Eating enough protein can be difficult, which is why so many people use a protein supplement like protein powders or protein bars to help them reach their daily protein intake. But the world of supplements is a tricky one... There are so many different brands that claim they're the best, yet include a long list of ingredients that you can't even pronounce! Heads up, if their ingredients list is long and unfamiliar, run away. Protein powder is a simple supplement that doesn't need a long list of ingredients, in fact, the main ingredient is the protein source itself! The thing is that there are various types of protein powders that have different uses and are digested differently. So it's important to know the differences in order to find the best one for you.
Finding a high-quality protein powder that fits you and your goals is not an easy task, but don't worry – we're here to help! Keep on reading to get the full breakdown of the different types of protein powder, what to avoid, and which one is best for your fitness goals. That way you can start getting enough protein in to support your gains 💪
Types of protein and uses
If you have ever been to a health and supplement store or searched through Amazon for a protein powder then you know how overwhelming it is. There are so many different protein powders to choose from, making it difficult for you to find the right one for your lifestyle and goals. There are three main protein powders you have most likely seen on the shelf due to their popularity – Whey Protein Powder, Casein Protein Powder, and Vegan Protein Powder. And within their categories, there are different types that are processed differently, like isolate, concentrate, etc. Don't get too confused yet, remember, we got all the details for you to help make your life a little easier.
Whey protein powder
Whey protein is by far the most popular and commonly used protein powders. Whey is an animal-based protein that is found in the watery portion of milk that separates from the curds when cheese is made. It's commonly used by weight trainers because it contains all the essential amino acids (making it a complete protein), it's easily digested and absorbed, and can help with muscle growth. In fact, it's known to be the best for muscle growth because it contains the greatest amount of leucine which plays a major role in increasing protein synthesis.
There are three types of whey protein: whey isolate, whey concentrate, and whey hydrolysate.
- Whey isolate - This contains a highly concentrated protein content due to the way it's processed. It goes through an additional filtering process that removes a lot of the fat and carbs to further concentrate the protein, giving it a high protein content of 90-95%
- Whey concentrate - It doesn't get processed as much as whey isolate, but it does have some lactose and fat removed, just not as much as isolate. It contains an average of 70-80% protein per scoop.
- Whey hydrolysate - This type of protein is "pre-digested" so it gets absorbed faster. It makes digesting it easier, but it does cause a greater spike in insulin levels than isolate does.
All three are great options, but it depends on what exactly you want. If you want to ensure you're getting an adequate amount of protein for your muscles to grow then go for whey isolate. Plus, it contains lower fat and carbs which is ideal for weight loss. Whey protein concentrate is another popular option due to it containing some fat which gives it a creamier texture. Some say it's the best-tasting one, but we believe whey isolate is just as tasty as concentrate!
If you're sensitive to lactose then it's best to avoid whey protein powder altogether because it can cause bloating and gas. Opt for a vegan option - there are a lot!
Vegan protein powder
There are various plant-based options for vegans or for people sensitive to lactose who want to supplement with a protein powder. The protein source for these vary from hemp seeds, brown rice, yellow split peas, pumpkin seeds, and more. There are so many different plant protein sources, but based on research the most effective ones are rice protein, pea protein, and hemp protein.
- Rice protein - Brown rice protein powders are relatively inexpensive and are said to have similar muscle-building effects as whey protein. It doesn't contain as much the essential amino acid lysine, but it is still a good source of BCAA's to support building muscle.
- Pea protein - This protein powder is made from yellow split peas, they contain higher protein which makes it an excellent source of vegan protein. Another great thing about pea protein is that it is rich in the essential BCAA's - leucine, isoleucine, and valine. These amino acids help give you steady energy for your workout and minimize muscle protein breakdown.
- Hemp protein - Hemp seeds come from the cannabis plant and are processed to make hemp protein. But don't worry, hemp seeds contain little to no traces of THC! It's not considered a complete protein because it contains low traces of lysine. It also has fewer grams of protein compared to other vegan options. But it is a great source of fiber, magnesium, omega fatty acids, and iron.
When it comes to plant protein sources, pea protein seems to be the best! It contains the most BCAA's and it's been shown to help increase muscle mass when combined with resistance training. 
Casein protein powder
Casein, like whey, also comes from milk. Casein is 80% of the milk protein, and whey is 20%. But they have some crucial differences. Casein is absorbed slowly which helps you stay fuller longer and it's also considered a complete protein because it contains all the essential amino acids. This means that instead of getting an immediate dose of amino acids, as whey provides, you'll receive a more steady stream. This helps to reduce the rate of muscle protein breakdown which helps improve muscle recovery. It's often taken at night due to the slow absorption rate.
There are two types of Casein:
- Micellar casein - This is the more popular form because it gets digested and absorbed at a slower rate.
