Protein powders are an extremely convenient means to increase your protein intake. Many people wonder, what are the different types of protein powder? If you’ve ever done a trawl of protein supplement sites, joined a gym with a food programme, or even read one of those healthy recipes, you’ll know that it can be overwhelming with the vast array of protein powder types that can be availed of. With that in mind, this article gives the answers that you’ve been looking for.

Are you looking for information on one of the best-selling supplements in the world? If so, you’ve come to the right place. Discover the various types of protein powder available. Find out what’s the difference between them and what protein powders are animal-based and which ones are suitable for a vegetarian or vegan food plan.

So whether you’re looking for an animal source of protein powder or a vegetarian/vegan protein powder, if you experience intolerances to some ingredients or you’re looking for a complete source of protein, then this guide is just what you need to educate you on the different types of protein powder to fit your needs.

What are the different protein powders? - Scoop of white protein powder

Whey Protein

This is certainly one of the most, if not the most popular protein powder on the market. It is derived from the components associated with turning milk into cheese (you’ve heard of curds and whey, right?). These curds and whey components are separated to make both whey and casein protein powder. Since it is an animal source of protein, whey protein provides all 9 essential amino acids, making it a complete source of protein. It also absorbs quickly into the body, making it an ideal post-workout supplement. Whey protein can be further categorised into the following types:

Whey protein concentrate: This type of whey protein contains low levels of fat and sugar, namely lactose. Depending on the quality of the protein powder, these ratios can vary based on the concentration of protein provided. For instance, a high-quality protein would contain 80-90% protein, whereas lower-quality proteins may only yield as much as 30% protein. The remainder of the protein powder is composed of fat and carbohydrates. Generally, this is the cheaper of the 3 whey protein types.

Whey protein isolate: This could be considered a more premium version of whey protein concentrate as it has been further processed to reduce the proportion of fat and lactose present. The percentage of protein present would generally be greater than 90%, and consequently, the price would also be higher than for whey protein concentrate.

Whey protein hydrostate: With this whey protein, it has undergone a process known as partial hydrolysis which involves changing the protein to a predigested form. Essentially, this makes it easier to digest. This type would be beneficial for people susceptible to allergies. This is often the most expensive type as it is considered the most elite of the 3 whey protein types.

Did you know? Flavoured protein powders are generally slightly lower in protein than the unflavoured protein powders. In a sample of protein powders reviewed, this equated to 3g less protein per 100g present in the flavoured version and as much as 5g less protein per 100g in chocolate flavoured protein powders.

What are the different protein powders? - Woman holding protein shake beside dumbbells

Casein Protein

Similar to whey powder, casein originates from milk; it is formed from the curds, which are the solid constituents that are separated from the whey. In comparison to whey protein, casein is absorbed slower and over a longer period of time. This is why many people opt for casein protein shakes before bedtime, or if they’ll be going an extended time without eating.

In a study performed on 16 males who perform regular, intense workouts, the group of males who consumed 40g casein protein before bed achieved a 22% greater muscle protein synthesis when compared with a control group who were given a placebo.

What are the different protein powders? - Powder stacked on table

Egg Protein

You probably won’t be shocked to hear that egg protein powder is derived from eggs. To be more precise, it is created by separating the egg yolk from the egg white and dehydrating the egg white. This is another complete protein source. It yields on average 80% protein, and is typically more expensive than whey protein. It’s a good selection for people who are intolerant to lactose, however, it may not be suitable for people with allergies to eggs.

It’s worth bearing in mind that studies conducted on egg protein are limited. One study conducted assessed the effects of supplementing with egg white protein compared with supplementing with carbohydrates in a group of female athletes. It found that there was limited variations between supplementing with the egg protein supplement or the carbohydrate supplement.

What are the different protein powders? - Eggs stacked in a line

Beef Protein

With the advent of paleo diets on the rise, a growth in beef protein availability has also been observed. Beef protein is manufactured by boiling beef in vats, the liquid that arises from this process is skimmed off and carbohydrates and fats are removed to leave a higher-protein concentration. Generally, you will find beef protein in a hydrolysed form. For that reason, any beef protein powders that I researched yielded a high protein content, typically 97% or greater.

