Protein powder: how it is made and what it is used for

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Ricky Joseph

Protein powder is a common component in the diet of athletes and people who take bodybuilding more seriously. However, not all protein powder is made the same way, or with the same ingredients. In addition, there is more than one type, bringing different characteristics and ways of body absorption.

Some prolong satiety for longer, others are absorbed more quickly, and there are even those that suit vegans. We will explain more about it in this article.

What is protein powder?

Protein powder is a supplement used to maintain the absorption of the proper amount of protein in the body, something that is important for those who want to gain muscle. Muscle is built with protein, so it is important to increase the amount in your diet if that is the goal.

There are 20 amino acids that make up the components of muscle protein, nine of which are essential, and 11 non-essential. Among the essentials, leucine, isoleucine, and valine, branched-chain amino acids, are especially important in building muscle. Some types of protein powders contain all three, while others do not.

In general, animal sources of protein contain all amino acids, while plant sources are usually not complete.

There are different types of protein powder, each with its own characteristics.Image: Getty

The different types of protein powder

Whey protein and casein

Whey protein (popularly known as "whey protein") and casein are two different types of protein powders, both made from pasteurized milk. Enzymes are added to the process, to make the milk curdle. Then, the solid part is removed to make cheese or casein, leaving the whey protein behind.

20 litres of milk are needed to produce 1kg of whey protein, and the same amount of milk can be used to produce 6kg of casein. Whey protein is digested quickly, while casein takes a little longer. Both contain all nine essential amino acids.


Made from dehydrated egg whites, egg protein powder is a good option for people who have a problem with dairy protein powders like whey and casein. It contains all nine essential amino acids.


Although soy is a plant source, it also contains all nine essential amino acids, and is considered a complete protein. However, it can contain a lot of pesticides, so it is worth looking for a soy protein powder that is organic.


Made from yellow sweet peas, pea protein contains high levels of branched-chain amino acids, and is good for maintaining the feeling of satiety.

Brown rice

Brown rice protein contains low amounts of lysine. Although it has all nine essential amino acids, it is not considered a complete protein. However, it is a good choice for those with allergies to lactose, eggs, or legumes.


Like rice protein, hemp protein is seen as incomplete due to its low levels of lysine and leucine. However, it is rich in omega-3 fatty acids, and a non-animal source.

How are different types of protein made?

Image: Getty Images

The way protein powder is made directly affects the amount of protein it contains. There are three types, explained below:

Protein concentrate

This type of protein powder is made with between 60-80% protein, with the rest being fat and carbohydrate. Heat and acid are used to extract the protein from the food.

Protein isolate

Protein isolate powder has a high percentage of protein, typically between 90-95%. It is made from protein concentrate that has been filtered to remove most of the fat and carbohydrates.

Hydrolysed Protein

The hydrolyzed protein goes through another processing stage, where it is heated with acid, or with the addition of enzymes, which contributes to faster absorption into the bloodstream.

What to look for when choosing your protein powder

When choosing, it's important to check labels to see if the protein is concentrated, isolated, or hydrolyzed. This will impact both how fast the protein is absorbed and how "pure" it is, since concentrated protein can have less than two-thirds protein.

In general, isolates are a good recommendation because they are cheaper than hydrolysates and contain a low level of lactose. In addition, it's worth checking to see if the ingredients come from an organic source. In the case of a vegetable option, it's good to make sure all the essential amino acids are included in the mix.

Ricky Joseph is a seeker of knowledge. He firmly believes that through understanding the world around us, we can work to better ourselves and our society as a whole. As such, he has made it his life's mission to learn as much as he can about the world and its inhabitants. Joseph has worked in many different fields, all with the aim of furthering his knowledge. He has been a teacher, a soldier, and a businessman - but his true passion lies in research. He currently works as a research scientist for a major pharmaceutical company, where he is dedicated to finding new treatments for diseases that have long been considered incurable. Through diligence and hard work, Ricky Joseph has become one of the foremost experts on pharmacology and medicinal chemistry in the world. His name is known by scientists everywhere, and his work continues to improve the lives of millions.