Whether you’re an athlete looking to improve muscle strength and recovery or someone who needs extra protein in their diet to stay healthy, protein powder is a great supplement to turn to. Formulated to provide large sums of protein alongside other vitamins and minerals, protein powder can help you increase your daily protein intake for your desired fitness or nutritional results.
However, what a lot of people don’t realize is that there are multiple types of protein powders available. So, in the same way protein powder can benefit a range of people with different nutritional needs, different kinds of protein powder can be used to accommodate individuals with different lifestyles and nutritional requirements.
If you’re interested in adding a protein powder supplement to your fitness or nutritional plan, it’s important that you choose the right one. Here are five of the most common types of protein powder and how they differ.
Whey protein is the most common and often the cheapest type of protein powder available. The complete protein comes from dairy, meaning it’s not suitable for vegans or people with dairy intolerances or allergies. It contains lactose, which may cause stomach upset in people who have trouble digesting milk sugars.
Whey protein’s composition allows it to be absorbed by the body quickly. This makes it great for athletic recovery, since it’s been shown to improve muscle recovery and increase muscle strength and size when taken immediately post-workout.
Casein protein powder is also a complete protein derived from dairy products and is the most common protein found in cow’s milk. Casein protein acts a little differently than whey, however. The protein is digested much slower than whey. When this occurs, the body still gets a full suite of proteins, but they are released much more slowly.
From a fitness standpoint, research suggests that this slower release does not make much of a difference and that casein protein powder can offer most of the same muscle growth and recovery benefits whey protein does. However, most people take casein protein powder at night, rather than post-workout, to allow the slow release of proteins to aid in muscle repair.
Soy protein powder is derived from soybeans, a plant source common in vegan and vegetarian diets. Unlike many plant proteins, soy is a complete protein, meaning it contains all nine essential amino acids that the body does not make naturally. Beyond this, though, soy also contains isoflavones that may have a beneficial effect on your health.
Soy is the most popular vegan alternative to whey protein; however, it is not quite as effective as whey protein powder.
One potential concern of soy protein is that the isoflavones in soy may disrupt hormone production in both men and women. However, this is only likely to happen when soy-based protein is taken in excess. Soy protein isolate may reduce this risk due to a lowered amount of isoflavones, but soy protein powder should be safe for most people when taken in moderation.
As the name suggests, pea protein powder is derived from yellow split pea plants. This means it is a plant-based complete protein supplement suitable for vegans and dairy-free individuals.
Pea protein powder has a few other benefits, as well. It is cholesterol and fat free, as well as gluten free, making it a great option for people with tighter dietary restrictions.
Pea protein powder tends to lack in a few amino acids, particularly cystine—an amino acid that is made naturally by the body. Depending on your reason for taking a protein powder supplement, the reduced levels of some amino acids might slightly hamper your desired results.
Hemp protein powder is derived from seeds of the hemp plant, a strain of cannabis sativa. Because of this, hemp protein contains trace amounts of THC, but not enough to get you high.
Hemp protein powder is plant-based, contains beneficial levels of fiber and omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids and is believed to be highly digestible, so it’s easier on the stomach. Unfortunately, hemp protein powder contains more fat and has a higher calorie count, which people should be mindful of when supplementing. Hemp protein powder also tends to be more expensive than other types.
Hemp protein does not contain quite as much protein per serving as other types of protein powders do. However, it can be a great choice for people looking for a mix of protein and other nutrients like omega-3s.
Choosing the right protein powder for you
Since there are multiple options for complete protein powders available on the market, you’ll want to do your research before committing to one type or another. Some options may be more suitable for certain people, such as whey or casein for professional athletes or pea and soy protein for vegans. Additionally, certain formulas may contain added ingredients and additional sugars that you might not want.
No matter what you choose, remember that protein powder should not replace whole food proteins within your daily diet. It’s important to use protein powder supplements appropriately and discuss your nutritional strategy with your doctor to ensure long-term health.