The main disadvantage associated with beef protein is that it contains a much lower percentage of leucine, an amino acid that is primarily responsible for supporting muscle protein synthesis. Additionally, the bioavailability of beef protein is lower when compared with whey protein. In terms of cost, it turns out to be slightly cheaper than whey protein. For people following a paleo diet, those seeking an alternative to whey protein, people with allergies to lactose, eggs, gluten and soy, beef protein could certainly tick the box.

What are the different protein powders? - Chocolate protein scoop

Soy Protein

Soy protein is generated from the soybean. The bean is hulled and dried into soy flour, it is then concentrated or isolated. Unlike most plant-based protein powders, it does provide all 9 essential amino acids. Soy protein powder studies have proposed that it is an inferior source of protein compared to whey protein powder.

A study was conducted on the effects of whey protein when compared with soy protein on muscle growth in young men. The experiment observed a 31% greater muscle protein synthesis in the group who consumed whey protein. Interestingly, muscle protein synthesis was found to be greater with soy protein during rest after resistance training when compared with supplementing with casein protein.

Soy protein is often shunned in the bodybuilding world due to the presence of phytoestrogens, which is thought to increase oestrogen and suppress testosterone in the body. In comparison to whey protein, soy protein is a nice bit cheaper. It’s a useful source of protein for those intolerant to lactose, gluten, eggs and those following vegetarian and vegan diets.

What are the different types of protein powder? - Soybeans in a woven bag

Pea Protein

This protein is a plant-based protein that is generated from the yellow split pea. It is often considered a complete source of protein, although it is low in 1 of the 9 essential amino acids, namely methionine. This can be supplemented by consuming foods rich in methionine, such as eggs, fish, beef or brown rice. It also boasts an impressive branched chain amino acids profile.

Pea protein seems to be relatively cheap too, which makes it a popular plant-based protein choice. It’s an ideal selection for vegetarians, vegans and those with lactose, egg, gluten and soy allergies.

Tip: Achieve a complete protein source by mixing pea protein with brown rice protein.

What are the different types of protein powder? - Spoon of chocolate protein powder

Hemp Protein

Hemp protein is derived from the seeds of the cannabis plant, and separated from the intoxicating THC compound, which is present in marijuana. It contains almost all of the 9 essential amino acids, however, it is not a complete protein source as it contains low levels of lysine and leucine. It is rich in omega 3 and 6 essential fatty acids and is also well-digested.

Hemp protein powder is generally more expensive than whey protein powder. Limited research is available to date on the effectiveness of hemp protein on muscle synthesis. It’s a popular choice of protein amongst vegetarians, vegans, those with intolerances to gluten, lactose and dairy products.

What are the different types of protein powder? - Scoop of hemp protein powder

Brown Rice Protein

You may be surprised to hear that brown rice is not only a carbohydrate source, it is also a source of protein. On average, it contains approximately 80% protein, which is comparable to the likes of whey protein concentrate. It is an incomplete source of protein; even though it contains all 9 essential amino acids, it is low on lysine. To achieve a complete protein source, you can combine brown rice protein with pea protein as they both complement each other. It is hypoallergenic too which means that it is easily digested.

A study comparing the effects of whey protein consumption with brown rice protein consumption on muscle protein synthesis was conducted over 8 weeks on young, fit males who participated in resistance exercise 3 times a week. The study concluded that both protein sources exhibited positive effects on body composition and exercise performance; however, no variations were observed between the two groups in terms of whey protein being superior to brown rice protein. It’s worth noting that research into the effectiveness of brown rice protein is limited, as was the duration of this study.

Brown rice is generally the same price as whey protein. Brown rice is an optimal choice of protein for vegetarians and vegans, people who experience allergies to eggs, lactose, dairy, gluten and soy. Additionally, it is well-suited to people who experience digestive issues, as brown rice is easily digested.

What are the different types of protein powder? - Brown rice in mason jar

Mixed Plant Protein

Vegan protein blends are a popular choice for people who are seeking to consume a complete protein source. It generally contains a mixture of 2 or more various vegan protein sources, which could include anything from pea, hemp, chia seeds, flaxseed, quinoa, brown rice, pumpkin to fava beans. The composition and ingredients will vary between manufacturers and flavour, so your best bet is to check the ingredients.

