- 3 Rating a protein source
- 4 Popular Types of Protein Powders
- Whey Protein
Protein is part of all living cells, making it one of the most powerful nutrients you can consume. People who work out regularly need a constant flow of the nutrient to build and maintain muscle, repair and heal tissues, and keep hormones in balance.
Food-based protein is always best, but when you need as much protein as most athletes require to build and maintain muscle (about 1g per pound of lean bodyweight every day), it can get rough. After all, there's only so much chicken, tuna, eggs, and turkey one can eat!
That's where protein powders come in - to supplement you towards your dietary goal numbers each and every day.
On this page, you will find information and price listings for all types of protein powders. Nearly every protein powder available on the web is listed.
Not sure where to start? See our Top 10 Protein Powders!
With so many choices, it's tough to decide what you should get - and the real answer is that it depends on you and your preferences. To see what will work best for you, see the guide titled What's the Best Protein Powder... For YOU? on our blog. It will ask you a bunch of questions and direct you to what's best for your needs!
On this page, so that you're not overwhelmed, we're presenting several protein powder sub-classes below. If you are interested in a specific form (such as pure whey, casein, or soy), then click on the proper subcategory below and to the right.
Any mixed protein powder that contains multiple forms of protein -- which is the majority of products on this site -- will be listed on this page.
Types of protein
Whether you're looking to lose weight or build muscle, increasing your protein intake is hugely beneficial to meeting your goals. It doesn't necessarily matter where you get your protein from -- we recommend the bulk of it coming from whole, unprocessed foods, such as poultry, lean meat, fish, and eggs -- but it's difficult to keep protein intake high without some assistance from supplements.
First, let's talk about some of the important items to look for in your protein.
Rating a protein source
There are several main variables you should consider when choosing a product source to determine if it's right for you, they include:
Branched-Chain Amino Acid (BCAA) Content
The BCAAs (leucine, isoleucine, and valine) are key building blocks of muscle tissue. They have been studied extensively for their anabolic effects before, during, and after exercise, as well as throughout the day.
Protein is a basic nutrient, you can get it in high quantities through diet. There's no reason to break the bank on a protein supplement. Look out for overpriced protein blends claiming miraculous effects and benefits.
Lack of "fillers"
When we buy protein, we want protein. Real, dietary protein. Not sugar, not maltodextrin, not creatine, and not cheap amino acid fillers.
Just because your protein is "5 pounds" doesn't mean it's five pounds of protein!
Check the nutrition label, and beware of the following fillers anywhere near the top of the ingredient label:
- Maltodextrin (often described as glucose polymers)
- Glutamine and/or L-Glutamine Peptides*
* Note that these compounds are not bad. The problem is that they may legally counted as "protein" on the label, even though they are not true dietary proteins. This leads to unscrupulous gimmickery and potential unethical label claims at your expense - which is why we just stay away from them in our protein powders. More on this soon in 2014!
Unless the product is marketed as a post workout supplement, the above ingredients (and several others) belong nowhere near your protein powder. Stay away from them. To help, we do our best to move these lower-value products to the end of the product listing on this page.
While protein is generally well tolerated, there's always the risk of protein supplements triggering an allergy or gastrointestinal (GI) distress. For example, some people are allergic to milk, or eggs, or soy, and should avoid products manufactured from these sources.
Note on kidney function
As a note, there are many fears that supplementing protein may negatively effect kidney function. These fears are completely unfounded for users with properly functioning kidneys. Protein powders do not negatively affect the kidney function of both healthy and obese individuals [18,19].
Those with kidney disease should see a doctor to determine of protein supplementation (or any type of supplementation, for that matter) is suitable for their renal systems.
Popular Types of Protein Powders
To a newcomer, it can be confusing when looking at all of the forms protein. We help break down the differences in the most popular types of powders below:
Whey is by far the most popular protein supplement on the market. This began in the late '70s when whey was considered a wasted byproduct in the production of many dairy products. At the same time, bodybuilding was growing in popularity.
Today, the price is going up as many mainstream beverage companies have started using whey in their high protein drinks. Whey protein is generally affordable, rapidly absorbed, and high in BCAA content. It's side-effect free, unless you're lactose intolerant. It's worth noting that due to its very rapid absorption and high content of insulinogenic amino acids, whey can cause insullin to spike signigicantly after consumption.
Whey protein forms
There are actually three different common forms of whey protein with varying levels of protein content and processing. These different forms of can have significantly varying levels of beneficial protein micro fractions, as well as shifting fat and carbohydrate content. The three types are:
- Whey Protein Concentrate (WPC)
Whey protein concentrate is whey in its most basic form, extracted from milk and then concentrated to fluctuating levels of purity, which can range from 34% to 80% protein. If you're buying a protein supplement, you want to be paying for protein, so be sure to look at the percentage of protein per scoop weight. If the product is under half If the product profile is less than 50% protein, it's probably using cheap, low quality, raw materials
Whey protein concentrate contains the highest levels of beta-lactalbumin and lactoferrin, beneficial protein types that are lost with more processed forms of whey.
