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How is Protein Powder Made?

Protein powder can benefit a variety of people with different dietary and fitness goals. But, not all protein powders are alike, and some offer more notable health advantages than others. 

So, how is protein powder made, and what makes it “high-quality” or “complete”? We dive deeper into each of these questions and more. 

What Counts as a Protein Shake?

What constitutes a protein shake? Can any beverage containing protein be considered a “protein shake”?

The defining factor is that a protein shake contains an elevated amount of protein, typically anywhere from 10 to 30 grams per serving. 

The protein in these shakes comes from protein powder, which can be either plant- or animal-based, as we’ll cover in more detail below. Plus, protein shakes typically contain additional ingredients like vitamins, minerals, sweeteners, and flavors to make it a well-balanced and delicious beverage. 

You can find protein shakes in a ready-to-drink formula that you can consume right off the shelf. Or, you can make your own with your choice of protein powder and liquid, like milk or water.  

Common uses and users

Protein shakes have grown in popularity in recent years, and for good reason. They’re a versatile beverage that people can drink for a variety of purposes–whether it be to: 

  • Recover from a hard workout
  • Lose weight
  • Grow muscles
  • Support metabolism
  • Supplement nutrition

    It’s common to see athletes and fitness enthusiasts enjoying a protein shake to promote muscle growth and support recovery after a strenuous workout. 

    Protein shakes are also a great solution for people trying to manage their weight. They offer a pre-portioned source of protein and nutrients, making it easy to accurately track calorie and nutrient intake. 

    Different Sources of Protein Powder

    There’s a common question about how protein powder is made and where it comes from. The truth is, it depends. 

    Each manufacturer can derive protein from a number of sources, both animal and plant-based. So, how is protein powder made? It frequently comes from these sources: 

    • Whey: A common, animal-based protein source found in shakes that contains all the essential amino acids. It’s a mixture of proteins isolated from whey, a by-product of the cheese-making process.

    • Casein: Also an animal-based protein source, found in cow’s milk and derived from cheese-making. It offers many of the same benefits as whey protein.

    • Soy: A plant-based protein source from soybeans that’s the closest in quality to cow’s milk. It contains a complete amino acid profile and is associated with a reduced risk of heart disease, according to the American Heart Association (AHA).

    • Pea: A protein source extracted from yellow and green split peas. It has a balanced amino acid profile, though is low in one, methionine. It’s also known for having a grittier texture than soy or animal-based protein powder.

    • Hemp: This protein is sourced from the cannabis plant. It is made from ground-up hemp seeds and offers a rich source of amino acids. It has a nutty, earthy taste and isn’t as neutral as some of the other protein sources. 

    Key Differences Between Protein Powders

    While it might seem that all protein is equal and it doesn’t matter where it’s sourced from, there are some important differences to understand between the varieties listed above. 

    As we pointed out, some protein sources offer a complete amino acid profile, while others do not. This is crucial because the human body requires these essential building blocks to perform important body functions like repairing tissue or supporting immune cell functions. 

    However, our bodies do not produce nine amino acids naturally, and we must get them from our diet. Only a “complete” protein powder contains all essential amino acids that support healthy body functions, like soy protein

    In addition, certain protein sources, like those from animals or seeds, can contain unhealthy cholesterol levels and saturated fat. So, it’s important to understand where you can get a high-quality protein source without the bad fats that certain ones contain. 

    Secondary Protein Shake Ingredients

    What are protein shakes made of, exactly? After all, protein powder isn’t the only ingredient found in these beverages. 

    Here is a closer look at some of the secondary ingredients you’ll find in protein shakes:

    Carbohydrate sources 

    The body needs more than just protein for proper growth and functioning. Most protein shakes contain a certain level of carbohydrates, which are the main energy source for our bodies.

    Some shakes are packed with added sugars, though this is a cheap source of carbs that can lead to an unwanted crash after the initial rush. Instead, low-calorie sweeteners like naturally-occurring allulose or maltodextrin are good sources of carbohydrates that provide sustained energy and have minimal impact on blood sugar. 

    Fats and oils 

    Though they can get a bad rap, fats and oils are commonly found in protein shakes to improve their texture, flavor, and nutritional balance. This includes flaxseed oil, coconut oil, MCT oil, and others. 

    For example, you might find canola oil listed among the ingredients of a protein shake. It is a good source of monounsaturated fats and omega-3 fatty acids, which, when part of a balanced diet, can produce positive benefits for heart health and the risk of cardiovascular disease. 

    Flavorings and sweeteners 

    Most protein shakes also contain flavorings and sweeteners to enhance their taste. It’s common to find protein shakes in crowd-pleasing flavors like chocolate, vanilla, and strawberry. 

    Unfortunately, many options contain high levels of added sugar, which can counteract the shake's positive effects and lead to an unhealthy spike in blood sugar. This isn’t necessary to make a shake taste good, and it’s possible to find delicious protein shakes that contain low or no added sugar for more even and sustained energy. 

    Vitamins, minerals, and other additives

    It’s common to find healthy additives like vitamins, antioxidants, and minerals in protein shakes. These typically don’t impact the flavor or caloric profile of a shake, though they offer important health benefits. 

    For example, protein shakes that contain vitamin C, vitamin D, iron, zinc, and selenium can boost immunity by supporting the growth and function of immune cells. Plus, vitamin D has been shown to improve bone health, muscle strength, and even cognitive function, so it’s a great addition to any protein shake formulation. 

    Ingredient-Related Factors Affecting Which Protein Shake You Choose

    With so many protein shakes and powders available, it can be overwhelming to compare all your options and determine which one has a quality and tasty formulation that will help you achieve your goals. 

    Consider these factors to help make your decision: 

    Fitness goals 

    Find a protein shake that aligns with your overall fitness and health goals. This means looking for shakes that fit your target daily caloric intake and are free from harmful ingredients like added sugars. 

    Again, protein sources with a complete amino acid profile are better suited for muscle repair and recovery, so keep this in mind when choosing a protein shake. 

    Allergies and intolerances

    Your choice of protein shake will also be dictated by any food restrictions, allergies, or intolerances you have. 
    For instance, if you’re lactose intolerant, a dairy-free protein shake with plant-based protein is likely the best option. If you have any seed or nut allergies, ensure the protein shake you choose is free from these ingredients. 

    Vegan and vegetarian restrictions

    Since protein powders can either be derived from animal or plant sources, if you’re a vegan or vegetarian, you need to pay close attention to what’s in a protein shake. 

    Whey and casein protein come from cow’s milk, so any protein shakes containing this type of protein will be off-limits. Instead, look for a shake with plant-based protein powder like pea, soy, or hemp to support your dietary preferences. 

    Final thoughts: What are Protein Shakes Made Of? 

    It’s normal to have questions about how protein powder is made and where it’s sourced from. Hopefully, this guide provided some insights into the different protein sources available and how they stack up against each other. 

    If you’re following, you can see that soy protein is ideal for protein powder, containing a complete amino acid profile with positive implications for heart, cell, and muscle health. Plus, it has a smooth texture making for better-tasting shakes. 

    Soylent complete protein powder contains soy as the main protein source, and is a great option for making protein shakes at home. The formulation is scientifically-backed and designed to support muscle growth and recovery, with a whopping 30 grams of protein per serving and zero grams of sugar. 

    Shop Soylent for complete protein powders that contain all the essential nutrients you need, with none of the additives you don’t. 


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