Vegan protein blends are marginally more expensive than whey protein concentrate and are often lower in protein too, e.g. I have observed as much as 9g – 15g less protein in vegan protein blends compared with whey protein powders. They are a suitable protein source if you’re looking for a powder with a complete protein profile, people following vegetarian and vegan diets and those with intolerances to other sources of protein, such as milk and egg.

What are the different types of protein powder? - Bag of plant protein powder with strawberry smoothie

I am slowly but surely working my way through Myprotein impact whey protein powders, and the only reason it’s taking me so long is because I avail of their 5kg packs which lasts me ages and are also a steal at the price they sell for. There’s almost always a deal on when I’m buying them, so I’ve made even greater savings of 40% + every now and then.

What I love about the product is the sheer volume of flavours to choose from. There’s 50 flavours to be precise, I had to count them out of curiosity. I’ve already tried natural strawberry, vanilla, banana, cookies and cream, rocky road and I’m currently working my way through vanilla and raspberry. At least I know I can expect quality and quick delivery from this reputable brand. What would be your flavour of choice?

Summary

  • Animal protein powder sources, such as whey, casein, egg and beef are complete protein sources
  • Plant-based protein powders may be complete protein sources if they are a blend of various sources
  • Soy protein powder is the main plant-based protein powder that has a complete source of protein
  • Flavoured protein powders are usually lower in protein (3g less protein) than unflavoured versions
  • Chocolate protein powders are generally even lower (as much as 5g less protein compared with unflavoured powders)
  • The ingredients and the protein content of protein powders vary amongst brands, protein powder types, and flavours

I hope this guide has helped to demystify the ambiguity surrounding the vast array of protein powders available today. At the end of the day, they all endeavour to provide a means of increasing protein intake in a convenient way. The primary distinctions between them include whether they are an animal or plant-based protein, their protein content and availability, their effectiveness to induce muscle protein synthesis and their suitability for people who are intolerant to various ingredients, such as lactose, eggs, soy, and gluten. If you don’t have any of these dietary requirements or intolerances, whey protein powder is likely the best choices to make since it is one of the most researched powders available.

Are you interested in other ways of using protein powder, other than just as a protein shake? Then you’ll need to learn a few essential facts to make sure it’s not dry or lumpy. Fortunately, here’s an article I recently posted that will guide you effortlessly towards culinary success and avoid the ultimate mistakes when cooking with protein powder: how to cook with protein powder – vital tips for success

Do you supplement with protein powders? If so, what type do you opt for? Do you use it as a protein shake or do you add it to food too? I’d love to hear your thoughts and feedback.

What are the different types of protein powder? - Woman making protein shake

Sources

Bulk.com. 2020. BULK POWDERS® Ireland | Bodybuilding & Whey Protein Supplements. [online] Available at: https://www.bulk.com/ie/ [Accessed 8 August 2020].

Happy Way. 2020. HOW TO USE HEMP PROTEIN POWDER: THE BEST WAYS TO REAP THE BENEFITS. [online] Available at: https://www.happyway.com.au/blogs/news/how-to-use-hemp-protein-powder [Accessed 8 August 2020].

Hida, A., Hasegawa, Y., Mekata, Y., Usuda, M., Masuda, Y., Kawano, H. and Kawano, Y., 2012. Effects of Egg White Protein Supplementation on Muscle Strength and Serum Free Amino Acid Concentrations. Nutrients, 4(10), pp.1504-1517.

Nordqvist, J., 2017. Whey Protein: Health Benefits, Side Effects, And Dangers. [online] Medicalnewstoday.com. Available at: https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/263371#types [Accessed 8 August 2020].

Smith, D., 2015. The Ultimate Guide To Protein Supplements. [online] Greatist. Available at: https://greatist.com/fitness/protein-supplement-nutrition-guide#8 [Accessed 8 August 2020].

Spritzler, F., 2018. The 7 Best Types Of Protein Powder. [online] Healthline. Available at: https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/best-protein-powder#section6 [Accessed 8 August 2020].

