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Your Guide to the Different Types of Protein Powder

Protein powder continues to be one of the most widely used supplements on the market. There's little room to question why, with its numerous fitness, health, and wellness benefits on offer. However, if you're new to the protein supplement game, it can all be a bit overwhelming.

You’ll hear about numerous brands and types of protein, many of which are made from various sources. We’ve put together a guide to help you navigate the types of protein available. Our goal is to eliminate some of the confusion surrounding protein options so you can select the products that best meet your goals and needs. 

Table of Contents

    Why is Protein Important?

    Person holding leg to stretch in coral leggings

    First, let’s make sure you have a clear understanding of why protein is essential to your overall health and wellness. After all, protein supplements aren’t just for weightlifters and athletes.

    Protein is a macronutrient that plays an essential role in supporting the health and functioning of your body. From your immune system to your muscles, protein is vital in building and maintaining various areas throughout your body.

    Protein consumption provides a way for oxygen and nutrients to be carried throughout your blood. In addition, your body relies on protein to keep it fueled, protected, and primed for growth.

    Among athletes and fitness buffs, protein is known for building muscle and supporting quick, effective workout recovery.

    How Much Protein Do I Need?

    There are approximately 10-20 grams of protein in an average meal. However, the recommended protein intake that the average active individual should consume is 1.2-2.0 grams per kilogram of body weight. This equates to around 90-150 grams per day if you weigh roughly 75 kg.

    Protein supplements are ideal for athletes, weightlifters, or anyone with a chronic illness, as their bodies require higher daily protein intakes. In addition, athletes in training will often benefit from bumping up to twice the recommended protein intake for optimal performance.

    What Are Protein Powders?

    Protein powders are concentrated sources of protein that are made from plant or animal sources. Protein powders offer a quick, convenient way to deliver nutrients to the body, usually in an assortment of flavours. Implementing the right high-quality protein powder into your daily routine can support your workouts, muscle growth, weight loss, and more.

    Who Should Take Protein Powders?

    Diesel Protein Powder

    There are plenty of great reasons to consider adding protein powder to your routine. The health, wellness, and fitness benefits make protein powders rewarding for anyone interesting in stepping up their game.

    In addition to the incredible muscle gains and workout recovery stories you may hear, protein offers additional rewards. Protein powders provide a convenient way to maintain nutritional balance. They’re fortified with essential vitamins and minerals, providing necessities like calcium, which most people lack.

    Amino acids are the building blocks of protein and muscle mass. Unfortunately, many nonanimal-based protein sources lack the essential amino acids necessary to keep your body functioning optimally. Protein powders bridge the gap for non-meat eaters, keeping their bodies healthy and strong.

    Protein powders are also beneficial if you:

    • want to build muscle
    • are increasing your workout intensity or sessions per day/week
    • are training for a marathon
    • are recovering from an injury
    • are experiencing unexplained fatigue
    • have been noticing unusual weakness during weightlifting or other strenuous activities
    • have been experiencing slower than the usual recovery time
    • are starting a new fitness routine
    • recently started working out for the first time
    • just started a new diet
    • have a goal is to lose weight

    Types of Protein Powders

    Before you grab just any protein powder, there are a few considerations to make. First, knowing and understanding the different types of protein powders available will help you select a product that meets your needs.

    Protein powders may have different amino acid profiles, digestion rates, or ingredients restricted from your diet. We’ve put together a helpful reference guide to walk you through the main differences between the various types of protein powder.

    Types of protein powder include:

    ON Gold Standard 100% Casein Protein Powder

    Animal-Based Protein

    • Whey
    • Casein
    • Milk
    • Egg
    • Bone Broth 

    Plant-Based Protein

    • Soy
    • Pea
    • Hemp

    Additional Protein Options

    • Hydrolysate
    • Brown Rice
    • Mixed Plants

    Animal-Based Proteins

    Animal proteins offer a complete source of protein. In addition, they provide an abundance of specific nutrients you will be unable to match in a plant-based protein.

    Abundant nutrients in animal proteins include:

    • vitamin D
    • omega-3 fatty acid DHA
    • zinc
    • vitamin B12
    • heme-iron 

    Whey Protein Powder

    Limitless Pharma Whey Protein

    Whey protein is one of the most popular protein powder supplements you’ll find. Simply put, whey is the liquid portion of milk that separates when making cheese. The isolation of the proteins within that whey is what makes up the protein supplements on the market.

    Each goal you set for yourself requires different proteins to achieve it. When you add whey to your daily routine, you open the door to an array of proteins that support more than just muscle gain goals. The abundance of proteins in combination with cysteine provides a range of health benefits.

