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The Ultimate Guide To Protein Powder

Protein Powder Guide

The protein powder industry has mushroomed over the past decade. The result is that we are bombarded with a dizzying array of protein manufacturers, brands and types. Each of them claims to be absolutely vital to your muscle growth efforts – and each one is endorsed by some massive, ripped dude who swears that, if it wasn’t for that powder, he’d still be a 90-pound weakling getting sand kicked in his face on the beach.

In this article, we aim to cut through all the hype to reveal the facts about protein powder. We’ll discover what the different types are, how they differ and what to look for in finding the right protein powder to meet your specific needs.

Protein powders are made from a range of food sources. The main ones are:

  • Milk
  • Eggs
  • Meat
  • Rice
  • Soy

Powders that are based on these foods have different balances of essential and non-essential amino acids. Most powders will provide you with between 20 and 30 grams of protein per serving. Some of them are also fortified with vitamins, minerals, and fatty acids.

Let’s take a close look at the types of powders that are available on the current market.

Whey Protein

Whey Protein

Whey protein powder is the most commonly found in retail stores and online. Whey proteins account for 20 percent of the protein in milk. It used to be considered as nothing more thn a waste product. Whey is a by-product of the cheese production process. It is a low-cost readily available source of protein.

Whey is a very high-quality protein. That is because it contains all of the essential amino acids. It is especially high in branch chain amino acids (BCAAs). These amino acids are vital to muscle protein synthesis.

Whey protein digests quickly. It has a high biological value. This causes a rapid increase in amino acids entering into the bloodstream. The Biological Value (BV) measures the amount of protein that is retained when the protein is absorbed into the body.

Whey scores a 100 (perfect) score on the Biological Value scale. This is even higher than soy protein. Another way that protein is measured is by way of what is called the Protein Efficiency Ratio (PER). Whey protein has a PER of 3.2. This is second to egg protein, which score 3.9.

Whey protein is full of protein fractions, including beta-lactoglobulin and alpha lactalbumin.

Whey Protein Concentrate (WPC)

Whey Protein Concentrate

Whey protein concentrate is the least processed of all the forms of protein. That is because less of the pure protein is separated out. Whey protein concentrate powder will usually contain 70 to 85 percent protein by weight.

Whey protein concentrate is also the most cost-effective form of whey that you can buy. On the flip side, it is the least tasty type. This often leads the manufacturer to add sugar for flavor.

Here is a typical amino acid profile for Whey Protein Concentrate:

Essential Amino Acids

  • Isoleucine 6%
  • Leucine 12%
  • Lysine 11%
  • Methionine 2%
  • Phenylalanine 4%
  • Threonine 8%
  • Tryptophan 2%
  • Valine 6%

Non-Essential Amino Acids

  • Alanine 5%
  • Arginine 3%
  • Aspartic Acid 9%
  • Cystine/Cysteine 3%
  • Glutamic Acid 15%
  • Glycine 2%
  • Histidine 2%
  • Proline 5%
  • Serine 4%
  • Tyrosine 3%

Nutrition Information For Whey Protein Concentrate

Whey protein concentrate includes the following fractions:

  • Glycomacropepetides
  • Immunoglobulins
  • bovine serum albumin
  • lactoperoxidase
  • lactoferrin

These fractions have been shown to boost the immunity, as well as having anti-viral, anabolic, anti-carcinogenic and inflammatory activity.

Nutritional Profile: Whey Protein Concentrate

Serving size: 1 oz.= 28.4 grams

Protein (dry basis): 23.0 grams
Total Carbohydrates: 2.0 grams
Dietary Fiber: 0
Sugars (as Lactose): 2.0 grams
Total Fat: 2.0 grams
Saturated Fat: 1.2 grams
Cholesterol: 65 milligrams
Energy: 110 calories (Kcal)
Energy from Fat: 18 calories (Kcal)
Potassium: 160 milligrams
Sodium: 55 milligrams
Calcium: 110 milligrams
Vitamin A: 200 I.U.

Whey Protein Isolate (WPI)

Whey Protein Isolate

Why protein isolate is 90 percent protein by weight. It is the purest but also the most expensive form of whey protein that you can buy. It contains less fat and less lactose than whey concentrate.

Research has also shown that whey protein isolate has powerful immune boosting properties that will raise levels of glutathione. Whey isolate is also the purest form of protein. Because it is expensive for manufacturers to get whey protein isolate, you will usually find that a powder is a blend of isolate and concentrate. Often the manufacturers will include these in what is known as a proprietary blend, where they do not disclose the ratio of isolate to concentrate.

