Choosing the Right Fit: Understanding the Types of Protein Powder

Different types of protein powder

Navigating an endless sea of protein powder supplements can feel overwhelming. With different options of whey and plant-based proteins, it's no wonder you're left wondering which one is the perfect match for you.

Let's break it down, shall we? When comparing different proteins, there are a few key qualities to consider. We need to take a look at the amino acid profile, leucine content, digestion rates, and their effects on hormones.

This Smart Protein guide is here to be your guiding light, delving into the nitty-gritty and giving you a clear understanding of what you need to know.

No more confusion. No more uncertainty. Just the know-how and confidence to make an informed decision that suits your individual needs.

What is protein powder and what does it do?

Protein powder is a supplement that people add to food or make into a shake to fuel their training sessions or add extra muscle-boosting nutrients to their diet. 

It’s designed to help you hit your daily protein intake goals in a way that is quick, convenient, and easy to consume on the go.

As the most mighty of macronutrients, protein contains essential amino acids that play a big role in muscle growth, repair, and maintenance.

If you’re an active person (which we’re sure you are), getting your daily fill of protein is essential if you want to keep achieving your fitness goals.

But sometimes, meeting your daily protein needs isn’t always easy. Enter protein powder.

Protein powder is a quick and easy dietary supplement that provides a concentrated hit of protein, often in powdered form—but you can get pre-mixed and ready-to-drink supplements. 

With the right powder or shake, you can boost your protein intake without consuming too many calories—but it’s always best to use protein powders or supplements as part of a balanced diet.

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What’s in protein powder?

Protein powder is usually made of a mix of high-quality protein sources. These sources vary depending on the specific type of powder you choose.

The most common protein sources found in protein powders include…

  • Whey
  • Casein
  • Flaxseed
  • Pea
  • Hemp

These protein sources deliver essential amino acids your body needs for muscle growth and repair.

Some protein powders also contain branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs) like leucine, valine, and isoleucine. These amino acids offer added benefits for muscle growth and recovery.

For extra immune support, certain protein powders may have added vitamins along with omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids. These added nutrients can help support overall health and wellbeing.

When choosing a protein powder, it's important to avoid those that are loaded with artificial sweeteners, added sugars, trans fats, or synthetic additives. These kinds of ingredients offer little nutritional value and may lead to digestive issues.

Different protein powder types 

Not all protein powders are created equal. That's why it's crucial to choose wisely and find a protein powder that aligns perfectly with your goals and preferences.

Protein powders come in various forms with different protein sources, flavours, and nutritional profiles.

Some are formulated to prioritise muscle building, while others focus on weight loss or specific dietary needs.

It's all about finding the one that suits you, so let’s look at the four main different types…

Whey protein powder

Whey protein concentrate 

Whey protein concentrate takes the crown as the most popular protein powder choice, and it's not hard to see why.

This creamy and delightful powder is the perfect addition to your protein shakes or baked goodies like cakes, oats, and cookies.

Now, let's dive into what whey concentrate really is. When milk is coagulated to make cheese, the liquid that separates from the curds is known as whey. This liquid undergoes a process to eliminate lactose, fat, and any impurities—resulting in concentrated whey protein. 

After further filtration and drying, a pure powder is formed.

This powder is then blended with other ingredients, such as flavourings, to create the consumable whey protein powder we love.

Here are a few key reasons why whey concentrate is so popular…

High protein content: Whey concentrate is power-packed with high-quality protein, making it a fantastic option to fuel your muscles and aid in recovery.

Low sugar: Many whey concentrates have a low sugar content, making them a healthier choice for those watching their sugar intake.

Full amino acid profile: Whey concentrate contains all the essential amino acids that your body needs. These amino acids play a vital role in muscle growth, repair, and overall wellbeing.

Creamy, delicious texture: Whey concentrate brings a delightful creaminess and richness to your protein shakes or baked goods. It adds that extra touch of yumminess to your creations.

Whey Protein Isolate

If you're on the hunt for a protein powder with a higher protein content and fewer carbs, whey protein isolate might be just what you need to succeed.

This refined and pure alternative to whey concentrate undergoes extra filtering to increase its protein content.