- Whey Protein Isolate (WPI)
Whey protein isolate is WPC that has been purified even further, with methods such as ion exchange and microfiltration. This eliminates the majority of the carbohydrates, fats, and other non-protein content found naturally in WPC. A baseline of 90% protein content by weight is standard for WPIs. A downside of WPI is that thee filtration methods inevitably denature the aforementioned protein microfractions from WPC.
- Whey Protein Hydrolysate (WPH)
The most processed form of whey, WPH (which starts out ast WPI) is treated with digestive enzymes to break the protein down into di- and tri- peptides that can be rapidly absorbed by the digestive system. While this results in an ingredient that is near 100% protein, the downside is the complete obliteration of protein microfractions. Whey protein hydrolysate is suitable for pre- and intra-workout protein drinks, but not so much for post-workout and general-use products
Due to its popularity, whey is the most researched supplemental protein. Numerous studies have been published documenting its positive effects on exercise adaptations, including increased lean tissue development, faster immediate recovery from exercise, increased strength and power output, and reduced long-term soreness when combined with a resistance training program.[3,4]
Additionally, for dieters, supplementation with whey protein while on a reduced-calorie diet has been shown to have positive effects on total weight loss, fat loss, muscle preservation, and cholesterol levels.[5,6]
Casein is another popular dairy protein, and makes up around 80% of milk proteins. Until the early 2000s, it was much less popular than whey because casein proteins were more suitable for food production, especially when compared to whey. As the cost difference between whey and casein has decreased, casein began gaining popularity on the supplement market.
Casein vs. whey
Casein contains BCAA levels similar to whey protein, but slightly lower. Since it congeals into globules (called micelles) in the stomach, it's digested slower than whey. Casein also contains several unique peptides not found in whey, including glycomacropeptide, caseinophosphopeptides, casoxins, and high levels of immune boosting immunoglobulins. This makes casein potentially benefitial for general use due to its many miscellaneous uses.
The slower absorption of amino acids in casein results in a significantly attenuated insulin spike compared to whey. In fact, some studies demonstrate that an ideal protein product might be a combination of whey and casein. Slow absorption also makes casein a great protein option when you anticipate longer fasting periods, such as between meals and overnight.
In general, if you have to pick a pure whey vs. a pure casein, go with whey. However, many of the products listed on this page contain both - and that may be the best of both worlds if you're not looking for the faster digestion of pure whey.
Milk protein, generally in reference to cow's milk, is simply protein extracted from milk without separation into casein and whey sub-fractions. Milk protein consists of around 80% casein and 20% whey. As a result, it contains similarly high BCAA levels as these two popular forms of protein. Much less processing is involved in the production of milk protein, so it's often significantly cheaper than whey or casein and can contain higher peptide content than more processed dairy proteins.
Egg protein is perhaps the highest quality, non-dairy protein source. On protein quality scales, standardized measurements developed by the FDA, called Protein Digestability Corrected Amino Acid Score (PDCAA) and Biological Value (BV), it's the only non-dairy protein to achieve 100% utilization by the body and has very high BCAA content.
Despite these advantages, egg protein is not a very big player in the protein market. This is due to material disadvantages with egg protein isolates. They are more expensive than other dairy proteins, difficult to flavor, less water soluble, and has a shorter shelf life. There are, however, some great egg protein products on the market and if you are unable to consume dairy protein, but still want the best protein available, it's definitely worth trying.
Note: this site also contains an egg whites category, which is an excellent food-based protein option that can be cooked or drank raw.
Soy protein is completely fat and cholesterol free. Because it's non-dairy, protein source it's lactose free, making it a great choice for the those who are lactose intolerant.
Dietary uses for soy protein
Soy protein has been shown in some studies to reduce cholesterol absorption, potentially due to its isoflavone content. Additionally, the FDA has permitted manufacturers to make a qualified health claim that consuming 25g of soy protein per day, as part of a low-cholesterol and low-saturated-fat diet, can reduce the risk of heart disease. Further research is needed to determine the exact mechanism by which soy protein lowers cholesterol, and much of this benefit may be due to its lack of cholesterol compared to animal sources of protein.
Soy protein is moderately lower in BCAA content than leading dairy proteins, so supplementation with added BCAAs, or increased total protein consumption, might be ideal to maximize your exercise gains.
