The number of protein powders available today is as varied as people’s opinions about which one is the best. The flavors available resemble the choices in an ice cream shop. The different sources of protein available reflect the unique demands of different consumers. This variety helps to meet people’s different dietary and lifestyle needs. Sorting through all of the marketing hype though can be very confusing. How does someone decide which protein powder is the best one to meet their needs?
Let’s take a look at a few of the more popular protein sources and examine their unique benefits and some potential drawbacks and see if we can’t help you find the right protein powder for you.
Research shows a lot of benefit to using whey protein if gaining or maintaining muscle mass is your goal. Whey is rich in the essential amino acid leucine, which is a powerful muscle builder. Your choices in whey protein are whole whey proteins and whey protein isolates.
During processing isolates have the fats removed from the whey; whole whey still has the fat in the powder. Isolates have a slightly greater protein density than whole whey. When you remove the fat from the whey though, you lose the phospholipid glutathione and lipoic acid, both of which have important benefits to your immune system. Whey isolate has about an average two to three gram protein difference from full whey protein. This loss is easy to compensate for elsewhere in your diet but the immunologic benefits from the fats lost are not as easy to compensate for. In the processing of whey isolates, alkalizing minerals are lost making whey isolate a more acidic food than whole whey.
So what is an ideal whey? It’s whole whey from grass-fed cows that has been cold processed and not heat pasteurized. This gives you the greatest overall nutrient density.
Casein is the primary source of protein in milk. Casein reacts differently than whey when it is exposed to stomach acid. This reaction slows the digestion of casein protein. When you are using this protein for muscle recovery after exercise this is important to consider because it will not be available to your muscle cell for recovery and repair as quickly as whey. This slower digestion, however, can have its benefits when used later in the day or to help control hunger.
How can you find good quality Casein? Casein protein powders can be very affordable however they are often times processed in ways that reduces their nutritional benefits. Rennet casein or Casein Hydrolstate powders have been processed in a way that maintains some of the nutrient density while also making the protein powder more user-friendly.
A word of caution though–casein can unfortunately irritate your immune system, increase mucous production, and worsen allergy symptoms.
Soy proteins have dominated the market for vegetarian nondairy protein powders for a while. Soy is a complete source of protein containing all essential amino acids. Soy also provides your body with isoflavones. These unique organic compounds offer protection against cancers and cardiovascular disease.
When choosing a soy protein powder, whole organic non-GMO soy is the best way to go. Soy protein isolates do not have the same health benefits and should be avoided. Non-organic soy is high in pesticide residue.
A word of caution about soy. The isoflavones are phytoestrogens. These compounds can interfere with your body’s hormone balance. For some this is a benefit and can alleviate menopausal symptoms, but for others it may reduce testosterone levels. Soy should not be avoided for this reason but you should be cautious of the amount and types of soy you consume. If you already eat a diet that includes whole soy foods perhaps another protein powder would be a better option for you.
Hemp has all of the essential amino acids, making it a good source of plant-based protein. Some studies show that soy has a better effect than hemp if gaining muscle is your goal. Hemp, however, has many other benefits and can be a valuable part of a healthy diet. Hemp seeds are rich sources of Omega-3 and Omega-6 fatty acids. Hemp is also rich in magnesium, phytosterols, ascorbic acid, beta-carotene, calcium, fiber, iron, potassium, phosphorus, riboflavin, niacin and thiamin. People that experience some GI distress with soy and dairy find a welcome relief when they switch to hemp. The plant proteins are very easy on your GI tract.
Pea protein is a great vegan source of protein and another option for people that do not want dairy and struggle to digest soy. Pea protein is made from yellow peas. It is a complete protein but deficient in the amino acid cystine and shouldn’t be a primary source of protein. If you are going to use pea protein as a main source of protein, try mixing it with another protein powder to provide you with enough amino acids. Pea protein does digest and absorb well. It is also gluten free and a good option for people with food sensitivities.
Brown rice protein powders are another vegan alternative. This protein powder digests and absorbs well. It is affordable and gluten-free. Making it another good option for people with food sensitivities. It is unfortunately low in the essential amino acid lysine. Just like the pea protein combining this protein powder with another would be a great option.
A healthy diet is full of variety. When selecting protein powders this is also beneficial and thankfully there are a lot of healthy options to choose from. Each of these protein sources have unique benefits. Take advantage of these and use a variety of protein powder sources.