Anecdotal research shows that a blend of concentrate and isolate provides as much benefit in terms of muscle building as purchasing pure whey isolate. That seems to suggest that you don’t need to fork out the extra expense to get a pure whey protein isolate powder.

Whey Protein Hydrolysate (WPH)

Whey protein hydrolysis uses a higher processing method than either whey isolate or whey concentrate. That makes it the highest quality protein. The pay off is that it is also the most expensive form of protein out there.

Whey isolate is easy on the digestive system. It has a higher absorption rate than other proteins. Whey hydrolysate can be absorbed within 10 to 20 minutes of taking it. Some of the amino acid peptides that it contains are able to be broken down, which allows for smaller protein particles to be digested.

Whey hydrolysate has a nutritional profile which is very similar to whey isolate. It does have a slightly lower BCAA content, due to the hydrolysis process. In comparison to other proteins, whey hydrolysate is slightly bitter tasting. It is usually added to other forms of whey powder in order to boost their effects rather than being sold as a stand-alone product.

Casein Protein


Casein protein possesses some unique attributes that you do not find with whey protein. It has the ability to create a gel in the stomach when it enters the system. This slows down the rate of absorption of the amino acids into the bloodstream for several hours. This, in turn, helps to keep the body in a state of positive nitrogen balance.

Casein is the most abundant form of protein that is derived from cow’s milk. There are three types of casein as follows:

  • Calcium Caseinate 
  • Micellar Casein 
  • Milk Protein Isolate

Of the three, calcium caseinate is the lowest quality. Micellar Casein and Milk Protein Isolate are quite similar but milk protein isolate contains both micellar casein and whey. Of the three this is the best choice if your goal is to build lean muscle tissue.

Casein protein has a slow digestive rate, which make it ideal to take at night time in order to provide a slow release of protein while you are sleeping. Even though it is released slowly into the blood stream, this does not really affect its protein efficiency rating.

Casein also plays a key role in preventing protein breakdown. To maintain the ideal balance between fast and slow digesting protein you should select a powder that is a blend of both whey and casein.

The most effective milk protein isolates contain 80% micellar casein and 20% whey.

Nutritional Profile: Casein 

Serving size: 1 oz.= 28.4 grams

Protein (dry basis): 23.0 grams (81%)
Total Carbohydrates: 2.0 grams
Dietary Fiber: 0
Sugars (as Lactose): 2.0 grams
Total Fat: 2.0 grams
Saturated Fat: 1.2 grams
Cholesterol: 65 milligrams
Energy: 110 calories (Kcal)
Energy from Fat: 18 calories (Kcal)
Potassium: 160 milligrams
Sodium: 55 milligrams
Calcium: 110 milligrams
Vitamin A: 200 I.U.

Milk Protein

Milk Protein

Milk protein comes from skim milk. It contains both whey and caseon protein fractions. It contains nine of the essential amino acids. Milk protein concentrates range from 40 to 85 percent protein by weight. This compares to milk protein isolates which contain about 90 percent protein by weight, with just one percent lactose.

Milk protein is a slow digesting protein. It is high in protein, low in fat and also low in carbs.

Egg Protein

Egg protein is derived from egg whites, which are a great protein source. They are also low in fat and are lactose free. They contain all of the essential amino acids, including the BCAAs. On top of that, egg proteins are very easily digested. Eggs also contain about 20 percent more protein than other sources of protein. Leucine is the most important of the three branch chain amino acids.

Studies have shown that egg protein is far more anabolic than either soy or whey protein. It has also been shown to increase lean body mass more than soy or whey. Egg protein is digested by the body at a similar rate to whey.

An extra bonus that you get with egg protein is that it is packed full of vitamins, minerals and micro-nutrients. It is a great alternative to people who are lactose intolerant or are allergic to soy. On the negative side, some people may find that egg protein causes more bloating and gas than other protein powders due to its high sulfur content.

Nutritional Profile: Egg Protein

Serving Size: 28.4 grams

Calories: 100
Calories from Fat: 0
Total Fat: 0g
Saturated Fat: 0g
Cholesterol: 5g
Total Carbohydrate: 2g
Dietary Fiber: 0g
Sugars: 0g
Protein: 22g
Phosphorus: 25g
Magnesium: 20mg
Sodium: 390mg
Potassium: 310mg

Soy Protein Isolate

Soy protein is a vegetable sourced form of complete protein. It is a good source of both essential and non-essential amino acids. It contains more glutamine than whey protein. Soy isolate powder contains 90 percent protein by weight, with low fat and carb content. It is also rich in isoflavones.

It was thought that soy protein had a testosterone lowering effect on the body but that has been disproven.  There has been a link made between the consumption of soy protein and lowered risk of prostate cancer.

