In the fitness world, protein powders are quite popular. In fact, they just might be the most popular fitness supplement on the market. If you start looking around, you will quickly find that there are lots of different types of protein powder from a variety of different sources.
Some are animal-based, and some are plant-based. It can be difficult to choose the best one. What it really boils down to is your personal protein goals and preferences. You have to decide what it is that you want to achieve and what type of protein you would prefer.
In this article, we’ll take a look at seven of the best types of protein powder:
- Brown Rice
- Mixed Plant
Following that, we will try to give you some guidance on which ones are best for various goals or lifestyles:
- Muscle gain
- Weight loss
We hope that we are able to provide you with some much-needed insight to help you decide which one you want to use to get optimal results.
Protein Powders Explained
Protein powders are a concentrated form of protein sourced from animal-based foods or plant-based foods, such as dairy, peas, eggs, or rice. There are three basic forms:
Protein concentrates are made by extracting protein from whole foods using heat along with enzymes or acids. These types of protein are typically 60% to 80% protein, while the other 20% to 40% is fat and carbs.
Protein isolates go through an additional filtering step to remove more fat and carbs, which concentrates the protein even further. Protein isolates are typically 90%to 95% protein.
Protein hydrolysates are processed even further with enzymes or acids, breaking the bonds between the amino acids. This is to make it easier for the body to digest and absorb the protein, putting it to use in the muscles.
According to experts, hydrolysates seem to increase insulin levels more than isolates or concentrates- at least in whey protein. This improves muscle growth following a workout.
In some cases, you may encounter protein powders that are fortified with vitamins and minerals, such as calcium.
That being said, it’s important to know that, though they do offer some health benefits, not everyone will benefit from protein powders. If you already consume a diet that includes high-quality protein, you’re not likely to see much difference in your overall health and wellness by adding protein powder.
On the other hand, athletes, weightlifters, bodybuilders, and others who workout on a regular basis find that protein powder increases muscle gain and fat loss. Protein powders can also benefit those who have difficulty getting the recommended daily allowance of protein with food alone, such as those who are ill, vegetarians and vegans, and even older adults.
Protein powders are produced from a variety of sources and can be found in several formulations. They are used to increase muscle mass, meet the recommended daily allowance for protein, and to improve body composition.
7 Types of Protein Powder
Below, we’ll explain 7 of the most common types of protein powder. It’s important to note that this is not a comprehensive list, there are some others that we have not mentioned here. However, this is a good place to start.
Whey protein is sourced from dairy cows. It is the liquid that is separated from the solids (curds) when milk is processed to make cheese. It has a really high protein content, but in this form, it also contains lactose, which is a milk sugar that a lot of people have trouble digesting.
There are three forms of whey protein: whey concentrate, whey isolate, and whey hydrolysate. Whey concentrate still contains lactose but most of the lactose is filtered out along with the fat and carbs to make whey isolate. It is almost 100% pure protein. Whey hydrolysate is processed even further, making the particles smaller, which makes it easier to digest and absorb. Whey protein is a complete protein because it’s packed with the 9 essential amino acids that your body needs but does not produce. It contains high levels of BCAAs as well. Leucine is one of these BCAAs and it is very involved in promoting muscle growth/recovery following resistance/endurance workouts.
When you consume whey protein, your body digests it quickly. When these amino acids are digested and absorbed into your system, they are available for muscle protein synthesis, which refers to the creation of new muscle.
Studies indicate that whey protein can build and maintain muscle mass, help with recovery following HIIT workouts and increase muscle strength when used in conjunction with strength training exercises.
One study in young men revealed that whey protein increased muscle protein synthesis 132% more than casein and 31% more than soy protein following a resistance training regimen.
On the other hand, a recent 10-week study involving post-menopausal women showed a similar response to resistance training, whether they were given whey protein or a placebo.
Some of the other studies involving a variety of individuals indicate that perhaps whey protein may alter body composition by increasing lean mass and decreasing fat mass. In addition, it seems that whey protein reduces appetite at least as much as other forms of protein. When you feel satiated, you eat less, which means you create a caloric deficiency, which results in fat loss.
In one study, lean men were given four different forms of liquid protein meals on different days. The whey protein meal resulted in the largest decrease in appetite and greatest reduction in caloric consumption at the next meal.
There are some studies indicating that whey protein may also help with reducing inflammation and improving heart health markers in individuals who are obese or overweight.
The body quickly digests and absorbs whey protein. This means that you have a rapid increase in amino acids in the bloodstream that increase muscle mass and strength. it is also believed that it could reduce appetite and improve fat loss.
Casein is also found in milk. However, the digestion and absorption process take much longer than it does for whey. This is because when casein gets into your stomach and interacts with the stomach acid, it turns to a gel. This slows down the process of emptying your stomach, which delays the absorption of the amino acids into your bloodstream.
The result is a gradual, steady exposure of the muscles to the amino acids, which means the rate of muscle protein breakdown is reduced as well.
According to the experts, casein is more effective at increasing muscle protein synthesis and improving strength than soy or wheat protein. However, it is less effective than whey protein.
On the other hand, there is one study involving overweight men suggesting that during periods of calorie restriction, casein may have an advantage over improving body composition when engaging in resistance training workouts.
Casein is a dairy-based protein that is slowly digested. it is believed to reduce muscle protein breakdown and promote growth of muscle mass and reduction of fat during periods of caloric restriction.
Egg protein is the final animal-sourced protein on our list. Whole eggs are packed with high-quality protein. In fact, out of all of the whole foods, eggs have the highest protein digestibility corrected amino acid score, which is the measure of the digestibility and quality of a protein.