    Cysteine is a powerful amino acid and a potent antioxidant that helps:

    • lower levels of stress and depression
    • decrease blood sugar levels
    • decrease blood pressure
    • increase bone density

    Whey Protein is King

    Whey protein is known as the king of protein sources because it is a complete protein. A food must contain all nine essential amino acids to be classified as a complete protein source.

    The protein king is also a nutrient-dense food. For example, whey is easily absorbed and digestible for those who can tolerate dairy, making amino acids readily available for quick muscle recovery and growth rewards. 

    Whey Protein Builds Muscle

    man holding dumbbell behind head

    Whey protein powder supplements can make significant improvements to your muscle mass. Following your workout, protein and amino acids get to work building muscle.

    Adding a whey supplement to your post-workout is one of the quickest ways your body will absorb protein. As a result, it plays a huge role in maximizing your gains during the anabolic window.

    Whey supplements can produce incredible results because they’re packed with leucine, the amino acid responsible for protein synthesis. This process uses the protein you’ve absorbed to begin stacking muscle. Whey then stimulates hormones like insulin and directs your body to enhance muscle mass.

    Additional benefits of whey protein include:

    • relief from IBS symptoms
    • weight loss support through keeping you feeling full longer
    • lowering of blood pressure
    • blood sugar moderation
    • reduction in inflammation throughout your body

    The Cons of Whey Protein

    Unfortunately, the separation process makes whey a highly processed food. Just be aware that your whey may contain higher levels of sugar and saturated fat while containing artificial sweeteners, all of which can hinder your health and weight loss goals.  

    Another consideration to make is whey’s complete amino acid profile. The combination of dairy and amino acids can cause increased acidity in the blood.

    Environmental factors may play a role in your consideration of whey, too. For example, raising the cows necessary for whey production leads to an influx of methane byproduct, a gas extremely harmful to our environment in mass quantities.

    Typical forms of whey protein include:

    • Protein Concentrates
    • Protein Isolates
    • Protein Hydrolysates

    Protein Concentrates

    Perfect Sports Whey

    Protein concentrates are produced by extracting the protein from whole foods using enzymes or heat and acid. Protein concentrates generally supply 60–80% protein and 20–40% fat and carbs.

    It's important to note that lactose-sensitive users may want to consider other options, as protein concentrates have higher lactose levels.

    Protein concentrates also:

    • are among of the most affordable
    • are readily available
    • contain all nine essential amino acids
    • break down relatively quickly, allowing nutrients to be rapidly accessible

    We recommend Perfect Sports Perfect Whey if a concentrate sounds like the right choice for your needs.

    Protein Isolates 

    Isolates go through an additional filtering process. The removal of more fat and carbs results in higher concentrated protein. Protein isolate powders contain an impressive 90–95% protein after the filtration process.

    While protein isolates have a higher price point, the higher protein content delivers more effective doses of essential amino acids to your body. Keep in mind; you're also receiving less fat, carbs, and calories.

    The additional filtering also makes whey protein isolate relatively lactose-free, regardless of being sourced from milk. As a result, many people who are sensitive to dairy do pretty well with whey protein isolates.

    Our top 5 whey protein isolates include:

    1. Perfect Sports Diesel
    2. Allmax Isoflex
    3. Beyond Yourself Isolate
    4. Mutant Iso Surge
    5. ANS Performance N-Iso

    Protein Hydrolysates 

    Hydrolysates are produced through further heating to break up the amino acid bonds. This process utilizes enzymes, acids, or both. The additional heating allows protein hydrolysates to be absorbed by your muscles and body much more quickly than isolates or proteins.

    Whey protein hydrolysates may tend to raise insulin levels higher and more quickly than isolates and concentrates. This spike can enhance muscle growth following your fitness routine.

    Casein Protein

    Casein Slow Release Protein

    Casein protein is found in milk but is digested and absorbed more slowly than whey protein.

    As it interacts with stomach acid, casein will form a gel, slowing your stomach’s processes. The gel can cause a delay in the absorption of amino acids into your bloodstream.

    The delayed amino acid absorption will cause a gradual, steadier exposure of amino acids to your muscles. This slowed pace is beneficial, as it will help reduce the rate of muscle protein breakdown.

    Think of this process as "trickle feeding" your muscles. Over hours, your muscles are being fed and nurtured, making it ideal before bedtime. Then, as you sleep, casein protein will help with optimal muscle recovery and growth.

    Casein protein takes roughly five to seven hours for your stomach to fully digest, so plan your protein powder accordingly. In addition, you can enjoy a casein protein powder shake throughout the day to keep your stomach full and free of cravings.

