Whether you're trying to lose weight or body fat, or simply put on some lean muscle, it's critical that you're eating enough protein. Not everyone can eat enough during the day so many turn to protein powders in order hit their daily protein intake.
However, purchasing a protein powder can be confusing. There are a million different brands selling what seems like a million different types of protein.
REMEMBER: Not all proteins are created equal.
Different variations of protein powders work better for different goals; some have low levels of carbs and fats, and some have higher levels.
Various types of protein powders are made from different sources, processes and methods, which can affect the quality and purity.
It’s also important to note that not all protein powders are good quality. Don’t be fooled by different marketing techniques and hypes of a new compound or ingredient addition to a protein blend.
Read the ingredient labels and make sure to do your due diligence on what you’re putting into your body.
But not to fear, we'll lay out the differences and hopefully make it as easy as possible for you to choose the best protein powder for you.
Why you should use a protein supplement
Women use protein supplements to help them achieve various health and fitness goals.
A common goal for many is to increase lean muscle while simultaneously decreasing body fat. This gives your physique a more “toned”, defined look. Protein powder can help you achieve this goal.
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Protein can also help curb your appetite and cravings if you’re trying to lose weight. On the flip side, protein powder can help build up your muscle mass and strength. Check out IIFYM Explained: A Simple Guide To Flexible Dieting to see how much protein you need daily to lose weight/body fat, or build up muscle mass.
So let's cover the basic types of protein powder and see which works best for you and your goals. Remember, there isn’t a single best protein powder for women: it all depends on your preferences and objectives!
The most popular type of protein powder is whey protein. It’s abundant in amino acids (the building blocks of protein), it’s fast absorbing, tastes awesome, and is generally great for building muscle.
Whey is made as part of the cheese-making process. During this process, the milk curdles (also called casein) are separated out, and the remaining liquid is known as whey (also called milk serum). From there, the whey is processed into a powder and sold, or added as an ingredient to protein bars, baked goods, etc.
One reason whey protein is so popular is because it’s affordable. In terms of grams of protein per dollar, and it’s effectiveness in helping build muscle, you get a lot of bang for your buck.
Another reason for whey’s popularity is that research shows its fast absorption rate helps stimulate muscle growth better than other slower digesting proteins.
Furthermore, it is also extremely convenient to take, whether as a meal replacement or post-workout shake. Note that taken post workout, whey stimulates more muscle protein synthesis (muscle growth) than casein and soy. We’ll talk more on this later in the article.
Taking all of these awesome benefits into consideration, it’s important to know that there are different types of whey protein powder.
Whey protein can be made and separated through different manufacturing processes. The three most popular forms of whey protein are concentrates, isolates and hydrolysates. Each of these have their own characteristics and benefits.
Whey Protein Concentrate
Whey concentrate is the most economic and common form of whey protein on store shelves. If you check the labels of protein powders, concentrate is typically labeled in protein “matrixes” or “blends”.
Though concentrates are typically the most cost friendly form of protein powder, they are considered less “pure” than other forms of whey.
Due to the nature of label regulation and the process by which they are created, concentrates are typically only 30-90% protein by weight, meaning there are potentially lots of other carbs/fats in the blends (dependending on the brand/product).
Concentrates generally have low levels of lactose and cholesterol, but not as low as whey isolates and hydrolysates. Whey protein concentrate also tends to have a higher lipid (energy storing molecules like fats, waxes, glycerides, etc.) content than other forms of whey protein.
Due to their costs however, concentrates are best for those trying to add muscle on a budget. However due to their lack of purity and relatively high levels of fats/lipids, they may not be the best choice for weight management and those using protein shakes as part of a fat loss regimen… for that we recommend Whey Protein Isolates.
Whey Protein Isolate
Maintaining lean mass while dropping body fat (toning)
Building lean muscle
Isolates are a more pure form of protein powder than concentrates. The process in which they are made allows the larger proteins to be broken down into smaller pieces that are able to be absorbed into your system faster than other forms of protein.
This process also helps remove excess fats, cholesterol and lactose while making it easier for you to digest. Yeah buddy!
Whey isolate products have a higher percentage of protein by weight than standard whey concentrate products as isolate is upwards of 90% protein by weight.
They are generally considered one of the more concentrated forms of whey protein supplements, which allows a higher availability of protein to promote muscle growth and recovery. The isolate form of whey is also less allergenic due to the lower lactose levels.
IMPORTANT: There are two ways to produce whey isolate which affects how high quality the product is.
