What is Protein?

Sorry Popeye, but spinach isn’t the best way to keep those muscles strong and built.

If the classic cartoon character Popeye were around today, chances are we’d see him swapping out the spinach for protein shakes in order to help keep him “strong to the finish.”

This is because protein is essential to the maintenance, health, and vitality of the body. It helps with the growth and development of all body tissues and it is the major source of building materials for muscles, blood, skin, hair, nails, and internal organs, like the heart and the brain.

Knowing this, it makes perfect sense why bodybuilders and fitness gurus always seem to have a protein bar or shake in hand (if they don’t already have a barbell in place of that).

Without protein, we wouldn’t survive.

However, with so many different proteins on the market, how do you know which is right for you and the differences between each of them?

Let’s Break It Down by Type

Whey protein

This protein is made from milk, but let’s break that down a bit further. As stated in an online newsletter from Medical News Today,

Milk is made of two proteins, casein and whey. Whey protein can be separated from the casein in milk or formed as a by-product of cheese making. Whey protein is considered a complete protein as it contains all 9 essential amino acids. It is low in lactose content.1

Suggested for: Carnivores and those who are lactose-tolerant.

Soy protein

This may seem elementary, but soy protein is made from soybeans – a type of legume that is naturally high in protein and relatively low in fat.2 The difference between whey and soy protein is the taste and texture. Soy can have a grainier texture to it and sometimes a stronger, nuttier, flavor.

Depending on the brand you purchase, these factors can vary.

Suggested for: Vegetarians, vegans, and those who are lactose intolerant.

Plant-based protein

Plant-based protein powders can also go by the name of the plant they are derived from; for example, pea protein, hemp protein, sunflower protein, etc.

Because this protein comes from plants, this type of protein powder can be nutrient dense, contain fiber and digestive enzymes, which can help ease digestion. They tend to be a bit higher priced than whey or soy protein powders, and usually contain less protein per serving than their counterparts.3

Suggested for: Vegetarians, vegans, and those who are lactose intolerant.

Protein Concentrate vs. Protein Isolate

Without over-complicating things, the difference between protein concentrate and protein isolate is the process the protein undergoes to become the end product.

Protein isolate goes through a process called Cross-Flow Micro-filtration. This helps to separate the protein from fat, cholesterol, and lactose which makes for a “purer” protein in the end.

This protein powder will be higher in protein and contain “less fat, cholesterol, lactose, carbohydrates, and calories than most other proteins on the market.”4

It’s important to understand your fitness goals, your body type and then make an informed decision from there. Always, always, always read the labels and see exactly what you’re getting out of your protein powder.

Not all protein powders are created equal.

The Dangers of Too Much Protein Consumption

Yes, there are dangers from consuming too much protein. In fact, most people don’t need the extra protein they get from protein shakes. A healthy balanced diet could be providing you with more than enough of your recommended daily allowance (RDA) of protein required.

The following risks and warnings were published in Heathline:5

Weight Gain

If the body takes in more protein than is necessary, the excess amount is usually stored as fat. This is where weight gain can begin.

Bad Breath

Have you heard of ketosis? Part of the ketogenic diet, ketosis is when your body goes into a metabolic state which produces chemicals that can give off an unpleasant smell.


As your body begins flushing out the excess nitrogen it’s getting from the extra protein intake, it could leave you low on fluids. Make sure to drink plenty of water if you up your protein intake to avoid dehydration.

Kidney Damage

Back to nitrogen again – following a high protein diet can cause your kidneys to work harder to get rid of excess nitrogen and waste products of protein metabolism.

Cancer Risk

Studies have shown that high-protein diets are associated with colon, breast, and prostate cancer. While low protein diets have shown a decreased risk for cancer. Scientists believe that this could be a correlation between carcinogenic compounds and fats found in meat, along with hormones.

Recommended Protein Intake

The National Institutes of Health recommends 0.36 grams per pound for a sedentary person.6 However, if you have intense workouts and/or a physically demanding job, you will need more.

To get a rough idea of how much protein you should be consuming, check out this Protein Intake Calculator, found on Bodybuilding.com.7

The Takeaway

  • Protein powders may be what you need to continue building lean muscle and losing fat, but it depends on your lifestyle and body type.
  • Protein powder isn’t necessarily needed for extra protein consumption. You may want to try incorporating things such as eggs, milk, yogurt, fish, nuts or beans (just to name a few).
  • Always do your research before trying out a new protein supplement. You want to make sure that it fits your personal dietary needs and fitness goals. Remember, knowledge is key.


  1. Nordqvist, Joseph. “Whey Protein: Health Benefits, Side Effects, and Dangers.” Medical News Today, MediLexicon International, 27 Nov. 2017, www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/263371.php.
  2. “Soy Protein vs. Whey Protein – Everything You Need to Know.” Nuts.com, nuts.com/healthy-eating/soy-vs-whey-protein.
  3. Wilder, Nicole. “Plant Protein vs Whey Protein: What’s Better For You? [INFOGRAPHIC] – IdealRaw.” IdealRaw COM, 13 July 2018, www.idealraw.com/blog/plant-based-nutrition/plant-protein-vs-whey-protein/.
  4. Ninja, TPW. “Whey Protein Concentrate Vs Whey Protein Isolate.” The Protein Works, The Protein Works, 30 July 2013, www.theproteinworks.com/thelockerroom/article/tpw-ninja/whey-protein-concentrate-vs-whey-protein-isolate.
  5. Cronkelton, Emily. “What Happens If You Eat Too Much Protein?” Healthline, Healthline Media, 2017, www.healthline.com/health/too-much-protein.
  6. “Read ‘Dietary Reference Intakes for Energy, Carbohydrate, Fiber, Fat, Fatty Acids, Cholesterol, Protein, and Amino Acids’ at NAP.edu.” National Academies Press: OpenBook, www.nap.edu/read/10490/chapter/12.
  7. Bodybuildingcom. “Calculate Your Recommended Protein Intake.” Bodybuilding.com, Bodybuilding.com, 16 July 2018, www.bodybuilding.com/fun/calpro.htm.