    Casein contains a variety of bioactive peptides. These peptides can boost your immune and digestive systems, as well as provide different heart health benefits.

    Milk Protein Isolate

    Made from skim milk, milk protein isolate adds the benefits of protein without affecting flavour. Milk protein isolate contains a mixture of whey and casein proteins, making it rich in amino acids.

    With roughly 90% protein, the milk isolate is full of BCAAs and beneficial for solid muscle growth and fat loss.

    The isolate contains all nine essential amino acids and may support bone strength and reduce inflammation. Milk protein offers your body a source of leucine which supports muscle protein synthesis.

    Additionally, milk protein may stimulate your muscle growth quicker than casein. This growth may even continue over a longer length of time than whey protein.

    Egg Protein

    Proven Egg Protein Powder

    We’re all aware of the excellent source of protein eggs supply, so it should come as no surprise to see them on our list. In fact, eggs have the highest protein digestibility-corrected amino acid score (PDCAAS) of any whole food.

    Egg protein is often used for curbing cravings and decreasing the appetite. As a result, you can make great strides in your workouts with the benefits of increased energy while staying full longer.

    Egg protein powders are usually made with egg whites rather than the whole egg. The protein content and quality of egg albumin are still excellent, but you may notice you don't stay full as long. This is because the yolk in eggs provides the extra fat content to keep that full feeling longer.

    Egg protein provides a high source of leucine. Eggs are second only to whey protein, which plays a vital role in your muscle health.

    Before protein shakes and fancy power bars, egg whites served as a popular source of protein. The protein in egg albumin contains an impressive amino acid profile that proved beneficial in building lean muscle mass.

    While egg albumin is not typically found in a powdered form alone, many still use it in various other forms offered. 

    Egg albumin can be found in:

    • cartons as egg whites
    • pre-cooked
    • used in protein shakes
    • used in mass gainers 

    Bone Broth Protein

    Bone Broth Chicken Protein Powder

    Bone broth protein offers a nutritional option known for its excellent health, wellness, aging, and beauty benefits. Unlike the extraction process of casein and whey protein, the extraction process for bone broth protein in powdered form can offer users its whole protein source directly from the broth itself.

    Bone broth protein is well-known for its gut health benefits. The easily digestible broth coats, soothes, and repairs the digestive tract with vitamins and nutrients. This healing benefit makes bone broth protein an ideal option for anyone with stomach sensitivities.

    As an anti-inflammatory, bone broth helps your muscles rest and repair quickly, keeping inflammation at bay. As a result, your entire body will benefit, while recovery from aches, soreness, and injuries will be lessened.

    Additional bone broth protein nutrients and benefits include:

    • glycine – the amino acid which protects from muscle loss
    • chondroitin and glucosamine – support joint health
    • glutamine – reduces muscle soreness and protection from damage
    • proline – repairs joints
    • hyaluronic acid – helps maintain flexibility in your ligaments and joints
    • protein collagen – supports elasticity

    Plant-Based Protein

    Alani Nu Plant Protein

    Plant-based protein powders offer a variety of vegetarian and vegan-friendly supplement options. These healthy plant options ensure supplements provide an excellent source of protein, although they are considered incomplete and cannot offer your body all the amino acids it needs.

    The high protein content in plant-based protein powder makes it slower to digest than animal protein options. While this is not an issue for some, be aware that this may limit your body’s immediate use of amino acids following your workout.

    Plant-based protein powders make an ideal choice for those with dairy allergies and dietary restrictions. If you’re just switching to a vegetarian diet, plant-based protein is perfect for ensuring you receive adequate essential nutrients as your body adjusts to your new eating habits.

    Common plant protein powder sources include:

    Soy Protein Powder

    Soy protein powder is made from soybeans ground into meal then processed into soybean isolate. Soy protein isolate is a sought-after choice due to its high protein and low carb content.

    Soy protein powder is packed full of ingredients that provide various health benefits. Glutamine and BCAAs work with soy protein to aid your body in a quick recovery. Arginine assists in dilating blood vessels to allow nutrients to reach your muscles quickly and more efficiently.

    Pea Protein Powder

    Another popular plant-based source is pea protein. Pea protein powder is a high-quality dairy and soy alternative that offers an excellent source of iron and arginine.

    Pea protein powder provides excellent support for solid muscle growth, while its rich protein source helps you achieve your weight loss goals.

    Pea protein is sourced from yellow split peas. The high-fiber legumes are packed with eight of the nine essential amino acids.