Whey isolate typically contains around 90% pure protein, whereas whey concentrate has a protein content of about 75 to 80%.

The extra filtering process also removes other nutrients from whey isolate, resulting in lower fat and fewer carbs. This, in turn, results in fewer calories than whey concentrate. So, if you want the premium option with the highest protein content—whey protein isolate is the way to go.

Whey protein isolate offers several benefits over whey concentrate…

Refined and pure: Whey isolate is subjected to extra filtration, resulting in a purer protein powder.

Higher protein content: With about 90% protein content, whey isolate packs a protein punch.

Fewer carbs: The extra filtering process also means whey isolate contains fewer carbs than whey concentrate.

Fewer calories: The removal of other nutrients results in a lower calorie count than whey concentrate.

Clear Whey Isolate

Clear whey isolate is a form of protein powder that not only fuels your body but also gives you a refreshing and flavorful experience.

Unlike regular protein powders, clear whey Isolate is a supplement that has been hydrolysed, resulting in a powder with a finer and smoother texture. When mixed into a shake, it creates a clear appearance that's visually appealing and unique.

Clear Whey Isolate offers lots of benefits, like…

Exciting range of flavours: Prepare your taste buds for flavours like passionfruit, tropical, and peach Iced Tea. 

Healthy serving: Clear whey isolate is packed with 20g of protein per serving, supporting your recovery and fitness goals.

Warm weather choice: Refreshing and available in a range of cool tastes, this is the ideal protein powder for summer workouts when the heat is on.

Whey Protein Hydrolysate 

Hydrolysed whey protein is the most processed of all whey protein options and is created via the process of hydrolysis—an innovative technique which breaks down the long protein chains into smaller segments, making it ‘pre-digested’ and easier for your body to absorb.

While it does still contain lactose, hydrolysate is generally better tolerated by those who show some signs of lactose intolerance, but this will depend on individuals. 

The result? Small protein particles called peptides quickly fuel your muscles and promote rapid recovery.

SmartFact: Studies (1) have shown that when combined with resistance training, whey hydrolysate shines as a standout player in the battle against body fat.

The good news just keeps coming…compared to whey concentrate or whey isolate, whey hydrolysate takes the lead in helping you reach your body composition goals.

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Casein protein powder

Casein, one of the key proteins found in dairy products, is the secret sauce that gives milk its distinctive colour.

In fact, casein reigns supreme, making up a whopping 80% of the total protein in cow's milk, while whey takes the rest, accounting for the remaining 20%.

Just like whey, casein is a complete protein, which means it contains all the essential amino acids your body needs to thrive.

Here's the exciting part: Casein provides a slow and steady release over 5-8 hours of those amino acids to your precious muscles, offering a sustained delivery that keeps you going strong. 

A casein supplement makes for the perfect bedtime shake, as it keeps those muscles happy with a steady supply of amino acids throughout the night, supporting your recovery and helping you wake up feeling refreshed and ready to conquer the day.

Vegan protein powder

When it comes to protein powders, whey is derived from cow's milk, making it unsuitable for vegans.

That's why there are alternative options available, known as vegan protein powders, which are sourced from plants. The most popular plant-based protein sources for these powders include…

  • Soy protein powder
  • Pea protein powder
  • Hemp protein powder

The main purpose of vegan protein powders is to provide a protein source that is free from animal-based ingredients.

This makes them ideal for vegans or those following a plant-based lifestyle. But, they also benefit people with allergies to dairy or lactose, as well as those who prefer a lactose-free protein powder.

Vegan protein powders are often considered more gentle on the digestive system compared to whey-based products, meaning many people with stomach problems find them easier to digest and less likely to cause discomfort.

But that's not all! Muscle protein synthesis, the secret to building a stronger you, is triggered by ensuring your protein blend contains at least 2.7 grams of leucine (2).

Plant-based protein blends with this magical leucine threshold can ignite the same exercise training adaptations (3) as animal-based protein sources.

Pea protein

Pea Protein Isolate, a second-generation isolate derived from yellow split peas, boasts an impressive protein content of 78%.

