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Protein Powders: Best Sources of Protein

Question:
When choosing a protein powder, which protein source is best -- whey, casein, soy, pea, rice, hemp or egg?
Protein, Meal, and Diet Powders, Shakes, and Drinks Tested by ConsumerLab.com
Answer:
As discussed in more detail in our Protein Powders and Drinks Review, each of these can be a good source of protein, but certain protein sources may be better for particular uses and in certain people.

Whey protein contains the highest percentage of branched-chain amino acids, which can become depleted during exercise and are needed for maintenance of muscle. However, some studies have found rice protein and pea protein equal to whey in increasing strength and muscle when taken after resistance exercise. Casein is absorbed more slowly than whey and, for this reason, some athletes take it before bed to help counter protein breakdown. Soy protein is a complete protein and is often promoted as a "heart healthy" option, although the evidence for this claim is inconsistent and has been called into question by the FDA. Like rice, pea and soy protein, hemp protein may be a good option for vegetarians and vegans, although there appears to be little published research on the use of hemp protein for muscle building or sports recovery, or comparing its effects with those of other sources of protein.

Heavy metals such as lead, cadmium, and arsenic have been found in protein powders. Typically, these have been at very low levels — below limits for safe use. When higher amounts have been found, it has been associated with added, non-protein ingredients such as cocoa powder (a source of cadmium) or bran (from rice). ConsumerLab has also found that a significant percentage of protein powders do not live up to their label claims regarding sodium and/or cholesterol. 

Specific sources of protein should be avoided due to potential allergic reactions, food sensitivities, and medical conditions (e.g., soy protein should not be used by people with thyroid conditions).  It is also important to understand differences in the forms of protein, such as concentrates, isolates, and hydrolysates.

The pros and cons of each protein source, information about how much protein you need (note: many older adults do not get enough from their diets), as well as our tests and comparisons of many popular products, are found in the Protein Powders and Drinks Review >>

Learn More About Protein Supplements:



What's the best protein to keep and gain muscle when you're older? >>

Is it true that protein can strain the kidneys as you get older? >>

What is the best protein supplement for vegetarians and vegans? >>

Some protein powders contain whey protein concentrate, and others contain whey protein isolates - what is the difference? >>

Immunocal is much more expensive than other whey protein isolates - is it worth the extra cost? >>

Can heat and humidity destroy whey protein and other sports nutrition supplements (e.g., creatine, BCAAs, digestive enzymes) during shipping or while storing at home? >>

See other recent and popular questions >>
COMMENTS

George M17859   May 19, 2019
A few years ago, I heard a radio program by Dr Ronald Hoffman (his practice is in NYC), in which he noted a study (or studies) that showed that the use of Casein by men was associated with an elevated risk of prostate cancer. Whey protein, on the contrary, did not have that association, and in fact it is highly beneficial and protective. I'd be interested in CL's research and thoughts on this. I don't have prostate cancer, but it runs strong in my family, so I am high risk for it.

ConsumerLab.com   June 13, 2019
Hi George - Thank you for your question. We've now answered it here: https://www.consumerlab.com/answers/casein-protein-prostate-cancer-risk/casein-prostate-cancer/.

eve8030   November 4, 2015
thanks for answering the protein powder question. just a note about rice protein: most of the world's rice is now tainted with arsenic. brown rice is worse than white rice and it is even present in pretty high concentrations in organic rice. i think this might be something you will want to look into. thanks for your great service. i use you on a daily basis.

ConsumerLab.com   November 9, 2015
Hi Eve - Thank you for your kind words and your suggestion. ConsumerLab.com does test all protein powder powders (including those made from brown rice) for lead, as well as arsenic and cadmium.


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This CL Answer initially posted on 11/4/2015. Last updated 9/28/2019.
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