Nutrition Tuesday: Protein Supplement Types

There are many different types of protein supplements available on the market today. Some are better than others, but all ultimately do the same thing. So what’s the difference between them all?


  • Whey protein – Whey protein is the component of milk that is separated out when making cheese and other dairy products. It is perhaps the most common form of supplement protein available in market today. It is considered a high quality protein because it contains all the essential amino acids that the body requires from diet and is a rich source of the branched chain amino acids (BCAAs), which are important in muscle building. Whey protein is soluble and easy to digest and is often referred to as a “fast” protein because it quickly gets to the muscles(1) whey protein can come in several different forms:
    • Whey Protein Concentrate (WPC) – The amount of whey protein can vary between 25-89%. Most nutritional store products have about 80% of whey protein in the product along with lactose (4-8%), fat, minerals, and moisture (2).
    • Whey Protein Isolate (WPI) – Is the purest form of whey protein available and contains between 90-95% protein. It contains no to very little lactose and is safe for most lactose intolerant people. WPIs are also very low in fat. The cost of WPI is slightly higher and thus products containing WPI might be priced higher than those with WPC (2).
    • Hydrolyzed Whey Protein – The long amino acid chains in the whey protein have been broken down into shorter peptide chains. This makes the protein more easily digested and absorbed by the body. Hydrolyzed whey is most commonly found in infant formulas and medical nutritional products (2).
  • Casein – Casein is another protein found in milk. It is considered to be a “slow” digesting protein because it helps prevent muscle breakdown. Often times recovery drinks or protein drinks will have both casein and whey ingredients because they work well together to prevent muscle breakdown and stimulate protein building, respectively(1).
  • Soy Protein – Soy is another popular choice of protein sources, especially for those who are severely lactose intolerant, vegetarian, or vegan. Like whey protein, it is considered to be a “fast” protein and can promote increases in lean body mass. Soy isolate contains about 90% protein, whereas a concentrate only contains about 70% protein. Studies have indicated that when soy protein has been compared to milk protein, milk protein leads to greater muscle mass gain. However, soy protein is still an effective option. Some people also worry about the nature of the soy in the product. The soy bean is one of the most genetically modified plants in the world. If you’re worried about the nature of the product then check for the organic seal of approval. Many products do use organic soy bean.
  • Albumen – Albumen is the high-quality protein found in eggs. It is easily digested and high in BCAAs. Egg protein is absorbed more slowly than whey, but faster than casein. It supports muscle building and contain be obtained through real food – eggs!
  • Hemp Protein – Hemp protein has recently come into the popular media due to vegan diets becoming more mainstream. Hemp protein contains all the essential amino acids . Hemp protein is comprised of two globular molecules, albumin and edestine. These proteins closely resemble several proteins naturally produces in the body and thus is easily digestible and absorbed by the body. Hemp protein is also a good source of iron and magnesium (3).

So what protein is right for you? It really depends on your goals, nutritional needs, and personal choices. There are many formulated protein mixes out there in the market to choose from too. Many of these are favored and contain other ingredients so read labels carefully. What works for your friend might not work for you. Consult with a medical or nutritional professional if you have questions or concerns.

1. Ryan M. Sports Nutrition for Endurance Athletes, 3rd Ed. Boulder, CO: Velo Press; 2012.
2.Whey Protein institute. Types of Whey Protein. Available at: Accessed on July 31, 2012.
3. Young D. Hemp Protein Nutritional Facts. Livestrong. Available at: Accessed on July 31, 2012.