When it comes to the wonderful world of supplements, protein powder is one of the few that should be considered a staple.
From a pure health perspective, higher protein intakes have been shown to increase satiety, enhance body composition, and improve numerous markers of health. And let us not forget that protein is the key macronutrient responsible for building muscle tissue.
As such, if your protein intake is insufficient, you are leaving gains on the table.
The kicker here is that actually eating enough protein on a daily basis can be a challenge, which is why protein powders are so useful. By providing a high portion of protein without a meaningful amount of fat or carbohydrates, they offer the perfect means of increasing your protein intake in a quick and effective manner.
But obviously there are many different types of protein powder on the market -- some of which are arguably better than others.
Different types of Protein Powder
As protein power has become more common amongst gym goers and the general public alike, there has been a rapid increase in the types of protein powders available. This has been done with the intent to meet the needs of everyone.
However, it can make it hard to know what is right for you.
Which is exactly why we want to give you some insight into what we believe are the six best types of protein powders, so you can make an educated decision.
1. Whey Protein Isolate
Whey protein powder is derived from dairy, and is what we would consider to be a complete protein source.
This is because it contains each of the nine essential amino acids that cannot be made in your body (and consequently must be obtained through diet), including the three branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs): leucine, isoleucine and valine.
All of which means it contains all the compounds your body needs to grow new muscle tissue.
Whey protein isolate is the most refined form of whey protein that you can get. Because of this, it contains very little carbohydrates and fat, and a lot of protein per serving. For example, the Amino Z isolate contains a whopping 90 grams of protein per 100 grams, for only 1.2 grams of carbohydrate and 1 gram of fat.
Within this it is also digested extremely quickly (within 30 minutes), making it a great option for your post-workout shake [1, 2].
2. Whey Protein Concentrate
You can think of whey protein concentrate as a less refined version of whey protein isolate -- because that's exactly what it is.
Whey protein concentrate is also derived from dairy, and is also a complete protein source. However, because it is less refined (it undergoes less processing than whey protein isolate), it contains slightly less protein and slightly more fat and carbohydrate per serve.
For example, the Amino Z concentrate contains 80 grams of protein, 6 grams of fat, and 7 grams of carbohydrates, per 100 grams of protein powder.
Because it is less refined, it is also digested at a slightly slower rate than isolate, although only by 20-30 minutes, which does not really have any practical relevance.
I should note that while whey protein concentrate does appear inferior to isolate, it does offer one main benefit that many people find appealing, in that it is cheaper. In fact, it is probably the cheapest source of protein powder on the market .
3. Casein Protein Powder
Next up we have Casein.
Like the two protein powders we have already discussed, casein is derived from dairy and offers a complete protein source. In this respect, its macronutrient content is very similar to whey protein concentrate (the Amino Z micellar casein contains 81.5 grams of protein, 5 grams of carbohydrates, and 1.3 grams of fat, per 100 grams of protein powder).
Where Casein is different from whey is in its digestion times .
Casein is much slower to digest, where it can take up to 5 hours to be broken down and absorbed by your digestive tract. This ensures a slow stream of protein into your bloodstream, making it the perfect option before bed.
4. Soy Protein Powder
One of the main issues people have with protein powders derived from both Casein and Whey is the fact that they come from Dairy. This makes them less suitable for people who are lactose intolerant, and completely unusable for people who follow plant based diets.
Which is right where soy protein enters the picture.
Soy protein powder, as you might expect, is made from soy.
More specifically, it is made from soybean flakes that have had their fatty components moved. They are then washed to remove their sugar and fibre content, before being dehydrated and turned into a powder.
Soy protein powder is one of the few plant based protein powders that is actually considered to be a complete protein. This ensures that it provides the full array of amino acids your body needs to build muscle .
Most unflavoured soy protein powders contain about 90 grams of protein, 2 grams of fats, and 1 gram of carbohydrate per 100 grams of powder. Moreover, a serving of soy protein will be digested in about 3 hours, making it a great choice pre-workout.
5. Rice Protein Powder
Next up we have rice protein powder.
This is another great plant based option that is perfect for people who have a sensitivity to dairy, or simply follow a plant based diet. Most commonly derived from brown rice, rice protein powder is becoming an increasingly popular source of protein due to its high bioavailability.
Now, something I do want to point out is that rice protein powder is the only option on this list that is not considered to be a complete protein source, because it contains very little of the amino acid “Lysine”.
However, it does contain all of the super important Branched Chain Amino Acids (leucine, isoleucine, and valine), meaning it covers all your bases from a muscle growth perspective.
One hundred grams of average rice protein powder contains 80 grams of protein, 2 grams of fat, and 6 grams of carbohydrates. And like the other plant based options on this list, it is digested in around 2-3 hours .
6. Pea Protein Powder
Last on the list we have pea protein.
Pea protein powder is also a complete protein source, meaning it gives your body all the nutrients it needs to build muscle. It’s macronutrient breakdown is also pretty good, with the Amino Z pea protein offering up 67. Grams of protein, 9 grams of fat, and 4 grams of carbs for every 100 grams.
Obviously this is not as good as whey, but that is to be expected.
In terms of digestibility, pea protein takes a bit longer to digest than whey (around 2-3 hours). This means rather than being slammed immediately after you workout, it should probably be taken before you start training .
Thanks to some huge advancements in food processing technology we now have a myriad of different protein powders available to us. This is particularly important for those who follow a plant based way of eating.
While the six protein powders on this list do not cover all the types of protein powders on the market, they do provide an excellent overview of the best ones -- giving you all the information you need to find one that is right for you.
- Dangin, Martial, et al. "Influence of the protein digestion rate on protein turnover in young and elderly subjects." The Journal of nutrition 132.10 (2002): 3228S-3233S.
- Hulmi, Juha J., Christopher M. Lockwood, and Jeffrey R. Stout. "Effect of protein/essential amino acids and resistance training on skeletal muscle hypertrophy: A case for whey protein." Nutrition & metabolism 7.1 (2010): 51.
- Hoffman, Jay R., and Michael J. Falvo. "Protein–which is best?." Journal of sports science & medicine 3.3 (2004): 118.
- Jäger, Ralf, et al. "Comparison of rice and whey protein osolate digestion rate and amino acid absorption." Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition 10.1 (2013): 1-2.