Protein Powder Breakdown

Have you ever thought to yourself, how do I know which protein powder is right for me? Me too. There are so many brands and types on the market it may be difficult and confusing to know which product is right for you. It is important to consider the reason you are looking to supplement your diet with a protein powder. Protein powders can be made from either plant or animal sources and come in a variety of flavors.

Animal Based Protein Powders

Whey, casein, and collagen are all types of protein that come from animal sources. Powders made from these ingredients provide the body with complete proteins which contain all the essential amino acids the body needs. Amino acids are the building blocks of proteins. The body can make some of these amino acids on its own (non-essential amino acids), whereas essential amino acids are amino acids that the body cannot produce naturally, yet are crucial for appropriate functioning. Casein and whey protein powders are derived from cow’s milk – these types of protein powders probably would not be best if you have a lactose intolerance or dairy allergy.  Collagen peptide powders are derived from the connective tissues of animals.

Whey-based protein powders are often recommended to be consumed after a workout, as they are digested more rapidly. Because of its quick digestion, it starts the muscle-rebuilding and repairing process quickly.

Casein-based protein powders are digested much slower compared to whey-based powders. The slow breakdown of this source makes it ideal for supplementation before a period of fasting.

Any of these options are great if you consume animal proteins, but if you don’t, there are several plant-based options as well!

Plant-Based Sources

            When choosing plant-based protein powders, it is important to know that not all plant sources are complete proteins, so you will not be getting all the essential amino acids necessary for your body through these powders. Some popular plant-based sources of protein include pea, rice, quinoa, soy, and a mix of sources.

Powders made from pea protein are recognized for their content of Branched Chain Amino Acids (BCAA’s) which help with the muscle-building process. The term BCAA is a helpful indicator of which protein powders will help you to build muscle. Out of all popular plant protein sources, this one packs a hefty amount of protein!

Similar to pea protein, protein powder made from brown rice contains a significant amount of BCAA’S making this another alternative to use for muscle building. Although having a notable amount of BCAA’s, rice protein lacks some essential amino acids, which means you will need to ensure you get sources of complete proteins through food.

Lastly, quinoa-derived protein powders are the only plant source that would be considered a complete protein as quinoa contains all 9 essential amino acids!

Often, instead of finding one specific plant-based source, you may see a container labeled “plant-based”. This can be used as an indication that the product may contain a mix of plant-based sources to ensure the product contains all 9 essential amino acids.

It is very important to address the common misconception that protein powders are food. They are not and should not be used in place of a meal! Protein powders are considered supplements because they should be supplementing food, not replacing it.

A final note on protein powders: protein powders and other dietary supplements are not regulated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). As these products are not screened for safety and purity by the FDA (like food is), it is up to the individual company to make sure that what they state is in their product is actually safe for consumption. Any claims listed on the packaging have not been evaluated by the FDA to ensure that they are accurate. Before taking any dietary supplement it is a good idea to talk to your healthcare provider.


-Nutrition Student Olivia