When it comes to building muscle or maintaining a healthy weight, protein is one of the most important things you can take into consideration. There are many different types of proteins to choose from and it can get a little confusing trying to decide which protein is best for you.
There are several kinds of protein such as hemp, whey, casein, egg, soy, wheat, and rice, but we will only focus on whey, casein, egg, and soy as they are the most popular.
To figure out what is the best protein for you, you first have to understand the difference between each type of protein powder and what your protein needs are.
Whey Protein Powder.
Whey is considered a complete protein as it contains all the amino acids for building muscle. Whey has the highest biological value of any protein source which means, due to its high ratios of amino acids and digestibility, a higher percentage of protein is actually utilized for muscle repair and tissue building.
Whey has also been shown to spike protein synthesis (leads to muscle growth) as much as 68% due to the high levels of the amino acid leucine, but due to the fast digestibility, it is only sustained for short periods of time.
There are 3 major forms of Whey Protein.
Whey Concentrate: Whey concentrate naturally has low levels of fat and cholesterol but in general, has more carbohydrates in the form of lactose. To be labeled concentrate, it must contain between 29-89% protein by weight. The percentages of protein are dependent on the production process and can vary between manufacturers. The typical digestion rate of whey concentrate is about 45 minutes to an hour.
Whey Isolate: Whey isolate is an ultra-filtered derivative of whey concentrate. This is a much more expensive process, but the end result is very low in fat and lactose-free. To be labeled an isolate it must contain at least 90% protein by weight and it has a much faster digestion rate as there are fewer fats, carbohydrates, and bioactive compounds for the body to digest. The typical digestion rate for an isolate is between 30-45 minutes, so this would be the best if you need protein to get into your muscles very fast.
Whey Hydrolysate: This is the highest quality protein and is also the most expensive of all the proteins. The increase in price is due to the higher processing requirements than concentrate or isolate. It is produced using low heat, low acid, and an enzymatic filtration process which the end result creates protein bonds that have already been broken so it can be quickly digested by your body. This is the cleanest protein as it contains very little fat, carbohydrates, and no lactose and contains more protein by weight. The typical digestion rate for whey protein hydrolysate is between 10-30 minutes.
You may also see many different types of filtering processes such as Cross-flow Cold Processed, Micro-filtered, Ion Exchanged, or many other fancy names for filtering the impurities from the protein. These different types of filtration processes give you a “better” protein without damaging the molecules thus giving you a better quality protein. A lot of this is marketing by supplement companies so I wouldn’t pay too much attention to these filtering processes. These filtering processes may give you a better quality product but the difference is so marginal that it’s not worth paying extra money.
Why you should take Whey Protein?
Whey protein is an excellent choice for those looking for a protein product that tastes great, is highly digestible, mixes easily, and has lots of BCAA’s for muscle building, and strengthens your immune system. Whey protein is the only protein that contains powerful substances called immunoglobulins, or immune peptides, that play a vital role in keeping your immune system ready for action.
Whey protein is a quickly digested protein, which makes it ideal to drink:
- First thing in the morning: Stop the evening “Fast”. Your body has not had any protein since your last meal and when your body gets low on protein your muscle will be in a catabolic state (your body takes the amino acids it needs from your muscles instead of your nutrition). I drink a shake as soon as you get up and then 30 minutes later I eat a normal breakfast.
- Pre-workout: Take a whey protein shake an hour before your workout instead of eating a meal because your body digests whey protein powder within an hour as opposed to chicken or fish which takes your body 2 to 2.5 hours to digest. That way you won’t feel bloated at the gym and the protein is going straight to your muscles instead of sitting in your stomach waiting to be digested.
- Post-workout: This is the absolute most important time to take whey protein. This is the beginning of the all-important “recovery” phase. You must drink a protein shake within 30 minutes of working out to maximize the benefits of your workout. Your muscles have been broken down from a strenuous workout and you need to get protein, especially Amino Acids to them fast in order to repair and build new muscle.
Casein Protein Powder.
Casein accounts for almost 80% of the proteins in cow’s milk (Whey accounts for the other 20%). Micellar Casein is extracted by a filtration process that extracts the whey protein from the casein without the use of chemicals. This process increases the number of bioactive milk peptides that support immune function as well as enhance muscle growth. Due to caseins PH sensitivity, when consumed; it gels in the acidic environment of the stomach. This “gelling” slows down the digestion process allowing it to take more than twice as long as any other protein to be broken down into its amino acid subcomponents. This is the primary benefit of casein as it is considered anti-catabolic or a muscle-protecting protein because of the slow and steady release of amino acids into the bloodstream. The slower absorption will help sustain elevated amino acid levels over a longer period of time reducing the body’s need to break down your muscles in order to acquire the amino acids it requires to function.
