia seed or sunflower seed. Plant based proteins are ideal for those wanting to avoid eating animal products such as vegans. They have the added benefit of being lactose free for those with lactose intolerance. Plants by nature tend to provide a lower quality protein because they are often missing 1 or more of the 20 amino acids which make up protein molecules. They also typically have lower levels of amino acids, such as leucine, and for that reason may not be as effective at triggering muscle growth.
Protein blends are a mixture of different types of protein and may even be superior by covering multiple bases in one supplement. For example, whilst single ingredient plant based proteins don’t tend to contain all 20 amino acids, a blend using different plant sources which compliment each other to ultimately contain all 20 is a superior product. Plant blends can therefore contain more and higher amounts of amino acids, perhaps even to compete with animal based proteins. Protein blends may also include fast absorbing whey proteins and slow absorbing casein proteins to give muscles a rapid hit of amino acids for growth and a slow release of amino acids to support ongoing recovery. Blending proteins can also reduce the price of products whilst still producing a high quality product, for example, blending whey isolate with whey concentrate and egg protein (albumin).
There are many different types of protein powders. The most popular are whey concentrate, whey isolate, casein, plant based protein and protein blends.