Nutritional Profile: Soy Protein

Serving Size: 31.5 grams

Calories: 120
Calories from fat: 15
Total Fat: 1.5g
Saturated Fat: 0g
Cholesterol: 0mg
Sodium: 330mg
Potassium: 440mg
Total Carbohydrate Dietary Fiber: 0g
Sugars: 0g
Protein: 25g
Vitamin A: 0
Vitamin C: 0
Calcium: 6

Beef Protein Isolate

Beef protein isolate is quite a new entry onto the protein powder market.  However, it is becoming increasingly popular. Derived from beef, with the cholesterol and fat removed, this is a fast digesting form of protein. It is a good source of BCAAs, along with vitamins, and minerals. The one thing that it has over other forms of protein is that beef contains creatine, which is an ideal workout strength and energy enhancer.

Nutritional Profile: Beer Protein

Serving Size: 31.5 grams

Calories: 135
Calories from Fat: 0
Total Fat: 0g
Cholesterol: 0mg
Total Carbohydrate: 8g
Dietary Fiber: 0g
Sugars: 0g
Protein: 23g
Vitamin A: 801IU
Vitamin C: 36mg
Thiamin: 0.1mg

Protein Powder Buyer’s Guide

With so much choice out there, it is vital that we have some guidelines to help us get beyond the marketing hype to choose protein powder products that actually work. A good place to start is to know the biological value of the various protein sources. So, here it is:

Biological Value for Protein Sources

Beef: 80
Casein: 77
Egg: 100
Milk: 91
Whey Protein: 104
Soy Protein: 74

A second consideration is the net protein utilization (NPU). This relates to the total amount of ingested protein that actually ends up in the muscle cell. The higher the NPU the better. Let’s see how these numbers stack up:

Beef: 80
Casein: 77
Egg: 100
Milk: 91
Whey Protein: 104
Soy Protein: 74

One more measure that you need to know about is the Protein Digestibility Corrected Amino Acid score. This measures the score of amino acids and quality of protein based on the profile of essential and non-essential amino acids. This is, to date, the most used method for evaluating the quality of a protein source. Here are the PDCAA scores for the protein types we have been discussing:

Beef: 0.92
Casein: 1.00
Eggs: 1.00
Milk: 1.00
Whey: 1.00
Soy: 1.00

3 Things To Check With Every Protein Powder

Check the other ingredients section on the nutrition panel. The manufacturer has to list everything they put into the product. If it has glycine – or a high level of fats, sugars or fillers – put it back on the shelf. Glycine is an inferior form of protein that is added to boost up the protein count.

You actually do not want to see any amino acids listed separately on the ingredients lost. This indicates that the manufacturer has followed a practice known as amino acid spiking, which is done to artificially inflate the protein content of the protein powder.

That means that the factory where the powder is made has been government inspected for quality control. This will be indicated on the back of the label. If it’s not there, put it back and keep shopping.

This keeps the manufacturer’s honest and gives you confidence that what you read on the label is actually what is in the product. This will either be indicated on the label or the company’s website.

4 Questions To Ask Yourself?

The answer should be yes. If you buy a 100% whey protein, then you are, in effect, short changing yourself. The research shows that you need a blend to maximize muscle growth, stimulate strength gains and enhance performance. You should look for a blend of whey and casein protein to give you both fast and slow digesting amino acids. Ideally the type of casein in the blend should be micellar casein.

If it doesn’t, put the tub back on the shelf. You deserve more than a proprietary blend that fails to divulge how much of each protein type has been used in the product. This is usually done because the manufacturer has maximized the use of the lowest cost form of protein. You also deserve better than simply to be told the percentage of each type of protein – you should see the actual numbers in grams.

On the nutrition label, you’ll see a serving size which tells you how many grams are in a serving. Let’s say that it is 31 grams. If the label tells you that 24 grams of that is protein, you need to ask what the other 7 grams are. Check for sugars, carbs or fillers that could be making up that extra content.

You want a protein powder with a per serving protein amount of between 20-40 grams.

The law stipulates that ingredients must be listed in descending weight order. So, the ingredients that take up the most volume in the product must be listed first. If the first ingredient listed is maltodextrin and the second is protein, then you know that you are getting more carbs than protein. This is probably not what you want. When it comes to protein blends, you want a higher blend of whey isolate than concentrate.

Final Word

Protein powder is a vital tool in your battle to build muscle. But it is a tool that needs to be used wisely. Remember, that protein powders are supplements. They should never take the place of whole foods. Use them no more than twice a day, ideally before and after your workout to provide your body with the proteins it needs to built muscle.

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