Additionally, it’s important to note that eggs are one of the best foods to keep you feeling fuller longer, decreasing your appetite.
The downside is that egg protein powders are usually made from egg whites instead of whole eggs. While the quality of the protein provided is still high, you won’t feel as full because the yolks have been removed- which is where the fat is located.
Just like the other animal-sourced proteins, eggs are a complete protein, meaning they offer all 9 essential amino acids that your body does not naturally produce. Also, egg protein is right behind whey protein in terms of leucine content, which is the BCAA that is most involved in muscle health.
Of course, it’s important to note that egg protein doesn’t have as much research behind it as whey or casein. There is one study that showed it was less likely to reduce appetite than casein or pea protein when consumed prior to a meal.
In another study, female athletic participants were given egg protein powder and experienced similar gains in lean mass/muscle strength as the group that was supplementing with carbs.
Egg protein powder may be a good high-quality option for those who prefer an animal-sourced form of protein, but have a dairy allergy and can’t consume whey or casein.
Egg protein powder is a high-quality, animal-sourced form of protein. While it is high in amino acids, it may not keep you feeling as satiated for as long since it is made from egg whites and does not contain fat.
Pea protein powder is the first plant-based protein powder on our list. It is popular among vegans and vegetarians, and those who have allergies and sensitivities to eggs or dairy.
It is made from yellow split peas, which are a legume that is high in fiber and has 8 of the 9 essential amino acids. It is also packed with BCAAs.
One study in rodents showed that pea protein absorbs slower than whey protein, but faster than casein. It has the ability to trigger the release of several hormones associated with fullness that is comparable to dairy protein.
In one 12-week study involved 161 men engaging in resistance training. These men were given 50 grams of pea protein daily. Results were that they experienced similar increases in muscle as a group that was given the same dosage of whey protein.
Another study looked at humans and rats with high blood pressure. Results were that blood pressure decreased when they were given a pea protein supplement. While it’s true that pea protein powder does seem promising, we need more quality research to confirm results.
At this time, studies are limited. However, it does seem that pea protein promotes fullness and increases muscle growth about the same as animal-sourced proteins.
Another plant-based protein powder that is quickly increasing in popularity is hemp protein powder. While it is true that hemp is related to marijuana, the protein powder contains only trace amounts of THC, which is the psychoactive component.
Hemp protein contains both omega-3 fatty acids and omega-6 fatty acids, along with several essential amino acids. However, it is not a complete protein because the levels of leucine and lysine are very low.
At this time, there is not a lot of research regarding hemp protein. However, it does seem to be well-digested and a quality plant-sourced protein.
Hemp protein contains both omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids. It seems to be a high quality protein that is easily digested. However, it’s important to note that it’s low in leucine and lysine.
Brown Rice Protein
Brown rice protein has been around for some time- but are typically considered inferior to whey and other forms of protein when it comes to increasing muscle. While it does contain all 9 of the essential amino acids, it is not a complete protein because the amount of lysine is too low.
Also, although it’s been on the market for some time, there is not a lot of research involving it. However, there’s one study that compared the effects of brown rice protein versus whey protein in young, athletic men.
Over a period of 8 weeks, the men were given 48 grams of either brown rice protein or whey protein each day. This resulted in similar changes in body composition and muscle strength, as well as improved recovery.
However, more studies are needed to confirm the effectiveness of brown rice protein.
At this time, there is not a lot of research on brown rice protein, though it’s been around for some time. The information that is available suggests that it may be beneficial for body composition. The downfall of this protein type is that it’s low in lysine, one of the essential amino acids.
Mixed Plant Proteins
There are some protein powders that contain a blend of plant-sourced proteins to ensure that you get all of the essential amino acids. These blends contain two or more of the following:
- Chia seeds
- Pea protein
- Flax seeds
- Brown rice protein
- Hemp protein
Because they are high in fiber, plant-based proteins typically digest slower than animal-based proteins. While this may not necessarily be an issue for most people, it can limit the amino acids that our body is able to use following a workout.
One small study involved young men who were undergoing resistance training. These men were divided into 3 groups. Each one was given 60 grams of one of the following:
- whey protein
- pea-rice protein blend
- pea-rice blend with supplemental enzymes
The blend with the digestive enzymes was comparable to whey protein in terms of the time it took for the amino acids to get into the bloodstream.
There are several protein powder products on the market that are made of a blend of plant proteins. While this means that digestion is slowed, keeping you fuller longer, adding digestive enzymes to the mix increases digestion and absorption, so it performs like a whey protein powder.
Best Protein for Various Goals
While it’s true that all protein powders offer a concentrated source of protein, there are certain types that are most effective for certain goals. Below, we’ll look at the best protein for muscle gain, weight loss, and for vegans or vegetarians.
Best Protein for Muscle Gain
There is lots of research available that back up the ability of whey protein to promote muscle mass gain and recovery. Whey concentrate is the least expensive type of whey protein- but it also contains fats, carbs, and lactose. Whey isolate is a purer form of whey protein and contains more protein by weight.
Best Protein for Fat Loss
Research indicates that whey protein or casein protein- or perhaps a combination of the two- are ideal for promoting fullness and facilitating weight loss.
Best Protein for Vegans and Vegetarians
There are a few high-quality protein powders that are plant-based and some that are mixed plant proteins. These are best for vegans, since they prefer to avoid anything animal-based. Vegetarians can consume animal-sourced protein if they wish, but if not, they do have the option of plant proteins.
When you are choosing a protein powder, make sure that you keep your personal preferences and food tolerances in mind, as well as your goals for health and fitness.
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