Ion exchangers that utilize heat
When protein is isolated through heat, many of the important and beneficial micro-fractions and peptides of the protein can be essentially burned away, degrading the quality.
Micro-filtrated isolates maintain the micro-fractions and peptides, preserving the quality and integrity.
Our top recommendation for whey isolates is PrettyFit Whey, which is a non-GMO, cold-processed ultra micro-filtered whey that contains digestive enzymes for even easier digestion. Plus you can try it FREE!
Whey Protein Hydrolysates
Whey protein hydrolysates are widely marketed as the most “pure” form of whey protein supplementation.
Essentially, whey hydrolysate is pre-digested by breaking down larger proteins into smaller particles so that your body can absorb the amino acids and other nutrients faster than other forms of whey. By doing this, it allows your muscles to enter an anabolic (building) state faster.
The claims of whey protein hydrolysate supplementation are that by “pre-digesting” the proteins for you, the hydrolysates are ready for digestion and utilization by your body.
However, various studies have shown that there is not a significant difference in absorption rates between hydrolysates, nor the rate of amino acids showing up in the bloodstream when compared to intact protein consumption.
That being said, hydrolysates are typically the most expensive form of whey protein, which can be a turn off. It can also be argued that any additional benefits of hydrolysates compared to isolates and concentrates do not justify the extra cost as you can see excellent results with any of the three types of whey offered.
Maintaining lean mass while dropping body fat (toning)
Building lean muscle, weight/appetite control
Made from the curds that are separated during the cheese-making process, casein protein is another popular type of protein powder.
The difference between casein and whey is, casein is absorbed slowly, while whey is absorbed by the body quickly. This characteristic makes casein an excellent protein to take before going to bed, as studies show protein ingestion before sleep stimulates muscle protein synthesis (growth) as well as whole-body protein balance during overnight recovery.
There is much debate on the efficacy of whey versus casein, and which is better. Our own conclusion is that both are efficient in different capacities and you should experiment with both types of protein to see which works best for you.
Plant based protein powders
If you are interested in a plant based protein, your best options are rice protein and pea protein.
Rice protein consumption has been shown to have little difference to whey protein consumption in conjunction to resistance training. This means that both rice protein and whey protein are efficient at boosting muscle growth and muscle recovery in combination with strength training.
Similarly, studies show that rice protein consumption can modify the body’s fat metabolism, improving body weight and body composition.
Pea protein is another vegetarian whey protein substitute that can help build muscle and improve body composition.
There is also some conflicting evidence that pea protein has a strong anti-fat and fat metabolizing effects. However more research is necessary for us to confidently promote these benefits. .
Hemp seed protein
Though not as digestible as other protein powders, hemp seed is a good natural source of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids, as well as amino acids.
Soy protein powders
Soy protein is a complicated topic. On one hand, soy is naturally a great source of vegetarian protein, and it may help control cholesterol levels. On the other hand, there are a host of other studies showing different reasons not to take soy protein. Some of these contraindications actually depend if you’re a woman or a man.
For men, there is some evidence suggesting that soy may decrease testosterone levels and increase estrogen levels. This is not ideal for a man’s overall hormonal balance, nor building lean muscle.
However, there are other studies suggesting neither soy foods nor soy supplements negatively affect men’s hormonal balances.
For women, there is little evidence suggesting high levels of soy intake affect hormone levels.
Taking all of this into account, if you want a plant based protein, soy is a good option. However, if you’re taking it because you are a vegetarian, vegan, etc. it’s important to note that over 90% of all soy produced in the US is genetically modified (GMO). So if you have objections to that, a rice or pea protein powder may be a better option for you.
Best protein powder for sensitive stomachs
Protein by nature is slow digesting. Depending upon the protein source and type of protein, it can give those with sensitive stomachs some issues. These include bloating, bowel discomfort and cramps.
If you have a milk allergy, whey and casein protein may also have undesirable side-effects.
That being said, there are great whey protein products that include digestive enzymes in their formulas to help you digest it easily with no issues.
If you’re lactose intolerant or have a milk allergy, whey isolates or a vegetable based protein will be your best bet.
Pick the protein right for you
Everybody’s bodies are different. Try out a few different types of protein and see which your body reacts to best.
We specifically created PrettyFit Whey as an ultra high-quality whey isolate powder. It’s made of 100% pure, cold processed whey protein isolate with only 100 calories, 0 fat and less than 1 gram of carbs per serving. It’s perfect for any fitness goal, whether you’re trying to lose weight or body fat, or building lean muscle.
If you have any questions or comments leave them in the comments section below! Feel free to email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.