- Casein hydrolysate - This type is predigested and is absorbed rapidly.
This protein powder is known as "anti-catabolic" because it can help your cells synthesize protein. So, it's a really great protein source for those who want to minimize muscle breakdown to maximize muscle growth.
All of these protein supplements are great and can help you effectively reach your goals, but always try to prioritize high protein whole foods in your diet. Eat foods like chicken, salmon, beef, eggs, nuts, seeds, legumes, and more. If you're tracking your macros and still see that you're not getting a sufficient amount of protein, then use a protein supplement as needed.
Which protein powder is best?
The best protein powder depends on your personal fitness goals, but also your lifestyle. The information above will help you determine which best fits your lifestyle and dietary needs, but we wanted to take it a step further and give you a list of the best protein powders based on popular fitness goals.
To build muscle
The best protein powders for muscle building are casein and whey isolate. Whey isolate is ideal because it has the highest protein content, leucine, and can be taken post-workout to give your muscles an immediate stream of amino acids and enhance muscle recovery. Casein protein is also a great option to have because it can be used for those who have trouble meeting their protein needs at the end of the day. For example, if you're missing a few grams of protein at the end of the day you can reach for casein instead of whey because it's absorbed slower and will further enhance muscle recovery at night.
A few suggestions are:
- 373 Lab Whey Protein Isolate – Made with high-quality ingredients, and only the ones you need! Each scoop contains 25 grams of whey protein isolate that has been filtered without the use of harsh chemicals. The best part is that it doesn't contain fillers or additives, however, it contains an added digestive enzyme blend for easier digestion and absorption and naturally occurring BCAA's. Oh, and it tastes amazing too!
- Transparent Labs Casein Protein – This brand sources its casein from grass-fed cows, opposed to grain-fed. Like 373 Lab, they use minimal ingredients to ensure you're getting an optimal amount of protein. Their casein is low in fat and carbs, high in calcium, and contains 25 grams of protein per scoop.
If we had to choose between the two, we'd choose 373 Lab Whey Protein Isolate 😉
For weight loss
For those wanting to lose weight, look at the ingredients of the protein powder you're buying. Make sure there are no added sugars or other unnecessary additives. Try to look for a combination of whey and casein because they keep you full longer and help with fat loss. A few suggestions are:
- Optimum Nutrition Gold Standard 100% Casein Protein – It has 24 grams of protein per scoop and has minimal ingredients.
- Isopure Whey Protein Isolate – It has 25 grams of protein per scoop and it's sweetened with monk fruit so it has only 3 grams of sugar per serving.
- 373 Lab Whey Protein Isolate – Why did we mention it again? Because it's versatile to fit almost any goal! It contains less than 2 grams of carbs and less than a gram of fat, and it tastes delicious, making it ideal for anyone with muscle-building or weight loss goals.
Those suffering from diabetes or simply following a low-carb diet, like the ketogenic diet, should look for whey isolate protein because it is processed to remove most of the fat and lactate. There are also powders that are specifically for keto and low carb diets, just make sure to read the ingredient label to ensure that it is! A few suggestions are:
- Isopure Zero Carb Whey Protein Isolate – Contains 25 grams of protein per scoop and 0 grams of carbs.
- Combat 100% Isolate – Contains 24 grams of protein per serving and no carbs, fats, or sugars.
Plant-based and dairy-free protein powders are the best option for vegans and anyone that is lactose intolerant. Look for hemp, rice, or pea protein. Here are two of the best vegan protein powders:
- Garden Of Life Raw Organic Protein – Contains 22 grams of a sugar-free, pea, and sprout protein with each serving, it also contains probiotics and is non-GMO.
- MRM Veggie Elite – Is a blend of pea and brown rice protein with vegan digestive enzymes that contains 24 grams of protein per serving. It's also gluten-free, soy-free, and has no artificial sweeteners, flavors, or colors.
What to look out for
We always suggest trying to get most of your protein from natural food sources, but sometimes a protein shake or two is needed to help you reach your goal. Some protein blends have a lot of additives that can actually sabotage your goals, instead of helping. Here are a few things you should look out for when buying protein...
- Short ingredient list - Look for a protein powder with minimal ingredients. Your supplement should be mostly protein and very few fillers.
- At least 20g per scoop - The amount of protein per scoop is important! Protein powders are often used for smoothies as a meal replacement or snack, so make sure it has at least 20g per scoop and less than 5g of carbs.
- Pick a neutral flavor - We highly suggest going with an unflavored or vanilla or chocolate flavor. Remember protein powders usually come in large tubs, if you choose a flavor like cake batter or cookie dough you might get tired of it pretty quickly. You also want to make sure the flavors mix well with fruits or other things you might add.
Hopefully, this will guide you on the right path to finding the best protein powder, and don't forget –do your own research and always read the nutrition label!