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Question:
When choosing a protein powder, which protein source is best -- whey, casein, soy, pea, rice or egg?

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 can lower cholesterol levels and may have other heart health benefits.  

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, as well as our tests and comparisons of many popular products, are found in the Protein Powders and Drinks Review >>

Also see these related CL Answers:



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

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

See other recent and popular questions >>
COMMENTS

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 8/2/2017.
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