The Ultimate Guide to Choosing the Best Protein Powder

Anyone who is serious about their personal fitness knows about the importance of adding protein to their diet in order to build muscle and burn fat.

While you don’t need to use protein supplements to obtain your recommended daily intake of the nutrient, it is highly recommended if your goal is to build lean muscle.

Unfortunately, there are some factors that make it challenging to regularly supplement with protein.

One hurdle to maintaining a consistent protein supplement regimen is that high-quality protein supplements are often expensive, depending on where you purchase your supplements and the type that you buy.

In addition, finding the right type of protein for your body’s needs may also pose a challenge, as there are many sources of protein on the market today. You may be overwhelmed by the varieties that exist, but choosing the right one is extremely important to ensure that you are fueling your body with the highest quality supplement to help you meet your health and fitness goals.

If you overlook these critical components, you will likely find yourself wasting valuable time and hard-earned money.

The Lineup

The five most popular forms of protein used in muscle-building and fat shredding diets include whey, casein, egg, soy, rice, pea, and hemp.

In this article, we will review each type and break down their advantages so you can confidently choose a protein that will help you reach your goals in the shortest amount of time possible.

Whey Protein

Whey protein is by far the most widely used form of protein and is likely the most recognizable source on this list.

Whey is an extremely high-quality protein and an animal byproduct that is naturally found in the milk of cows and produced during the process of making cheese.

During the process in which cows are milked, an enzyme is added that helps to separate the milk into several parts. One of these parts, known as curd, is eventually turned into cheese while another part is whey which is then pasteurized and filtered into powder.

Whey is a complete protein, meaning it contains all of the essential amino acids for muscle synthesis and growth. There are three types of whey: concentrate, isolate, and hydrolysate.

Let’s break down each type:

Whey Protein Concentrate

Whey Protein Concentrate (WPC) is the most common form of protein that is used in sports nutrition and supplement shakes.

While WPCs are typically comprised of 80 percent protein, this value can range from 25 percent to 89 percent, with the rest of the substance consisting of lactose, water, minerals, and fat.

Advantages of Using Whey Protein Concentrate

  • Its price point is lower than the isolate form because it contains less protein per equal serving.
  • It’s complete blend of amino acids is highly beneficial for post-workout muscle recovery.

Verdict

Overall, WPC is a solid source of protein if you are looking for an effective option that won’t break the bank. At this price point, you cannot expect top-of-the-line quality, but you will still bring home a blend that will help you achieve your fitness goals.

Whey Protein Isolate

Whey Protein Isolate (WPI) is an extremely pure substance that is comprised of roughly 90-95 percent protein.

Fortunately, WPI contains a considerably lower amount of fat and lactose due to its filtration process. In addition, its absorption rate is much higher than the concentrate, which makes it an ideal choice for individuals who wish to feed their muscles for recovery immediately after a workout.

It is also important to note that since this is the highest quality protein, the price of products that contain WPI will be significantly higher than any other form of whey.

Advantages of Using Whey Protein Isolate

  • At 90-95 percent protein, this is the purest form of whey available.
  • Its absorption rate is very high.
  • It contains little to no lactose, which is especially important for individuals who are lactose intolerant.

Verdict

WPI is hands-down the purest and most concentrated protein that you can consume in powdered form. Its absorption rate is high and it is quickly processed by the body to allow for faster post-workout recovery.

One drawback of WPI is that you cannot use this type of protein powder before bed since it’s fast assimilation into the body will contribute to increased energy. Additionally, its extremely high price point often deters users from making the leap from Whey Protein Concentrate.

Whey Protein Hydrolysate

Hydrolyzed Whey Protein is specially processed to create a form that has a high absorption rate when it enters the body, making it a bit more expensive than the other types. In addition, it is also known to have a bitter/acidic taste, depending on the type you purchase. Despite these factors, there is one major benefit to using Whey Protein Hydrolysate.

