Are you interested in adding a protein powder to your diet, but not sure where to start? Maybe you’ve heard that protein powders are unsafe and you’re worried about trying one. Have no fear, we’re here to break it all down for you. If you’re interested in learning about the different types of protein powders available or the safety of protein powders, keep reading.
Dairy Containing Protein Powders
There are several kinds of milk proteins that can be used in dietary supplements. Whey proteins (concentrates, isolates, or hydrolysates), caseins and caseinates, and milk concentrates and isolates can all be ingredients in protein supplements. Milk powders can also be used as a source of milk protein in dietary supplements.
The most common types of milk proteins found in protein supplements are whey or casein based. Whey protein concentrates (WPC) vary in the ratio of protein, lactose, fat, minerals, and moisture present in the product, with most protein supplements containing around 80% protein. The most concentrated form of whey protein is whey protein isolate. This form of whey protein contains over 90% protein, making it low in fat and lactose content. Whey hydrolysate contains whey proteins that have been broken down from long protein chains into shorter chains called peptides. While hydrolysis does not alter the nutritional quality of the whey protein, this form of whey protein is easier to digest compared to longer chain whey products. Casein is the primary protein found in milk. In its purest form, casein products can contain close to 100% protein. Caseinates, the form of casein often used in dietary supplements, can be combined with other nutrients like sodium and calcium to help improve their solubility and functionality.
Lactose-Free Protein Powders
Lactose, a carbohydrate found in various dairy products, can be hard to digest for some people and is known as lactose intolerance. Common issues of lactose intolerance include stomach pain, excessive gas, bloating, and diarrhea. A method to prevent these complications is to consume protein powders which are lactose free.
There are plant-based protein powders that are naturally lactose-free (more about those below), however, animal-based, lactose-free options are available, such as egg, collagen, bone broth, and beef. Beef protein powder is composed of hydrolyzed beef protein and contains all essential amino acids. Studies show that beef protein powders perform similarly to whey protein, and are a good option if there are alternate intolerances such as soy or gluten. Bone broth and collagen protein powders provide similar nutrients, however bone broth has a higher protein content per serving. There are forms on that market which combine both for optimal benefits. Egg based protein is another option which contains all essential amino acids.
Plant-Based Protein Powders
Most individuals following a vegan or vegetarian diet consume enough protein through diet alone. However, for individuals who struggle with protein intake, adding a plant-based protein supplement can be helpful for meeting protein needs. If you’re on the hunt for a protein powder, vegan options are available.
The most common protein sources for plant-based protein powders are pea and soy protein. Pea and soy protein have comparable protein profiles to whey; all are considered complete protein sources. When something is labeled as a complete protein it means it provides all essential amino acids that your body cannot synthesize on its own that must be obtained through diet. Conversely, plant-based protein powders differ compared to animal-based protein powders because they don’t contain cholesterol or saturated fat since they are plant derived. Overall, consuming plant-based protein powders can be a quick and easy way to promote satiety throughout the day and maintain lean muscle mass if someone is struggling to eat enough protein in their diet alone.
Safety of Protein Powders
The biggest safety concern when buying protein powder is the presence of contaminants, including heavy metals. Because protein powders are dietary supplements, the FDA itself does not assess the safety of protein powders, but rather leaves it up to the manufacturers to test for safety and label claims. Therefore, it’s important to look for protein powders that have been third party tested to confirm label claims made by the manufacturer. One third party testing certification is the NSF certification, which indicates to consumers that the dietary supplement has been tested for safety. A list of NSF tested protein powders can be found here. Additionally, the Clean Label Project also has available information on contaminants in popular protein powders, and recently released a report on common contaminants, which can be found here.