Animal-Based Protein Powder: Types and Benefits

Man putting protein powder into a shake

Getty Images / Alexey Koza

If there's one thing that's for certain, it's that the market for protein powder is booming. There are so many options for those looking to boost their protein intake, with animal-based protein powders topping the list.

Common animal-based protein powders include whey protein, egg white protein, casein, collagen, and beef protein isolate. Plant-based proteins include soy, pea, oat, brown rice, hemp, and pumpkin seed protein.

While plant-based proteins are climbing in popularity, animal-based proteins still hold their weight in nutritional profile and benefits. Animal-based proteins are comprised of complete proteins—they contain all essential amino acids—while plant-based proteins often lack some amino acids. For that reason, plant-based protein manufacturers often combine protein sources to create a complete protein.

Plus, animal-based protein powders tend to have better mixability and flavor profiles than plant-based protein powders. That means you're in for a more enjoyable, creamier smoothie or shake.

Casein Protein

The most common animal-based protein powders are from dairy proteins. Casein is one of two proteins found in dairy milk. When milk is curdled, the whey is removed and you're left with casein.

Casein contains all nine essential amino acids making it a complete protein. And though casein is derived from dairy, it contains only small amounts of lactose and is likely not the cause of discomfort.

One differentiator of casein over whey protein is its absorption rate. Whey is absorbed almost immediately upon consumption while casein absorbs much slower. Because of this, casein is often touted as a "slow-release" protein that is ideal for long periods of time between meals or overnight. That's why some dietitians suggest eating cottage cheese before bed.

Because casein is a rich source of the branch chain amino acids leucine, isoleucine, and valine, it helps preserve lean body mass (muscle) during periods of protein muscle breakdown and stimulates protein synthesis. That means it's ideal for someone trying to build muscle, someone on a weight loss style diet, and those suffering from muscle wasting conditions like muscular dystrophy, malnutrition, cancer, and even extended physical inactivity.

In terms of consistency and flavor, both whey and casein have similar flavors, but casein tends to have a sandier texture than whey protein and feels thicker when mixed with water.

Who Should Use Casein

The slower digestion of casein coupled with the rich amino acid profile make casein a great choice over other animal proteins including whey, egg, and collagen, to extend recovery time after a long workout, promote fat loss, protect lean mass, and build muscle. Casein supplements may be ideal for the following people:

Whey Protein

Whey protein is the remaining clear liquid portion of milk from the process of cheese making. Essentially it's the other protein found in milk and accounts for about 20% (the remaining 80% is casein). It comprises all essential amino acids and is considered a complete protein. Whey is most commonly used in sports performance and nutrition and is often baked into foods, used in salad dressings, infant formula, and medical nutrition formulas.

Whey is known as a fast absorbing protein, absorbing 10 grams every hour. This is what makes whey protein ideal for athletes and those trying to build muscle—the amino acids are shuttled to where they're needed after a tough training session faster.

Another benefit to whey protein is that it contains an abundance of the amino acid cysteine. Cysteine is the precursor for glutathione, a key antioxidant. Glutathione acts as a powerful antioxidant that protects against oxidative stress and cellular damage, especially during intense workouts.

Additionally, whey protein is full of branch chain amino acids (BCAAs) that help prevent muscle from being used as fuel during a workout and aid in recovery after.

Of all protein supplements on the market, whey protein tends to have the best mixability and flavor profiles. It blends easily in any beverage and is often flavored with chocolate, vanilla, or strawberry. And if you're looking for a lactose-free option, whey protein isolates less than one percent lactose per serving.

Who Would Benefit From Whey Protein?

Though whey protein is ideal for those who work out regularly and are trying to build muscle, it's also a great protein for someone who wants to increase their protein intake but needs a convenient, yet tasty option. Both men and women will benefit from using a whey protein powder supplement.

Egg Protein

Did you know that of all proteins, egg protein has the highest quality and all other proteins are compared to it for their rating? That's right, egg protein (both what's found in the yolk and white) is a complete protein and almost 100 percent of it is utilized by the body. And if you have a dairy allergy or don't like the taste of whey or casein, egg protein is a great alternative.

Eating eggs is not the same as using egg protein powder. For starters, egg protein powders generally only use the egg whites, while eating eggs, you're either eating the whole egg (yolk and white) or ditching the yolk or vice versa.