    While pea protein seems to be absorbed slower than whey, it is more quickly absorbed than casein protein. It can signal the release of your body’s hormones to signify you are full, supporting your weight loss goals.

    Hemp Protein Powder

    Raw Hemp Protein Powder

    Hemp is another excellent plant-based protein powder supplement and continues to rise in popularity for its health benefits. Hemp protein is ideal for vegetarians, vegans, and those with dairy or soy allergies.

    Hemp seeds are complete protein sources that contain essential fatty acids. They do not contain saturated fats or cholesterol, as with many animal protein powder sources. 

    While hemp protein is packed with omega-3 fatty acids and several essential amino acids, it is not a complete protein. Hemp contains low levels of lysine and leucine.

    Additional hemp protein powder health benefits include:

    • digestive system support
    • a boost to your metabolism
    • the promotion of lean body mass 

    Additional Supplements for Protein: 

    If the typical supplements for protein don't seem to fit your goals and needs, you can consider additional supplements for protein.

    Hydrolysate Protein Powder

    Hydrolysate protein powder contains highly absorbable peptides. This alternative protein source provides your body with a powerful anabolic or muscle-building benefit.

    Hydrolysate protein powder is easy for your digestive system to handle because the proteins have been further broken down for easier, quicker digestion. Without the upset stomach and absorption wait times, your body can fly through post-workout recovery time.

    Think of hydrolysate protein as “pre-digested” proteins. The proteins have been broken down into smaller chained amino acids so that troubled stomachs can handle absorption. As a result, hydrolysate protein powder has opened the doors for users with digestive sensitivities.

    The protein option is also lower in fats and carbs with a higher concentration level of protein. These attributes make hydrolysate protein powder an excellent choice for those on a low-fat or low-carb meal plan as well.

    Brown Rice Protein

    Brown rice protein powders contain amino acids which support the health and function of your liver and kidneys. They help nourish your blood vessels and support your body’s natural detoxification systems. However, while rice protein contains all the essential amino acids, its lysine content is too low to be considered a complete protein.

    Brown rice protein has shown its high levels of cysteine help improve lung health and enhance athletic performance. However, the protein does not build muscle as quickly or effectively as whey protein.

    Mixed Plant Proteins

    Today’s market offers an array of protein powders that contain a blend of high-quality plant protein sources. With plenty of options to choose from, you can provide your body with the essentials without sacrificing your dietary restrictions or lifestyle changes.  

    Supplements are typically made with two or more mixed plant proteins combined to create a potent, high-quality product.

    Mixed plant proteins typically combined include:

    • artichoke
    • quinoa
    • pea
    • hemp
    • alfalfa
    • brown rice
    • chia seeds
    • flax seeds

    Keep in mind, since plant proteins are high in fiber content, mixed plant proteins will be even slower to digest. 

    Animal vs. Plant Protein: A Few Things to Know

    Before we finish comparing the two proteins, there are a few other key differences to point out.

    Plant-based protein supplements lack lactoferrin. Lactoferrin is an anti-microbial and anti-cancer molecule found in animal protein that offers the body immune-boosting properties.

    If your goal is to detoxify your liver, whey protein is the superior choice. This is because whey contains higher concentrations of cysteine. Plant protein powder can still offer detox benefits; however, it will not be what whey can provide.

    Additionally, plant-based protein powders tend to have a different taste and texture that may take some getting used to. You may find some protein shakes are reasonably smooth, but they aren’t able to blend down as well as whey protein powders. Their thick consistency prevents them from dissolving in the same way animal protein does and will remain a bit graining going down.

    Plant-based protein powders still have not achieved the desirable taste whey protein shakes have become known for.

    Pairing Protein and Creatine

    Pairing supplements is common and safe when used as directed. Creatine is popular among athletes and bodybuilders because it supports muscle gain, increases strength, and enhances overall performance.

    When paired with whey protein, the two can support quick muscle mass increases, especially when combined with resistance exercises. This rapid muscle build is possible since supplementing with creatine boosts exercise capacity during your high-intensity workouts. The pairing also speeds up muscle recovery time.

    When you incorporate exercise while consuming a mixture of whey protein with creatine, you maximize results. In addition, the combination offers your body tremendous benefits.

    Combining exercise, whey, and creatine provides:

        • a rich source of high-quality protein
        • enhanced muscle protein synthesis
        • priming for long-term muscle growth
        • shortened muscle recovery periods

    How Does Creatine Work?

    Creatine supports the increase of energy capacity within your muscles. Think of it as a binder that gives your muscles additional room to store extra energy. Since binding allows immediate storage of extra energy, you’re able to pump out an extra set of reps with no trouble.