Tang JE, Moore DR, Kujbida GW, Tarnopolsky MA, Phillips SM. Ingestion of whey hydrolysate, casein, or soy protein isolate: effects on mixed muscle protein synthesis at rest and following resistance exercise in young men. J Appl Physiol (1985). 2009;107(3):987-992. doi:10.1152/japplphysiol.00076.2009

The Lockerroom. 2019. Is Beef Protein Isolate Better Than Whey Isolate? | The Lockerroom. [online] Available at: https://ie.theproteinworks.com/thelockerroom/is-beef-protein-isolate-better-than-whey-isolate/ [Accessed 8 August 2020].

Ultimate Performance. 2017. The Different Types Of Protein Powder Explained. [online] Available at: https://upfitness.com/diet/nutrition/different-types-protein-powder-explained/ [Accessed 8 August 2020].

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8 Comments

AJ · 09/08/2020 at 8:23 PM

I use whey protein all the time, BUT I had no idea that the flavored ones actually have less protein. I love reading stuff like this online, it is so helpful. Which one do you use and you like the most? Excellent read too, keep up the great work.

    Sharon · 11/08/2020 at 9:00 PM

    Hi there,

    Good to hear, I’m glad you found out something new and possibly valuable! If you are concerned about the slight loss in protein, you could either opt for the higher quality protein or simply opt for unflavoured protein powders. Oh I love so many flavours, raspberry and vanilla is my current flavour, I also like cookies and cream, I still need to work my way through the other flavours!

    Thanks for the feedback.

    Best wishes,
    Sharon

Russ · 09/08/2020 at 9:04 PM

This is an extremely informative article. I have always struggled to find the right protein to help me grow in regards to putting on muscle. I am naturally a skinny person and I struggle to put on weight. I have taken some excellent tips from your site. Would you be able to advise me on the best protein to help me put on size please?

    Sharon · 11/08/2020 at 9:03 PM

    Hi Russ,

    Thank you so much! I’m glad you found it valuable and enjoyed it! That is, after all, one of my key goals. Being a hard-gainer is something I can sympathise with you on, some people seem to just look at a dumbbell and put on muscle, others then aren’t so fortunate! Any protein powder would work, I’d opt for whey protein powder and maybe see the assistance of a nutritional coach to guide you towards the macros you should consume to reach your goals.

    Hope this helps!
    Thanks for the feedback.

    Best wishes,
    Sharon

Andy · 10/08/2020 at 4:11 AM

Hi Sharon and thanks for sharing this very informative article. I didn’t realize that there are so many options out there. I’ve been taking the Nutrisystem powder for a while now but I find if I have it more than once every other day, it has a diuretic effect. I thought for a while that this was deliberate to create the impression of weight loss, but maybe it is just one of the ingredients that doesn’t agree with me. Your article led me to think I should do some more research and try out some of the other options. I would prefer to avoid the beef-based variety, but I am very glad to learn that there are so many other viable alternatives. Thanks again and best regards, Andy

    Sharon · 11/08/2020 at 9:06 PM

    Hi Andy,

    Thank you so much, I’m glad you enjoyed the post. It can cause your stomach to feel unsettled, I know if that happens to me, I cut back on my use and opt for another natural protein source, e.g. meat, yoghurt. If that still causes issues, it could be something to do with your bodily response to certain ingredients. I once changed just the brand and the issue never recurred. That’s certainly worth doing, I’d love to hear if you get to the bottom of it!

    If there’s anything I can be of assistance with, don’t hesitate to reach out!

    Best wishes,
    Sharon

Matt · 11/08/2020 at 3:08 PM

Hi Sharon,

Thanks for this article sharing us with various sources of protein, to be honest, I didn’t know some protein products exist before I read your article today. So, I kinda learned something new today, thanks for it.

I work out at least twice a week, after each session, I will have some whey protein concentrate to help my muscle to grow. I tried to choose the kind that I won’t have a bad reaction because I know people have diarrhea or get acne after taking certain whey protein. But overall speaking, they work quite well for me and will love to try Myprotein when I finish the one I have at my place.

Thanks for sharing,
Matt

    Sharon · 11/08/2020 at 9:08 PM

    Hi Matt,

    Thank you so much, I’m glad you enjoyed the suggestions I provided in the post. I hope you found some options to try, I personally love finding new foods to try. It’s good to hear that you’re getting on well with your post-workout supplement, keep up the good work.

    If there’s anything I can be of assistance with, don’t hesitate to reach out!

    Best wishes,
    Sharon

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