Protein powders are very popular among health conscious people.

There are many types of protein powders, made from a wide variety of sources.

Among the many options, it can be confusing to figure out which will provide the best results.

This article lists 7 of the most popular types of protein powder.

It also suggests a few specific protein powder supplements at the end.

What Are Protein Powders?

Protein powders are concentrated sources of protein from animal or plant foods, such as dairy, eggs, rice or peas.

There are three common forms:

  • Protein concentrates: These are produced by extracting protein from whole food using heat and acid or enzymes. They typically contain about 60–80% protein, with the remaining 20–30% of calories from fat and carbs.
  • Protein isolates: These go through another filtering step that removes additional fat and carbs, further concentrating the protein. Protein isolate powders contain about 90–95% protein.
  • Protein hydrolysates: These are produced by further heating with acid or enzymes, which breaks the bonds between amino acids. This allows your body to absorb them more quickly, and your muscles to take them up more easily.

Hydrolysates appear to raise insulin levels more than other forms, at least in the case of whey protein. This can enhance the muscle growth response to exercise (1).

Some powders are also fortified with vitamins and minerals, especially calcium.

It’s important to note that not everyone will benefit from taking supplements. If your diet is already rich in high-quality protein, you likely won’t see much difference simply by adding protein powder.

However, athletes and people who regularly lift weights may find that taking protein powder supplements helps them maximize muscle gain and fat loss.

Protein powders can also benefit individuals who find it difficult to meet protein needs with food alone, such as the ill, the elderly and some vegetarians or vegans.

Bottom Line: Protein powders come from a variety of sources and are available in several formulations. People use them to increase muscle mass, improve overall body composition and help meet their protein needs.

1. Whey Protein

Whey protein comes from milk. During cheese-making, it is the liquid that separates from the curds. It’s high in protein, but also contains lactose, a milk sugar that many people have difficulty digesting.

Whey protein concentrate retains some lactose, but whey protein isolate contains very little because most of the lactose is lost during processing.

Whey is a quickly digested protein rich in branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs). Leucine, one of these BCAAs, plays a major role in promoting muscle growth and recovery following resistance and endurance exercise (2, 3).

When amino acids are digested and absorbed into the bloodstream, they are available for muscle protein synthesis (MPS), or the creation of new muscle.

Studies have shown that whey protein can help build and maintain muscle mass, assist athletes with recovery from heavy exercise and increase muscle strength in response to strength training (4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9).

In one study of young men, whey protein increased muscle protein synthesis by 31% more than soy protein and 132% more than casein protein following resistance exercise (9).

However, a recent 10-week study found that postmenopausal women had a similar response to resistance training whether they took whey protein or a placebo (10).

Other studies in normal-weight, overweight and obese individuals have shown that whey protein may improve body composition by decreasing fat mass and increasing lean mass (11, 12, 13).

What’s more, whey protein seems to reduce appetite at least as much as other types of protein do (14, 15, 16, 17, 18).

One study gave lean men four different types of liquid protein meals on different days. The whey protein meals led to the largest decrease in appetite and the greatest reduction in calorie intake at the next meal (18).

Some studies suggest whey protein may also reduce inflammation. There’s also evidence it can improve certain heart health markers in overweight and obese people (19, 20, 21).

Bottom Line: Whey protein is quickly digested, providing a rapid rise in amino acids that may help increase muscle mass and strength. It may also reduce appetite and promote fat loss.