    Additional benefits of creatine include:

        • decreased brain fog
        • enhanced focus and memory
        • increased workout volume in a single training session
        • raised anabolic hormones to support the development of healthy tissue and bone growth
        • boosted cell hydration to support muscle growth
        • increased total muscle mass by reducing the breakdown of muscle
        • increased endurance, performance, and strength for any activity level
        • supported long and short-term muscle growth

    Which Protein Powder is Right for Me?

    As you shop for protein powders, consider your goals and needs. You’ll find excellent protein shake choices for weight loss and delicious flavours to meet your post-workout needs. It’s not a simple one-protein-shake-fits-all situation.

    Consider your immediate health, wellness, and fitness goals. Do you have dietary restrictions, like dairy allergies or a new low-carb diet? Are there lifestyle needs to accommodate, such as keto? Once you have a list of priorities, you’ll be ready to dive into the market and find products to suit your needs.

    Many protein powders will offer you multiple benefits. For instance, did you know protein shakes are also perfect for weight management and maintenance? This is because protein helps you crush your workout goals, supporting muscle growth. Solid muscle growth means a boost in your metabolism!

    You’ll also find great-tasting nutrition packed in each protein shake and have the satisfaction of feeling full throughout the day.

    So, if you’ve already set your goals and you’re ready to find your ideal sources of protein, take a look through some of our best recommendations for various goals and needs.

    Some of our favourite protein powder recommendations include: 

    different types of protein powder infographic

    Protein Shake for Pre-Workout and Lean Muscle Build

    Mammoth Pump will prep your body for an intense workout so you can hit the gym and crank out reps. Mammoth pump provides optimal fuel for your body with increases in strength, focus, and energy. As a result, you'll see lean muscle build in record time. 

    Pre-Workout Shake Tip: Look for a protein shake with enough carbs to fuel your workout needs. You’ll maximize your muscle build potential and supply your body with the energy it needs to power through your workout. Besides, skimping on carbohydrates can lead to injury and muscle damage.

    Protein Shake for Bulking

    Not to be confused with lean building muscle, bulking requires massive loading up on macronutrients and protein to build as much muscle as possible. The process is typically followed by cutting to rid your body of unwanted accumulated fat.

    Protein shakes are perfect for bulking. They help you meet protein requirements as well as your overall caloric intake goal. Meal replacement shakes like Mammoth Meal won’t let you down.

    Adding a post-workout protein shake is also beneficial, depending on your macros.

    Protein Shake for Post-Workout and Weightlifting

    Allmax Isoflex is one of the most trusted whey protein isolates on the market. It’s packed with 27 grams of protein per serving. It’s ideal as your post-workout shake, pumping your muscles with up to thirty grams of protein during that anabolic window.

    Post-Workout Shake Tip: Timing is everything when it comes to optimizing your post-workout shake. Plan to drink yours as soon as you finish your workout or as close as possible. This ensures your nutrient intake hits within the most effective time window for maximum results.

    Plant-Based Protein Powder

    Vegan Select Protein by PEScience is a blend of brown rice protein and pea protein. We are amazed by the incredible flavour! We challenge you to find a better-tasting vegan protein shake and just as many flavour options.

    Supplementing with Creatine and Pairing with Whey Protein

    Supplementing with creatine and whey protein powder together helps to quickly increase muscle mass when you pair it with your resistance exercises. This quick build is possible because supplementing with creatine will boost your exercise capacity during your high-intensity workouts and help speed your recovery time.

    Consuming whey protein with your creatine in conjunction with exercise is ideal. This combination gives your body a high-quality source of protein, enhances muscle protein synthesis, and prepares your body for long-term muscle growth.

    Whey Protein Powder

    Diesel By Perfect Sports makes our list every time! Diesel offers a pure whey isolate from New Zealand dairy cows. Why should this matter? New Zealand provides its cows with ideal living conditions while their government enforces strict pesticide and antibiotic laws. This makes New Zealand cows the happiest and healthiest in the world.

    Casein Protein Powder

    Select Protein by PEScience is a blend of casein with whey protein. So while we know it's not a pure casein protein formula, hear us out.

    Select Protein offers an innovative formula specifically designed to provide your body with an initial burst of protein from whey. Following whey’s contribution, casein is slowly and continuously released, providing large amounts of protein to your muscles.

    This formula can even be taken as a meal replacement, bedtime snack, or post-workout shake.

    No matter what your health, wellness, or fitness goals may be, you're prepared to find a protein powder that meets your needs.

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