• Connor McDermott

Protein Powders: Which One Should I Use?

There are numerous types of protein powder made from a wide variety of sources. To make protein powder supplements, protein is extracted from animal or plant-based sources, which range from cow’s milk and eggs to peas, rice, and soy.

As there are so many options, it can be difficult to determine which will provide optimal results. The vast amount of protein powders on the market can make the task of choosing one daunting, but it also means there are probably several that will be suitable for your needs. This article contains information on some of the different types of protein powders including the pros and cons of each.


Whey is one of the two major protein groups of bovine milk, accounting for 20% of the milk while casein accounts for the remainder. Whey protein is most recognized for its applicability

in sports nutrition. All the constituents of whey protein provide high levels of the essential and

branched chain amino acids (important for muscle protein synthesis). The bioactivities of these proteins possess many beneficial properties as well. Additionally, whey is also rich in vitamins and minerals.

There are many forms of whey protein that result from various processing techniques used to separate whey protein. The three most common forms of whey supplements include whey concentrate, whey isolate, and hydrolyzed whey proteins.

Whey Protein Concentrate

Whey protein concentrate is an affordable and widely available source of protein. It contains all nine essential amino acids and breaks down relatively quickly. In addition, compared to whey isolates, whey concentrate typically contains more biologically active components and proteins that make them a very attractive supplement for the athlete. However, it contains more carbohydrate and fat than its whey isolate counterpart, and it is not lactose free.

Whey Protein Isolate (WPI)

Isolates are the purest protein source available. Whey protein isolates contain protein concentrations of 90% or higher. During the processing of whey protein isolate, there is a significant removal of fat and lactose. As a result, individuals who are lactose-intolerant can often safely take these products. Because there is more processing involved, it ultimately costs more to produce isolate, which means that products containing only pure isolate are usually going to be more expensive.

Hydrolyzed Whey Proteins

Both whey concentrate and whey isolate can be hydrolyzed, or turned into hydrolysates, by various processes that partially break down the protein. The advantage that hydrolyzed whey offers over conventional whey is that it allows for amino acids that are consumed from the protein within the body to be absorbed at a much higher rate when compared to standard and complete proteins. This results in a greater amount of nutrient content being delivered to muscles and replenishing spent nutrients to help with growth. Although some consider this protein to be superior to whey concentrate, it typically costs a lot more.


Casein protein powder is a high-quality source of protein that is also very convenient. Like whey, casein is a complete protein and also contains the minerals calcium and phosphorus. Casein is well known as a "time-release" or “slow-digesting” protein because of its slow absorption rate in the gut. This means that it feeds your cells with amino acids at a low level over a long period of time. In athletes supplementing their diets with additional protein, casein has been shown to provide the greatest benefit for increases in protein synthesis for a prolonged duration. However, casein protein has a lower initial benefit for protein synthesis when compared to whey.

Egg Protein

Egg white protein powder (also called egg white albumen) is simply egg whites that have been dried and turned into powder. Egg white protein is a complete source of protein that is low in carbohydrates, high in protein, and, since it is derived from only the egg white and not the yoke, also free of fat and cholesterol. This protein source digests more slowly than whey but is an excellent high-quality protein to supplement a non-dairy diet.

Plant Based Protein Powders

Soy Protein

Soy Protein Powder is a healthy alternative to animal protein as it is one of the few plant-based proteins that is also a complete protein. Soy is considered the most effective plant-based protein, and like egg white protein, digests at a moderate rate. Soy is an excellent source of glutamine, an amino acid which occurs naturally in the body, but may be beneficial in greater amounts during muscle building because it limits muscle damage and speeds tissue repair.

Although it’s a good source of plant-based protein and rich in nutrients, soy protein contains phytates, which decrease mineral absorption. Additionally, though soy protein contains important amino acids and enhances muscle protein synthesis to some degree, it has been shown to be inferior to whey protein for building muscle.

Pea Protein

Pea protein powder compares to whey protein powder regarding its high rate of absorption. However, it is an incomplete protein, so to reach full effectiveness, it should be paired with another protein, such as hemp or rice.

Rice Protein

Brown rice protein powder is high in B-vitamins and fiber, is lactose and gluten free, and easily digested. Rice protein is another incomplete protein and should also be paired with another protein source such as soy milk, pea protein, or pumpkin seeds to make it complete.

Hemp Protein

Lower in protein content than most other options, hemp protein powder is still a desirable choice due to its high fiber content and heart-healthy Omega-3 fatty acids. Hemp protein powder is a good source of antioxidants and minerals, especially magnesium and iron, which benefits your health. Plus, unlike pea and rice protein powders, hemp is a complete protein source.


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2. Amino acids: MedlinePlus Medical Encyclopedia. Accessed May 26, 2020. https://medlineplus.gov/ency/article/002222.htm

3. Paddon-Jones D, Westman E, Mattes RD, Wolfe RR, Astrup A, Westerterp-Plantenga M. Protein, weight management, and satiety. Am J Clin Nutr. 2008;87(5):1558S-1561S. doi:10.1093/ajcn/87.5.1558S

4. Phillips SM, Tang JE, Moore DR. The role of milk- and soy-based protein in support of muscle protein synthesis and muscle protein accretion in young and elderly persons. J Am Coll Nutr. 2009;28(4):343-354. doi:10.1080/07315724.2009.10718096

5. PubMed Central Full Text PDF. Accessed May 26, 2020. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3905294/pdf/jssm-03-118.pdf

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