Protein powders. There are so many on the market, which one is best? Here’s a fast guide to the various protein powders on the market.
Dairy Based Proteins
Whey makes up 20% of the protein in cow’s milk and whey concentrate is the most common form of protein on the market. It’s reasonably priced and low in lactose so it’s manageable for most people. It’s the most popular form of protein on the market. Some people may experience some gas and bloating.
Whey isolate is my protein of choice. It’s very thin in texture and virtually fat free. The low carb content makes this a great choice for low carb diets. This makes it great for a snack at any time of day. It’s also one of the fastest absorbing proteins. My preferred brand is Isopure, because their whey isolate mixes are zero carb or VERY low carb, so you are getting almost pure protein in each serving.
Casein protein makes up 80% of cow’s milk protein and unlike whey concentrates and isolates it is a slow release protein. Many people prefer to use casein at night as the slow absorption rate promotes recovery while you sleep. Casein tastes pretty much the same as concentrates and isolates but is much thicker in texture.
Plant Based Proteins
Soy protein is commonly used in food products that require extra protein, specifically protein bars. Unfortunately, soy protein has a flavor that isn’t easily overcome by added flavorings and can sometimes be unpleasant. It does have the benefits of coming with its own amino acids: specifically glutamine, arginine and BCAAs. You can read more about these in my previous posts about aminos. Some people may want to avoid soy protein due to its effects on thyroid levels and hormones. Soy is considered a complete protein.
If you want a complete, plant-based protein, but are concerned about the use of pesticides or genetic modification, hemp protein is for you. Hemp is naturally acclimated to organic farming and is a non-GMO crop. Like soy, it is a complete protein.
Brown rice protein is a great alternative for people with food allergies because it has none of the allergens that can be found in some protein powders that include gluten, egg, dairy or soy. Rice protein is considered an incomplete protein because it’s low in lysine, so if you’re a vegan or vegetarian, you’ll want to pair it with foods that are high in lysine, such as legumes and beans. No, this does NOT mean you need to have a bean smoothie, just make sure beans are in your diet.
Pea protein is yet another complete plant based protein. It’s stronger in flavor than rice protein, but less strong than soy. I personally find it too gritty to drink as a shake, but it works very well in baked goods, particularly as the earthy flavor accentuates chocolate or cocoa powder. (I made brownies with mine!)
Egg albumin hearkens back to a time before packaged protein powders, and is not often purchased or consumed in powdered form. Most people just purchase cartons of liquid egg whites and cook them. Because they’re delicious. 😉
If you don’t care about consuming animal products but you have a lactose problem, beef protein might be for you. It’s not known for its taste, however, and is not as readily absorbed by the body as whey protein. However it’s another good option for the Paleo crowd. Note: it’s not made from prime beef, but from the parts of the animal that would normally be discarded.
Cooking With Protein Powder
Dairy proteins should not be heated. When the proteins in whey and casein are heated and denatured, they form a hard, rubbery substance not unlike a pencil eraser. YUCK. DO NOT WANT. However I have used both rice and pea protein in baking with excellent results. You may notice a slight graininess depending on how much you use. If you’re making a more subtly flavored dish I’d choose rice protein, and pea protein for stronger, earthier flavors.
I hope this primer on protein powder helps you decide what to try first!