Advantage of Using Whey Protein Hydrolysate

  • Whey Protein Hydrolysate is absorbed into the body at a faster rate than any of its competitors, making it the best option for pre-workout fuel or post-workout recovery.

Verdict

In our opinion, Whey Protein Hydrolysate is a “glamor protein” since its stats make it look like the sweetheart of the ball, but unfortunately, they are mostly just glitz and glam.

As a lab-processed protein, it is the fastest absorbing of those listed above, but the protein quality is not as high as that of Whey Protein Isolate. If your goal is to find an ultra-fast absorbing protein to consume when you wrap up your workout, you won’t find anything more efficient than Whey Protein Hydrolysate.

Casein Protein

Casein supplements are arguably the second most popular type of protein and probably one of the fastest growing trends within fitness circles.

Casein comes from cow’s milk and is responsible for its cloudy white appearance. Casein’s two primary forms, Calcium Caseinate and Micellar, make up about 80 percent of the proteins found in cow milk and roughly 20-45 percent of the protein found in human milk.

Unlike whey, which is quickly absorbed into the bloodstream, casein protein powder absorbs at a much slower rate and releases quality proteins to the muscle cells over an extended period of time. This primarily occurs because caseins form “clots” when they are exposed to acid. When casein interacts with the acids in your stomach, the clots produce a slow release of amino acids into the plasma, which can last for several hours.

This slower absorption rate is the main reason why many people consider casein protein powder as the perfect protein supplement to take before bedtime.

Bodybuilders are especially fond of Casein because it has the ability to keep their bodies in an anabolic state while they are asleep.

Advantages of Using Casein Protein

  • Casein protein’s slower absorption rate is the primary benefit.
  • The price point for casein protein powder is lower than that of whey protein powder.

Verdict

Casein provides your body with a quality protein that takes a long time to absorb, helping to feed your muscles over time and serving as the perfect nightcap to end your day.

If you are interested in adding muscle mass, consistently supplementing with casein prior to bedtime will help you achieve your goal.

Egg Protein

Egg protein supplements are powdered, dried variants of egg whites with zero fat and little-to-no carbohydrates. Since egg protein powder is free of lactose, it is the ideal option for individuals who are lactose intolerant.

The quality of protein found in egg whites is often compared to whey protein, as it effectively synthesizes muscle growth in a similar fashion. Another benefit is that egg protein powder is digested even slower than casein, which makes it a great protein to consume if you want to keep your body in an anabolic state over an extended period of time.

Advantages of Using Egg Protein

  • Extremely high-quality protein (comparable to whey).
  • Ideal for individuals with sensitivities to lactose.
  • Slow absorption rate for pre-bedtime use.

Verdict

Egg protein is a high-quality protein that can be compared to whey in terms of quality.

This protein source is a good fit for individuals who are sensitive to foods containing lactose or those who are lactose intolerant. Egg protein absorbs even slower than casein, so it is the perfect blend to consume in the morning in order to reap lasting benefits throughout the day.

Soy Protein

As the name suggests, soy protein originates from soybeans. It is defatted and dehulled, so it can then be processed into a consumable form of protein. Soy protein powder is approximately 60-70 percent protein by weight and supplies the body with an adequate amount of amino acids.

It is shown to be effective in building muscle mass and is primarily used by vegetarians and vegans who are looking for an additional source of protein.

While soy protein is highly nutritious and beneficial for strength training support, it has caused some controversy among health and fitness professionals. The reason is that research has shown that taking products containing soy on a regular basis can produce feminizing effects in men. This is mostly due to soybeans’ content of isoflavones, which contain naturally occurring estrogen-like molecules.

Soy isoflavones reside in a class of compounds that are called phytoestrogens, which are similar in structure and function to the female sex hormone, estrogen. While they are shown to have medical purposes for women, they are not especially beneficial for men.

For this reason, it is recommended that soy protein supplementation is only exercised by women and that men stick to other sources, such as whey or casein.  

