Protein powders are very popular amongst CrossFit athletes and health-conscious people. There are so many types of protein powders from a variety of sources. With so many options to choose from, here is a guide to determining which will provide optimal results for you.
What Are Protein Powders?
Protein powders are concentrated sources of protein from animal or plant foods (dairy, eggs, rice, peas). There are three common forms:
- Protein Concentrates: Produced by extracting protein from whole foods using heat and acid or enzymes. These are usually 20-40% fat and carbs and 60-80% protein.
- Protein Isolates: An additional filtering process removes more fat and carbs, which further concentrate the protein. These contain 90-95% protein
- Protein Hydrolysates: Produced by further heating with acid or enzymes–this breaks the bond between amino acids–hydrolysates are absorbed quickly by your body and muscles. These appear to raise insulin levels more than other forms. This can enhance your muscle growth following exercise. .
Whey protein comes from milk. It is the liquid that separates from the curds during the cheesemaking process. It’s high in protein but also harbors lactose, a milk sugar that many people cannot digest. Whey isolate contains very little lactose because most of the milk sugar is lost during processing. Whey digests quickly and is rich in branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs). Leucine, one of these BCAAs, plays a vital role in promoting muscle growth and recovery after resistance and endurance exercise. It may also reduce appetite and promote fat loss.
Casein is a protein found in milk. However, it is digested and absorbed much more slowly than whey protein. Casein forms a gel when it interacts with stomach acid which slows down the absorption of amino acids. Casein may reduce muscle protein breakdown and promote muscle mass growth and fat loss during calorie restriction.
Egg protein is high in quality and easily digested, though it may not keep you feeling as full as other protein powders. Egg protein is second only to whey as the highest source of leucine, the BCAA that plays the largest role in muscle health. Please keep in mind that egg proteins have not been studied as much as whey or casein protein.
This protein is especially popular amongst vegans and vegetarians or individuals who have allergies and sensitivities to dairy or eggs. It’s made from the yellow split pea, a high-fiber legume that boasts all but one of the essential amino acids. It is rich in BCAAs. It is absorbed slower than whey protein but faster than casein protein and has an ability to trigger the release of several fullness hormones.
Hemp protein is another plant-based supplement gaining popularity. Hemp is rich in beneficial omega-3 fatty acids and several essential amino acids. It is not considered a complete protein because it has very low levels of the amino acids lysine and leucine. While it appears to be a well-digested plant protein source, little research has been conducted on hemp protein.
Brown Rice Protein
While rice protein contains all of the essential amino acids, it is too low in lysine to be a complete protein. Early research on brown rice protein powder suggests it may have beneficial effects on body composition.
Mixed Plant Proteins
Some protein powders contain a blend of plant based sources to provide your body with all the essential amino acids. Due to the high fiber content, plant proteins tend to digest slower than animal proteins. Two or more of the following proteins are usually combined:
- Brown rice
- Chia seeds
- Flax seeds
Which Protein Powders Are Best?
For Muscle Gain
- Whey Protein Powders
- Whey Protein Isolate
For Weight Loss
- Casein Protein
- Whey Protein
- Casein + Whey Combos
For Vegans & Vegetarians
- Pea protein
- Pea + Brown Rice Protein Combos
- Vega One All-in-One Nutritional Shake