As a CaseyTrain client, you consume 1-2 protein shakes throughout the day. Most of you have it post training. One of the most common questions I get is what kind of protein is best and what purpose do the different kinds of protein powders serve?
Protein powders are concentrated sources of protein from animal or plant foods, such as dairy, eggs, rice or peas.
There are three common forms:
Protein concentrates: These are produced by extracting protein from whole food using heat and acid or enzymes. They typically contain about 60–80% protein, with the remaining 20–30% of calories from fat and carbs.
Protein isolates: These go through another filtering step that removes additional fat and carbs, further concentrating the protein. Protein isolate powders contain about 90–95% protein.
Protein hydrolysates: These are produced by further heating with acid or enzymes, which breaks the bonds between amino acids. This allows your body to absorb them more quickly, and your muscles to take them up more easily.
Hydrolysates appear to raise insulin levels more than other forms, at least in the case of whey protein. This can enhance the muscle growth response to exercise. Some powders are also fortified with vitamins and minerals, especially calcium. Protein powders can also benefit individuals who find it difficult to meet protein needs with food alone, such as CaseyTrain clients on higher calories. Protein powders come from a variety of sources and are available in several formulations. People use them to increase muscle mass, improve overall body composition and help meet their protein needs.
Whey protein comes from milk. During cheese-making, it is the liquid that separates from the curds. It’s high in protein, but also contains lactose, a milk sugar that many people have difficulty digesting. Whey protein concentrate retains some lactose, but whey protein isolate contains very little because most of the lactose is lost during processing. Whey is a quickly digested protein rich in branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs). Leucine, one of these BCAAs, plays a major role in promoting muscle growth and recovery following resistance and endurance exercise. When amino acids are digested and absorbed into the bloodstream, they are available for muscle protein synthesis (MPS), or the creation of new muscle.
Studies have shown that whey protein can help build and maintain muscle mass, assist athletes with recovery from heavy exercise and increase muscle strength in response to strength training. Whey protein is quickly digested, providing a rapid rise in amino acids that may help increase muscle mass and strength. It may also reduce appetite.
Like whey, casein is a protein found in milk. However, casein is digested and absorbed much more slowly. Casein forms a gel when it interacts with stomach acid, slowing down stomach emptying and delaying the absorption of amino acids into the bloodstream.
This results in a gradual, steadier exposure of the muscles to amino acids, reducing the rate of muscle protein breakdown. Casein is a slow-digesting dairy protein that may reduce muscle protein breakdown and promote muscle mass growth and fat loss during calorie restriction.
Eggs are well-known for being an excellent source of high-quality protein.
Of all whole foods, eggs have the highest protein digestibility-corrected amino acid score (PDCAAS). This score is a measure of a protein’s quality and how easily it is digested.
Eggs are also one of the best foods for decreasing appetite and helping you stay full for hours.
However, egg protein powders are typically made from egg whites rather than whole eggs. Although the protein quality remains excellent, feelings of fullness may be reduced when yolks are removed. Like all animal products, eggs are a complete protein source. That means they provide adequate amounts of the 9 essential amino acids your body can’t make itself.
What’s more, egg protein is second only to whey protein as the highest source of leucine, the BCAA that plays the biggest role in muscle health. Egg white protein contains high-quality protein that is easily digested and absorbed
Pea protein powder is relatively new and especially popular among vegetarians, vegans and people with allergies or sensitivities to dairy or egg proteins. It’s made from the yellow split pea, a high-fiber legume that contains high amounts of all the essential amino acids except for methionine. Pea protein is also particularly rich in branched-chain amino acids.
A rat study found that pea protein was absorbed more slowly than whey protein, but faster than casein. Pea protein has been shown to promote fullness and increase muscle growth as effectively as animal-based protein sources.
Hemp protein powder is another plant-based supplement that is gaining popularity.
Although hemp is related to marijuana, it only has trace amounts of the psychoactive component tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). Hemp is rich in beneficial omega-3 fatty acids and several essential amino acids. Although there is very little research on hemp protein at this time, it appears to be a well-digested plant protein source. Hemp protein has a high omega-3 fatty acid content and seems to be easily digested by the body. However, it is low in the essential amino acids lysine and leucine.
Brown Rice Protein
Protein powders made from brown rice have been around for some time, but they have generally been considered inferior to whey protein for muscle building.
Although rice protein contains all of the essential amino acids, it is too low in lysine to be considered a complete protein.
Mixed Plant Proteins
Some protein powders contain a blend of plant sources to provide complete protein with all the essential amino acids.
Mixed plant protein powders typically contain a combination of two or more of the following proteins:
Plant proteins tend to be digested more slowly than animal proteins, due in part to their high fiber content. Although this may not be a problem for many people, it can limit the amount of amino acids available for immediate use after exercise. Adding digestive enzymes to the mixed-vegetable protein supplement led to a faster appearance of amino acids in the blood that was comparable to whey protein.