how is protein powder made

How is Protein Powder Made?

Ever wonder how protein powder is made? Check out this YouTube video below for a great description of the process from pasture to shelf!



In case you don’t have time to watch BPI’s video above, here are the steps of the process:

  1. Cows produce the milk
  2. Milk is separated into curds (solids) and whey (liquids)
  3. The liquid whey is transported to a protein manufacturing facility
  4. The liquid whey is pasteurized and filtered (the filtration separates the lactose and fats from the protein in the whey)
  5. The liquid whey is then dried creating a ~90% whey protein powder
  6. The last step is blending protein powder with other solids including flavors or other additives like sucralose

Step 4 in this process is completed through a process called membrane filtration, which is the most common process to separate the proteins in whey processing.  


Are there any other other types of separation?

Although, membrane filtration is the most common process for separating proteins from the fats in the whey source, ion exchange is quickly gaining traction as an alternative processing method.

Ion exchange is the process in which the liquid is sent through a column collecting the protein content and then treated with reagents which will adjust the pH of the product.

The end result of the protein source which has been extracted through the ion exchange method is usually a much purer protein.  The protein will usually have much lower carbohydrate content as well as a less distinct dairy taste which provides more flexibility for different types of flavors.

Unfortunately, when protein powder is made through ion exchange separation, the process can reduce the amount of biologically active micronutrients, effectively reducing the quality of the protein itself.

To learn more about the differences between these two separation techniques, check out this article here.


What about non-whey protein sources?

Soy protein

soy protein

For soy based proteins, the soybeans are separated from their shells and then cleaned before processing.  The separation process can either be ultrafiltration or ion exchange, but there is almost always some reagents used to adjust the pH during the process.

Generally, the protein content of a soy based protein will be lower than that of whey, but still of a higher quality.  If you are concerned with how the soybeans are processed, you can always contact the manufacturer for more details.

To learn more about the science by soybean processing, check out this scientific article here.


Plant based protein powders

Much like soybean processing, for pea and other plant based protein powders, the plant is dry processed through mills or other methods to remove the plant shell from the actual protein source within the plant.

Specifically, for pea based protein powders, the pea protein is wetted and flocculated before final filtration.  This process allows the proteins to agglomerate into small clumps before being filtered.

The final step includes spray drying, which produce the dry powder that is used to create the protein powders that you see in store.

Want to find out more information? Check out our picks for the four best plant based protein powders.

What about gluten-free protein powders?

Whey protein powder is almost completely gluten-free.

In Step 6 listed above, the final product is blended with other dry additives which add the raw material protein powder to any other ingredients making up the final product that you see in stores.

Maltodextrin and glutamine are two of the most common ingredients that do contain gluten and you should look out for on the packaging if you are on a gluten free diet. To help your search we put together our list of the best gluten-free whey protein powders.

If you need some ideas for some gluten free whey protein supplements, check out our list of the best gluten-free meal replacement shakes.