When it comes to selecting a protein powder, there are a variety of options. Options of brands, options of flavors, options of quality, options of specific benefits and of course, options of base or source. Does the protein source matter? It depends on your requirements – do you have diet restrictions? Are you looking for a particular benefit? There are actually eight main types of protein powders in the market today, each quite different. Read on to learn about the benefits of and differences between each.
1. Whey Protein
Perhaps the most popular form of protein powder, whey has been in the supplement industry as long as gym supplements have existed. It’s derived from milk – specifically the very liquid that gets separated from the curds when making cheese. Its immense popularity is due to its “cheap” processing (it’s literally a byproduct) and its abundance in protein per 100 g at 0.85 g. However, it also contains lactose which is difficult to digest for a lot of people, especially those with lactose intolerance.
Whey protein contains branched-chain amino acids (BCAAS), a group of amino acids known to promote muscle recovery and muscle protein synthesis.
2. Casein Protein
Casein is also a protein found in milk. The difference is, casein is digested much more slowly as it gels upon contact with stomach acid. While this may seem counterintuitive, this delayed absorption has actually been shown to reduce muscle protein breakdown. In a way, casein promotes muscle mass by preventing your muscles from being reduced to a form that aren’t muscles.
Studies show casein is better than soy or wheat protein when it comes to muscle protein synthesis, but not against whey.
3. Egg Protein
Egg protein is made from egg whites and is considered one of the best forms of protein in terms of quality and digestibility. Since eggs proteins come directly from eggs, it is a complete protein resource. This means it provides all the nine essential amino acids we mentioned earlier. It’s also high in BCAAs much like whey powder, but to a lesser content.
Most who go for egg proteins are people who have problems with dairy allergies or those who prefer animal protein-based supplements.
4. Pea Protein
Pea protein powder is a popular choice for those following a vegan or vegetarian lifestyle. It’s also a natural choice for bodybuilders who have allergies or sensitivities to dairy or eggs.
Pea protein is derived from yellow split peas, high-fiber legumes that provides every essential amino acid except methionine. It’s also rich in BCAAs. It’s also digested slower than whey, but faster than casein.
More than muscle building, pea protein displays a unique benefit when it comes to better blood pressure management when ingested in both rats and humans.
Despite its immense popularity, do note that pea protein is not as studied or covered by research.
5. Brown Rice Protein
While brown rice protein has been around for years, they’re not a popular choice for building muscle due to how many consider it an inferior protein source. It contains all essential amino acids, but the lysine content is too low for it to be considered complete.
While there’s one study that cites similar muscle gains to whey after eight weeks supplementation, more research is needed.
6. Hemp Protein
Hemp is another trendy food source and hemp protein is quickly gaining traction in the supplement world. While hemp is related to its psychoactive cousin marijuana, it only contains trace amounts of THC – the very compound that marijuana users buy it for.
While hemp protein isn’t what you may call a complete protein (due to low levels of leucine and lysine), it’s still a good source of essential amino acids. It’s also a really good source of omega 3 which is critical for those following a plant-based diet.
There isn’t much on hemp protein when it comes to its effects on muscle growth with resistance exercise, but scientists do note its easy digestibility.
7. Plant based proteins
Plant protein blends are exactly what they sound like. They’re a mixture of common protein powders sourced from plants. This is usually to address the lack of “completeness” in amino acids of a single-origin plant protein powder.
Most protein blends make use of two or more of the following:
- Brown rice
- Chia seeds
- Flax seeds
Because of their high-fiber content, plant protein powders are often slower to digest than their animal protein counterparts. For some people, this is ideal especially if they want an appetite suppressant effect for their weight loss efforts. For others, it’s a drawback considering they buy protein powder for the protein and not the fiber, and slower absorption can become a factor in muscle protein synthesis.
8. Insect Protein
Perhaps the newest variety in the market, insect proteins were created originally to address food sustainability and to a deeper extent, global warming. Unlike their animal counterparts, insects don’t require much area nor food resources to produce similar amounts of protein per 100 g compared to animal sources.
Per 100 g, pure insect protein powders could have anywhere from 12 to 20 g protein. Sometimes more depending on size and variety of insects. For context, raw ground beef (70% lean meat) consists of only 14.3 g protein per 100 g.
Before you buy
Regardless of source, protein powders all help with muscle growth and recovery. However, The one thing that you should be really critical about is whether the powder you’re about to buy is NSF Certified for Sport.
This labeling means the product you’re buying has gone through specific testing and is guaranteed to contain zero banned substances, on top of purity, quality, and safety assurance.
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