Protein powders are convenient and inexpensive per serving when compared to meat, fish, and poultry. They can be used in a variety of ways by making shakes, baked goods such as homemade protein bars, or as part of a meal by using them in pancakes, oatmeal, etc. They are often compared in terms of quality based on their biologic value and the body’s ability to absorb and utilize the nutrients, in this case protein or amino acids.
Whey protein is derived from milk and comes in three forms, concentrate, isolate, and hydrolysate. The difference among the three forms of whey is based upon the protein content by weight.
Whey Concentrate The cheapest variety of whey protein powder per gram, concentrate, is composed of approximately 35-80% protein by weight. It is low in lactose and can be well tolerated by those who are sensitive to it. While concentrate is cheaper than other varieties of whey, it has a lower biologic value and is considered an inferior product when compared with isolate or hydrolysate. It is ideal to use post-workout, in between meals, or as a supplement in baked goods such as muffins.
Whey Isolate Made up of at least 90% protein by weight, isolate is higher quality but pricier when compared with concentrate, yet less expensive than hydrolysate. It is readily absorbed, easily digestible, and high in branched chain amino acids. Like whey concentrate, it is also great when used post-workout and, in my opinion, worth the extra money.
Whey Hydrolysate Unlike concentrate and isolate, whey hydrolysate is enzymatically predigested for maximal speed of absorption. This additional processing also comes at an increased cost, but it is considered a superior product. People who experience intolerance with whey isolate or concentrate may be able to better tolerate hydrolysate.
Casein Casein protein powders are derived from milk, similar to whey, but are absorbed very slowly into the blood stream. Casein is not recommended for someone who is sensitive to lactose. The consistency is thicker than that of a whey protein and can be great for making pancakes, waffles or other snacks as an alternative to shakes. It is an ideal pre-bedtime snack for someone who is trying to increase their lean muscle mass because it breaks down and absorbs much slower than other varieties of protein powder. For this reason, it is not an ideal post-workout protein.
Egg Like whey protein, egg protein is extremely bioavailable and absorbs quickly. It may be a good option for those who have an allergy to milk. The taste is noticeably different and not as palatable as some other proteins. Nevertheless, it is a good product.
Soy Soy protein powder is processed from soybeans and is ideal for vegans or those who cannot tolerate or are allergic to milk or egg containing products. Although it has lower bioavailability than other proteins, only 60-70% compared to 90% for whey isolate and up to 80% for whey concentrate, it is a great plant-based alternative and has become quite popular.