Recently, beef protein, an animal protein source, has been gaining popularity, specifically in the paleo community. Its BCAA content is somewhat lower than other premium proteins, but it has high natural levels of many vitamins and minerals, such as B vitamins, iron, and zinc. Another beef protein perk is that it's nearly completely free of carbohydrates, and close to all of its fat can be stripped away in processing, giving you a product that is almost entirely protein. Additionally, beef protein isolate has a much mellower, natural taste than is typically seen with dairy proteins. This means that companies can more easily produce fruity flavors that are difficult to obtain with dairy proteins.
Miscellaneous protein sources
In addition to the protein sources covered in this article, there are a number of other niche protein supplements that are also popular in the exercise community. Pea protein, hemp protein, wheat, and other non-bovine dairy proteins, generally suffer from lower BCAA content, higher costs, and lower reliability than their more popular counterparts. However, for various reasons, such as the need for a gluten-free diet, veganism, and lactose intolerance, these protein sources can be desirable to individuals with special protein needs.
Protein is one of the most powerful nutrients you can consume
While protein is essential to building muscle, consuming more than the recommended daily allowance (RDA) won't increase strength or build extra muscle. Protein powders tend to be high in calories, so you can inadvertantly take in more calories and fat if you don't closely monitor intake.
According to the Institute of Medicine, 10% to 35% of calories per day should come from protein sources. Males who work out regularly should consume about 56g of protein per day -- ideally, in dietary form. Protein powders, however, can help you reach your numbers when diet alone isn't doing it.
Protein RDA exceptions
The amount of protein intake for strength-training males is higher that non-strenth-trainers. The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics suggest a range from 0.64g to 0.82g of protein per pound daily, which can max out at 131g of protein per day for a 160-pound man.
Endurance-training male athletes also need a higher dose for recovering muscles. The American Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics suggests 144g per day.
Females need about 46g of protein per day. Female athletes, those who are pregnant, vegetarian or vegan, also need more protein for optimal health.
Aiming to consume from 10g to 20g of protein per meal can help you reach your nutrition goals. Good sources of protein are found in
- Meats, poultry, fish
- Milk and other dairy products
- Beans and peas
- Nuts and seeds
Where to buy
When you're ready to buy protein powder, come to PricePlow to get all the information you need. Plus, we do the shopping for you. We scour the web, finding the best protein powders at 30% to 50% off retail prices.
- CDC; "Protein;" Updated 2012
- Medical News Today; "What is Whey Protein? What are the Benefits of Whey Protein?" July 2013
- Darren G. Burke, et. al.; International Journal of Sport Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism; "The Effect of Whey Protein Supplementation With or Without Creatine Monohydrate Combined With Resistance Training on Lean Tissue Mass and Muscle Strength;" 2011
- Paul J. Cribb, et. al.; .International Journal of Sport Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism "The Effect of Whey Isolate and Resistance Training on Strength, Body Composition, and Plasma Glutamine;" 2006
- Bounous G.; Anticancer Research; "Whey protein concentrate (WPC) and glutathione modulation in cancer treatment;" November-December 2000
- Pal S, et. al.;. The British Journal of Nutrition; "Effects of whey protein isolate on body composition, lipids, insulin and glucose in overweight and obese individuals;" September 2010
- R. Morgan Griffin; WebMD.com; "The New Low-Cholesterol Diet: Soy: Versatile soy protein may lower bad fats floating in your bloodstream;" Updated January 2006
- MedlinePlus; "Soy;" Updated 2011
- Don Amerman; SFGate; "Foods With a High Protein Efficiency Ratio"
- NG Egg Association; "Yolks vs Whites: Protein & Other Nutrients In An Egg"
- Institute of Medicine; "Dietary Reference Intakes for Energy, Carbohydrate, Fiber, Fat, Fatty Acids, Cholesterol, Protein, and Amino Acids;" September 2002
- Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics; "Eat Right for Resistance Training;" January 2013
- Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics; "Eat Right for Endurance;" January 2013
- Soop, M; American Journal of Physiology, Endocrinology, and Metabolism; "Coingestion of whey protein and casein in a mixed meal; demonstration of a more sustained anabolic effect of casein;" 2012
- Baum, F; Journal of Proteome Research; "Analysis of the Endogenous Peptide Profile of Milk: Identification of 248 Mainly Casein-Derived Peptides;" November 2013
- Gertjan Schaafsma; The Journal of Nutrition; "The Protein Digestibility-Corrected Amino Acid Score;" July 2000
- HH Mitchell; The Journal of Biological Chemistry; "A Method of Determining the Biological Value of Protein;" November 1923
- Poortmans JR; Department of Physiological Chemistry, Institute of Physical Education and Kinesiotherapy, Free University of Brussels, Belgium; "Do regular high protein diets have potential health risks on kidney function in athletes?;" March 2010
- Friedman, AN; Department of Medicine, Indiana University School of Medicine; "http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22653255;" July 2012