Advantages of Using Soy Protein

  • Soy protein is the ideal source for individuals who do not eat meat or animal products.

Verdict

If you follow a vegan or vegetarian diet and need additional protein, soy protein powder is one of your best options for supplementation.

While this is not the optimal source for men, women may enjoy added benefits when adding soy protein to their diet.

Rice and Pea Protein

We combine rice and pea protein into the same category, as they share many similarities and are mostly used within the vegan community. They are both natural sources of protein that are not produced from animals.

Pea protein has a slightly sweet taste, is very light, and is known to be hypoallergenic and highly digestible.

Rice protein, on the other hand, tends to have a bitter and chalky taste, which is why it is often suggested to mix the two together to form a single blend.

The amino acid profile of a rice and pea protein blend is also very similar to that of whey.

Advantages of Using Rice or Pea Protein

  • They are both ideal supplement sources for vegetarians and vegans who do not eat meat.
  • They contain a strong amino acid profile.
  • They are both free of lactose, which makes them good options for those who are sensitive or allergic to lactose.
  • They are highly digestible and easily absorbed by the body.

Verdict

Rice and Pea protein powders are perfect for those who abstain from consuming animal products, they are easily digested and they can be added to essentially any type of diet.

Hemp Protein

Hemp protein is a product formed from hemp seeds, which have a very balanced macronutrient profile.

Hemp protein powder is produced from seeds that are industrially processed to have their oil extracted. The seed meal that remains is then further processed to produce the hemp protein that is widely available as dietary supplements.

While most people associate hemp with marijuana, the hemp that is available on the market as a protein source does not produce any sensory-stimulating effects.

Hemp protein is only about 30-50 percent protein and is not considered a complete protein since it has relatively low levels of lysine and leucine. Therefore, it isn’t nearly as effective for muscle-building as whey, casein, soy, pea, or rice proteins.

Hemp protein is also a great source of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids, as well as polyunsaturated fats, which are “good fats” that your body needs for fuel and recovery.

Advantages of Using Hemp Protein

  • It is a great source of additional micronutrients such as omega-3s and omega-6s.

Verdict

Hemp protein is a viable option if you are looking for additional protein supplementation; however, if you are a serious workout enthusiast, it will probably not provide you with enough high-quality protein for adequate long-term use.

While its added micronutrients are beneficial, hemp protein does not measure up to the other options in this list in terms of protein content and nutritional value.

Be sure to consider other options that may be more in line with your training goals if you are using hemp as a protein source.

In Summary

Based on our review of the various protein sources available, you can see that there are a plethora of choices that each offer different benefits and consequences to the body.

If you’re maintaining a balanced diet with plenty of whole foods that contain natural sources of protein and amino acids, you are likely consuming an adequate amount of protein without needing extra supplementation.

However, we have found that most individuals who are leading a very active lifestyle often struggle with consuming the amount of protein that their bodies actually need. Thus, adding a protein shake to your daily regimen can serve a number of benefits.

The primary principle to keep in mind when choosing your protein powder is that regardless of what source from which your protein originates, you need to ensure that you are getting enough quality protein every day.

For individuals who are looking to maintain lean muscle, a good rule of thumb is consuming one gram of protein for every pound of body weight (I.e. if you weigh 150 pounds, you should aim for 150 grams of protein per day).

It is also important to take the right type of protein at the right time, as this will ensure that you are using the protein to its full potential, and not wasting your time or hard-earned money.

Since whey concentrate and egg protein is fast-absorbing, it is best to consume these sources in the morning; whereas whey isolate or hydrolysate is best consumed immediately following a workout and casein is ideally consumed before bedtime.

When you take protein supplements strategically and follow the science of how each one works, you will effectively fuel your body to produce desirable results.

If you’re still not sure which protein is the right choice for you, consult your physician and notify them of your health and fitness goals.

We hope you found this guide helpful, and that you now feel confident and empowered to choose the best protein powder that will suit your lifestyle and overall fitness goals!