One fresh egg white contains 3.6 grams of protein, while one scoop of egg white protein contains about 25 grams of protein depending upon which brand you purchase. In order to get the same amount of protein, you'd have to eat 7 egg whites in one serving. That is quite a large portion. Egg white protein powder is an easy way to get a large portion of protein in one sitting.

Egg white protein powder is a great source of the amino acid leucine. Leucine is primarily responsible for building muscle after a tough workout. It also helps maintain blood sugar control.

Most people don't notice a flavor specific to egg white protein powder. And it mixes fairly well in beverages. You can also cook and bake with egg white protein powder by replacing some of the flour in your recipe with egg white protein powder or using it as a substitute for eggs.

Who Should Use Egg White Protein

Egg white protein powder is a nutritional powerhouse containing around 25 grams of quality protein per scoop. It's lactose-free and dairy-free making it a great supplemental protein choice for those following a vegetarian-style diet or who have an allergy to dairy.

Collagen Protein

Most people are familiar with collagen as its primary structural function in the body—connective tissue, joints, cartilage, hair, skin, and tendons. And while it does serve those purposes, it also plays a role in cellular repair and immune function so that when tissue is damaged, it can be repaired quickly and efficiently. Collagen is produced naturally in the body and can be consumed through whole foods and supplements.

Collagen peptides are collagen in supplemental powder form and comprise a high concentration of the three amino acids—glycine, proline, and hydroxyproline. Though collagen's popularity is exciting, its use as a meal replacement or protein source isn't supported well in research beyond showing benefits for improvements in joint function, muscle recovery, skin, and hair health.

If you're looking for a protein supplement to help you build more muscle, collagen isn't the best option. However, collagen peptides may have anti-aging properties by improving skin health and elasticity. As much as you want immediate results, it just won't happen with collagen supplementation. Instead, you'll have to wait at least three months of consistent use to see a difference.

Collagen itself is tasteless and odorless. It's the flavors and sweeteners that product manufacturers use that provide flavor. And since it doesn't change the texture of foods, it can be easily mixed or blended into oatmeal, smoothies, pancakes, muffins, soups, stews, meatloaves, or anything you can think of.

Who Would Benefit From Collagen Powder

If you're looking to maximize muscle growth or lose body fat, collagen is not ideal for you. Someone looking to maintain or nourish a youthful appearance of their skin, add strength to their nails, and grow their hair would benefit from consistent use of collagen protein powder.

What to Look For in Protein Powder

Picking protein powders is not an easy task. There are so many options to choose from, all claiming to be the answer to your woes. Fortunately, there are ways to determine whether a product is or is not right for you. To start, always choose products that have been independently third-party tested and certified by certifying bodies including NSF, USP, and GMP.

When shopping for animal-based protein powders, keep these in mind (when possible):

  • Non-GMO: though research is inconclusive on whether genetically modified products are safe or dangerous, it's often better to err on the cautious side.
  • Minimally sweetened: sugar alcohols can cause upset stomach, gas, bloating, and diarrhea, especially when consumed in large amounts. Look for products with little to no sugar alcohol on the label.
  • Free of artificial dyes and colors: it's suspected that artificial colors and dyes can be harmful, especially to children. More research is needed.

A Word From Verywell

It's important to identify your needs before shopping for an animal-based protein powder. While they're all great choices, whey, casein, egg, and collagen protein each have their own key benefits. Knowing the difference will help you make an informed decision on what you're putting in your body. Sometimes doing the research can leave you just as confused, if that's the case, a registered dietitian can help you navigate what's on the market and make the right choice for you.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • What's the difference between whey and casein protein powders?

    Whey and casein are the two proteins found in dairy milk. Whey makes up about 20 percent while casein makes up the remainder. Whey protein is the clear liquid leftover during the cheese-making process; casein is the curdled portion. Both whey and casein contain all nine essential amino acids and improve body composition. Whey protein absorbs within 1 hour of consumption; casein is a "slow-release" protein that absorbs within 6-7 hours.

  • Which is better, animal or plant-based protein?

    This answer really depends on your needs. Animal-based protein powder is better for building muscle and losing body fat. Plant-based proteins do promote muscle protein synthesis, but not at the same rate as animal-based proteins. If you're using plant-based proteins for medical, dietary, or ethical reasons, then it's better for you than animal-based protein.

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Verywell Fit uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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