How is protein powder made?

These days you can hop online and find a huge selection of protein powders made from all manner of ingredients. We know a high protein intake can help maximise our gains and that a protein shake before or after a workout can help us achieve that, but how many of us actually know what’s in our protein shake, or how they’re made?

In this guide, we cover:

The protein concentration process

As the name suggests, protein powders are made from powdered forms of protein, either from an animal source, such as milk and eggs, or a plant source, like pea, soy, rice and hemp. You might have noticed that some powders are labelled things like ‘soy protein concentrate’ or ‘pea protein isolate’, and these differentiating terms do have some meaning. There are a variety of processing methods that can be used to extract the protein component from the whole foods, resulting in different forms of protein powders, like concentrates and isolates.

To make a protein concentrate, the protein is extracted from the starting material through heat or enzymes, which removes water and some of the minerals. The result is a powder that’s around 70% to 85% pure protein, with the rest of the powder consisting of carbohydrates and fats. A protein isolate goes a step further in the process by isolating the protein to the point where the powder has at least a 90% protein concentration. During the process of making a protein isolate, carbs, fats and minerals are removed. You might assume that protein isolate is the obvious choice because of the higher protein concentration, but it’s also worth considering the fact that isolate is a much more processed type of protein powder.

After these processes, manufacturers can add any variety of additional superfoods, vitamins, minerals, herbs, sweeteners and additives to change the taste and nutritional profile of the powder.

Although there are seemingly endless options when it comes to picking a protein powder, they’re not all made equal. As the supplement industry is largely unregulated, many companies aren’t rigorous when it comes to their manufacturing processes or soil quality, resulting in significant amounts of heavy metals, pesticides and other contaminants found in some protein powders. At Vivo Life we take every precaution in our powder manufacturing process to ensure all ingredients are of the highest quality, and third-party tested for toxins

How is pea protein powder made?

Pea protein is an incredibly popular choice for protein powders. You might first think of the green balls you have on the side of your (vegan) bangers and mash, but pea protein powder is actually made by extracting protein from yellow split peas. Pea protein is suitable for anyone with digestive issues and stomach sensitivities, and for anyone who follows a vegan or cruelty free diet. 

The protein extraction process involves a dry phase and a liquid phase. In the dry phase, the peas are dried and then ground into a fine powder, similar to the consistency of flour, which contains protein, starch and fibre. In the liquid phase, the powder is mixed with water to separate the fibre and starch. 

You can get both pea protein concentrate and pea protein isolate. The additional processing involved in creating protein isolate means that the isolate has higher protein concentration than pea protein concentrate, which has more starch and fibre. However, both types of processing are pretty minimal, meaning the powder can retain its natural vitamins, minerals and nutrients - for example, peas are naturally rich in Vitamin A, iron, folate, thiamin, Vitamin C, Vitamin K and manganese, which are essential for maintaining a healthy metabolism, so your pea protein powder will pack all of that goodness into one shake for you!

Not only is pea protein free from all major allergens, it also contains all nine essential amino acids, meaning it’s considered one of the most “complete” plant-based proteins. Our protein powders contain yellow pea protein, gently fermented for easier digestion and a superior amino acid profile. 

Check out our pea protein vs soy protein guide to learn more about how these two vegan options compare to each other. 

How is hemp protein powder made?

Hemp protein is a variation of cannabis sativa used for cosmetics, food and fuel - note the word ‘variation’, as hemp protein has less than 0.3% THC, meaning your protein shake won’t be getting you high! Hemp is considered a superfood by many people, as it’s a great source of Omega 3 and Omega 6 fatty acids (you can learn more about Omega 3 fatty acids here), and is rich in minerals like potassium, phosphorus and magnesium.

To get hemp seeds into your protein powder, the harvested plants are first carefully cleaned and dried, through sieving, grading and gravity separation. For example, seeds may pass through two different sized sieves before being sent through a fanning mill. They are then ‘dehulled’, which is the process of removing the seeds’ outer shells. Producers then extract the hemp oil, resulting in a byproduct known as hemp cake or hemp meal, which is the base for your hemp powder. The powder is then milled before being separated to obtain the fine powder substance. 

Hemp contains the proteins albumin and edestin, which our bodies can easily digest. Studies reveal that 91% to 98% of hemp protein is digestible, but the heat process can reduce digestibility by 10%. That’s why we use a blend of pea with cold-pressed hemp in our protein powders, to help retain digestibility and for maximum nutritional value. 

How is whey protein powder made?

You might think you’ve never consumed whey, but if you’ve ever opened and eaten a yogurt pot which has a watery liquid floating on top, you definitely have! Whey was traditionally a waste product from the cheese-making process until businesses realised they could find a use for it. 

The process of making whey protein powder begins with cow’s milk, which is heated to remove bacteria. After the curd is strained, the remaining liquid is whey. Enzymes are introduced to the liquid to separate the whey and casein, and then some of the lactose and minerals are filtered out to become whey protein concentrate. Or the process is taken one step further, and the liquid is further filtered to remove carbohydrates and fats to become a whey protein isolate.

Whey protein has quite a strong and unpleasant taste so, in most cases, artificial additives and synthetic preservatives are added to mask the flavour. The liquid whey is then spray dried with hot and cold air to become a powder. Because it is derived from milk, many people have issues digesting whey protein, especially whey protein concentrate, which still contains lactose.

How is egg white protein powder made?

If you’re allergic to milk or sensitive to lactose, you might find yourself tempted by egg white protein powder. The process of making it involves separating the whites from the yolks, pulverising them, and then dehydrating them. The egg whites are normally liquified for easy storage and taken to a processing facility, where they can sit for days before they are dried. Egg proteins are often either tasteless or reported to have bitter or unpleasant flavours, which is why many manufacturers then add a load of artificial flavourings, preservatives, dyes and other additives to the powder to make it more palatable. These options are best avoided as, though they may be high in protein, the artificial additives aren’t great to be consuming on a regular basis.

Egg whites are also low in essential vitamins and nutrients, such as Vitamins A, B2, B12, B5, D, folate and selenium, many of which you can find in other sources of protein. Like milk, egg is one of the most common allergies so, again, some people may find their bodies don’t agree with egg white protein powder or, worse, consuming egg can result in severe anaphylaxis. It’s also worth noting that the egg industry is usually produced from chickens in intense confinement and questionable conditions, so choosing a plant-based protein source can avoid participation in the industry.

The bottom line...

When it comes to the processes involved, plant-based protein powders tend to require less processing. They generally have a more pleasant taste, meaning they don’t need as many artificial flavour and additives to try and mask their natural flavour. So if you’re looking for a less processed powder with more essential vitamins, nutrients, fatty acids and antioxidants, look no further than our Vivo Life perform plant protein protein powder, or our simple VEGAN PROTEIN, both made from a blend of bio-fermented yellow pea and cold pressed hemp.