In one study, researchers gave healthy subjects 30 grams of either whey protein or casein protein and made several measures of the anabolic and catabolic effect for 7 hours after the meal. Whey protein resulted in a rapid increase in blood amino acids and protein synthesis, but it was short-lived. Casein, on the other hand, resulted in a prolonged increase in blood amino acids that resulted in a 34% reduction in protein breakdown. The net protein balance remained more positive after intake of casein protein over a 7-hour period.
Why you should take Micellar Casein?
The long and steady release of protein and the higher concentration of glutamine than other proteins making casein is the perfect protein for taking during the day when you know you will not be able to eat for several hours and before going to bed when the body needs a steady supply of proteins while the muscles repair and rebuild during the night.
Egg Protein Powder.
Is considered to be one of the best muscle-building foods Mother Nature has to offer. Egg protein powder comes from egg whites and is one of the highest-quality proteins available and has an outstanding amino acid profile for muscle maintenance, growth, and recovery. It also has the highest net nitrogen utilization rating, which means that you use more nitrogen which is what actually builds the muscle. Egg protein is virtually devoid of carbohydrates and fats and is loaded with vitamins such as highly bio-available iron, potassium, magnesium (helps maintain proper muscle function), phosphorus, riboflavin, folate, Vitamins B, D, and E, and choline (which enhances strength and brain function) and also naturally rich in arginine (precursor to nitric oxide, antioxidant and enhances fat metabolism).
Why you should take Egg Protein?
If you are lactose intolerant, egg protein is a great alternative to whey protein because it has almost no fat and on top of that, it’s much cheaper than whey.
Egg protein is not the best tasting protein but it is extremely nutritious and if you are looking for a good protein with the digestion rate (between 1.5 3 hours) between that of whey and casein – the egg is perfect. Egg protein is much more convenient than eating 6-7 egg whites and provides excellent muscle-building nutrients than whey, casein, and soy protein powders.
Soy Protein Powder.
Soy is derived from soybeans and is the only “complete” non-animal protein, meaning it contains all the essential and nonessential amino acids. Soy has a neutral taste, is natural, and has an abundance of health effects on the body. Its valuable nutrients include saponins that support healthy immune system function and help reduce cholesterol by binding with salt in the small intestine. Soy also has Phytosterols, which have been shown to help maintain cholesterol levels already within the normal range. Isoflavones (genistein and daidzein) have not only exhibited effects as powerful antioxidants but have been shown to reduce the risk of cancer. Soy protein has a neutral taste and therefore has been used as a food additive for decades to increase the protein content of food products.
Soy protein powder is similar to whey protein in that it comes in two forms, Soy Concentrate and Soy Isolate.
- Soy concentrate – 70% protein per weight and naturally low in fat, cholesterol, and carbohydrates. The concentrate contains most of the fiber from the original soybean and therefore is often added to food products for additional nutrition.
- Soy Isolate – Undergoes additional filtration to remove fat and carbohydrates to 90% protein per weight. Isolates also provide reduced bacterial fermentation for less stomach irritation.
Soy Protein is the most controversial of all the proteins. Many soy enthusiasts tout it as a superfood that can reduce blood pressure, enhance brain and immune system function, reduce the risk of cancer as well as many other claims; however many bodybuilders do not dispute these claims but do not recommend soy as it has a much lower biological value which means your body is not easily able to use the protein for building muscle and contains phytoestrogen’s, which is a derivative of estrogen and if consumed in mass quantities can change the ratio of testosterone/estrogen in favor of estrogen. Many of the soy proponents claim that soy is a precursor of estrogen.
Why you should take Soy Protein?
If you are vegan soy is a healthy way to get non-animal protein into your diet and can be used as a meat substitute. Soy is ideal for high protein/low carb diets. Much more than just an ingredient for a protein shake, soy protein can be used for cooking instead of flour, producing high protein foods that are extremely low in fat and carbohydrates. Soy is also a good alternative to milk-based proteins if you are lactose intolerant.
You will also hear the term protein blends, which is basically a combination of proteins explained above trying to take advantage of a constant and steady release of protein within the body.
Many blends will try and take advantage of different digestion rates such as combining ultra fast-digesting Whey Hydrolysatewith a slower digesting protein such as egg protein to take advantage of not only the steady flow of amino acids into your body but the nutrient qualities of each protein. These blends are “versatile” protein powders meaning if you are unaware of when your next meal will be, this will cover your bases for several hours due to the fast and mid absorption rates.
If you purchase a protein blend make sure it does not contain casein as it coagulates in your stomach, slowing down the digestion of all the proteins in your stomach, therefore, negating the benefits of a blend.