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Types of Protein Powder and How They Differ

Herbalife 6 February 2024

Types of Protein Powder and How They Differ

In recent years, protein powder has steadily been gaining popularity especially among fitness enthusiasts. From smoothies or shakes to simple meal recipes, this mighty powder has become the top supplement people reach for, to include in their daily routine.

We may consume protein such as fish, meat and eggs in our meals but the recommended average daily intake of protein could be insufficient or exceeding. For those who are vegetarian or vegan, they will struggle in finding the correct food to up their protein intake. Thus, protein powder comes in handy to remove your worries in attaining a well-balanced diet.

But first, let’s take a look at what protein powder is and the different forms it comes in1:

Protein powders are concentrated sources of protein from animals or plant foods, such as dairy, eggs, rice or peas. They’re commonly made into 3 forms which are protein concentrates, isolates and hydrolysates.

  • The primary form of protein would be protein concentrates whereby protein is extracted from whole foods using heat and acid or enzymes. These typically produce 60-80% protein and the remaining 20-40% are composed of fats and carbs.
  • Another form of protein is protein isolates whereby an additional filtering process removes most of the fats and carbs leaving about 90-95% protein.
  • This super concentrated protein powder is perfect for those trying to lose fats or weight in the body.
  • When protein is produced further by heating with acid or enzyme, it makes them into protein hydrolysates form which breaks the bonds between amino acids enabling the body and muscles to absorb the protein powder more quickly.

Apart from various protein forms, did you know that there are 3 different types of protein powders in the market? Yes, protein powders are produced with such complexity giving different people options to choose according to their dietary needs.

1. Soy Protein

Although this is the only non-animal based protein, soy protein is a complete protein which contains all nine essential amino acids. For those who are vegan, vegetarian or lactose intolerant, they can opt to include this powder into their diet as it’s a great protein source overall.

You wouldn’t have guessed that a tiny bean could hold such nutrition scoring a 1.0 on the PDCAAS (Protein digestibility corrected amino acid score), making it the top performing plant-based protein.

There is so much more goodness that soybeans offer, such as having more healthful cholesterol levels which can lower the risk of heart disease2.

Even just eating the bean by itself in edamame, soy nuts and tempeh or enjoying the benefits of soy from tofu, miso, soy milk and soy milk products like yogurt and cheese, will make a difference to your health!

Abundant in fiber, calcium, iron, omega-3s and other essential vitamins and minerals, it’s no wonder soybeans are a great addition to a balanced diet.

2. Whey protein

Cow’s milk consists of around 20% whey protein. During the cheese making process, whey protein is the liquid that separates out from the curds. Being the fastest absorbed protein compared to the other sources, whey protein powder is the best choice for many.

Due to its ability to absorb more quickly into the body, having higher concentration and better profile of amino acids, whey protein is significant for muscle growth, hence leading to greater muscle protein synthesis compared to soy protein.

Based on clinical studies, whey is rich in branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs). Why is this good? Leucine, which is one of the BCAAs, plays a major role in promoting muscle growth and recovery after resistance and endurance exercise3.

In addition, studies also reveal that whey protein can aid in building and maintaining muscle mass, assist athletes recovering from heavy exercise and increase muscle strength in response to strength training4.

Surprisingly, one study among young men showed that whey protein increased their muscle protein synthesis by 31% more than soy protein and 132% more than casein protein following resistance exercise5. This is probably why most gym junkies either drink whey protein shake before or after their workout.

3. Casein protein

Just like whey, casein is also found in milk. However, around 80% of cow’s milk consists of casein protein. The only downside to casein is that it digests and absorbs much more slowly.

When interacted with our stomach acid, casein forms a gel that slows down stomach emptying and delaying our bloodstream’s absorption of amino acids. This results in a gradual, steadier exposure of our muscles to amino acids which reduces the rate of muscle protein breakdown.

Because of this particular reason, casein protein powder is advised to be taken as a bed-time protein to facilitate protein synthesis in respective pathways.

To conclude, protein powder comes from a variety of sources and are made in several formulations. Different benefits can be gained from each type of protein- soy protein is best suited from those who are vegans, vegetarians and lactose intolerant where else whey protein is the best choice of protein source for pre/post workout. There’s a protein powder suited for everyone!

Looking for further information? Learn about Herbalife Nutrition products: soy protein products from Core Nutrition category, and whey/casein products from Energy & Fitness category.


1. Gunnars K. Whey Protein 101: The Ultimate Beginner's Guide [Internet]. Healthline. 2022 [cited 30 May 2022]. Available from: https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/whey-protein-101#types

2. Tokede O, Onabanjo T, Yansane A, Gaziano J, Djoussé L. Soya products and serum lipids: a meta-analysis of randomised controlled trials. British Journal of Nutrition. 2015;114(6):831-843.

3. Kimball S, Jefferson L. Signaling Pathways and Molecular Mechanisms through which Branched-Chain Amino Acids Mediate Translational Control of Protein Synthesis. The Journal of Nutrition. 2006;136(1):227S-231S.

4. Hulmi J, Lockwood C, Stout J. Effect of protein/essential amino acids and resistance training on skeletal muscle hypertrophy: A case for whey protein. Nutrition & Metabolism. 2010;7(1):51.

5. Tang J, Moore D, Kujbida G, Tarnopolsky M, Phillips S. Ingestion of whey hydrolysate, casein, or soy protein isolate: effects on mixed muscle protein synthesis at rest and following resistance exercise in young men. Journal of Applied Physiology. 2009;107(3):987-992.

Disclaimer: All information is intended for your general knowledge only and is not a substitute for medical advice or treatment for specific medical conditions. This information is not intended to replace the advice of your personal medical profession.