What sets Pea Protein Isolate apart is not only its high protein content—but also its low-calorie count.

With under 120 calories per serving, it's a great option for those looking to manage their calorie intake while still meeting their protein goals.

Pea protein powder is also low in sugar, contains all nine essential amino acids and is rich in iron. It is high in amino acid lysine but low in methionine and is often combined with rice protein (which is low in lysine and high in methionine) as they complement each other well. 

Soy protein

Soy protein is the predominant protein found in a variety of soy-based products, including tofu, tempeh, soy milk, and other dairy and meat alternatives made from soy.

Plus, soy protein is available in the form of soy protein powder, which can be used to supplement a workout regimen or to increase protein intake in general.

For those following a plant-based diet or those who don’t consume dairy products, soy foods often become a key source of protein, as well as essential vitamins and minerals.

Soya Protein Isolate, also referred to as soy protein isolate, is a protein derived from soybeans that has been carefully separated or isolated.

It serves as an excellent plant-based protein source for people who are looking to boost their protein intake without the additional fats, sugars, and fibre found in whole soybeans.

Hemp protein

As a vegan-friendly protein source, Hemp Protein Powder offers a profile of all 20 amino acids, including essential ones, along with the added benefits of omega-3 fatty acids and a high fibre content.

Although it does contain all the amino acids, the levels need to be higher to be considered complete. 

But this doesn’t discard hemp’s use as a protein in plant-based or vegan diets, and it can still be an exceptional option for those seeking a comprehensive protein source to support their overall health and fitness goals.

Not only does hemp protein powder provide an abundance of essential nutrients, but it also offers a delightful nutty flavour that adds a tasty touch to your shakes or smoothies. In terms of convenience, it mixes smoothly with water, making it an effortless addition to your daily routine. This is what makes hemp protein a great nutritional option. 

Egg white protein

As the name suggests, egg white protein is dried egg whites transformed into a convenient powder, truly what it says on the tin.

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When it comes to digestion speed, egg white protein falls right in the middle—it's slower than whey but faster than casein protein

This means it provides a sustained release of amino acids to support your muscles without overwhelming your system.

While it may not be the absolute best when it comes to muscle protein synthesis, egg white protein is still a fantastic choice for your post-workout or meal-replacement smoothie.

It's packed with high-quality protein that supports your body's recovery process and helps you reach your fitness goals.

One of the beauties of egg white protein is that it's a fantastic option for those who are allergic to or prefer to avoid dairy.

So, which type of protein powder is best for me? 

Both whey and vegan protein powders can be sufficient for muscle growth and recovery when added to a properly balanced diet.

Whey protein has a higher concentration of BCAAs, which is fantastic for those looking to maximise their muscle-building potential

But, if you have food allergies or sensitivities, plant-based protein is an excellent alternative that can deliver similar results.

When we consider PDCAAS (Protein Digestibility Corrected Amino Acid Score), whey comes out on top for muscle-building capabilities.

But don't count plant-based protein out just yet. It can still help with muscle growth, and you can boost the quality of this protein by pairing it with an amino acid supplement.

The truth is, that any protein powder can help you meet your daily protein goals and can benefit your fitness journey.

At the end of the day, the key is to choose a high-quality protein that you actually enjoy.

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Power up your performance the Smart way

Now that you know all about the main types of protein powder and their body-boosting benefits, we’re sure you’re revved up and ready to find a supplement that suits you.

If you want to power up your performance the Smart way, our whey protein isolate and concentrate supplement—known as The Protein Blend—suits every type of fitness enthusiast.

Whatever your goals, with a trusted mix of low lactose ingredients and 23 grams of complete protein per serving, this balanced protein shake will give you the muscle power you need to get to where you want to be.

If you’re a proud plant-based amateur or professional athlete looking for a quality protein that will level up your training sessions, our epic Ve-Gains formula comes in three tasty flavours and offers 20 grams of protein per serving. Go get some.

Sources

Smart Protein is committed to sourcing only the most up-to-date and scientifically-based research in our articles.

1 - Pub Med

https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/27710436/

2 - Ncbi

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6245118/

3 - Ncbi

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC8230006/

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