Deciding on a protein supplement can be overwhelming, especially when there are so many to choose from! What’s the difference? Which types work best? Do I really need it? We know you have questions and we have the answers!
Protein Sources for Workouts
Protein can be either plant or animal-based, both of which are equally effective, despite the claims of adverse effects that have been erroneously circulated online over the years. Whether your goal is muscle growth, maintenance, or just to hit your daily protein requirements, supplementing protein is a convenient and cost-effective way to help achieve it.
Plant-based protein supplements come from a variety of different plant sources, but the most common are pea, brown rice, soy, and hemp. It was originally thought that plant proteins did not contain sufficient amounts of amino acids and were therefore “incomplete” unless combined with other foods. However, thanks to recent advances in nutrition research, that fact was shown to be nothing more than a fad. Although this theory was disproven, most vegan protein supplements contain a blend of two or more of the plant proteins mentioned above in an effort to provide a wider variety of amino acids and also to improve taste and texture. Also because of a lower demand and the addition of multiple protein sources, natural ingredients, and added vitamins, probiotics, etc., plant protein supplements generally tend to be more expensive than animal-based products.
Animal protein supplements are most commonly derived from milk, eggs, or beef and are the most widely used and recommended products in the fitness industry. Animal-based proteins blend easier than their plant-based counterparts and the taste is generally more appealing, as plant proteins can have more of an “earthy” taste and texture. Animal protein also came under fire in the mainstream media, as claims that its consumption led to bone loss and renal failure spread throughout the internet. We now know that these are concerns for populations who already have conditions affecting the kidneys and bones and that high protein diets are not, in fact, dangerous for one’s health when used by healthy individuals.
Types of Protein
Whey protein is considered to be the “gold standard” of protein supplements and is the most used (and often abused) of the protein family. Extracted from milk, whey protein makes up 20% of cow’s milk and 60% of human milk. It is one of two by-products of dairy products and is often still discarded as waste by yogurt and cheesemakers.
Whey protein is commercially sold in three forms: hydrolysate, concentrate, and isolate.
• Hydrolysates are predigested, partially hydrolyzed whey proteins. The purpose of this is so that the protein content can be more easily metabolized for more efficient absorption, although hydrolyzed whey is generally more expensive.
• Whey protein concentrate is a byproduct of cheese and has a low fat content, but usually contains higher carbohydrates because of the lactose. It’s the cheapest form of whey protein and is the most commonly used by athletes, bodybuilders, and the general population. Because of the fat and lactose content, whey protein concentrate ranges from 29% to as high as 89% protein.
• Whey protein isolate is extracted from skim milk and undergoes a process that removes the casein, fat, cholesterol, and lactose and leaves a 90% pure whey protein. This process involves less pasteurization at a lower temperature, and since whey isolate is not a byproduct of cheese, added acids and secondary treatments are not necessary to extract it. Also because of its increased bioavailability and almost pure protein content, whey isolate is more expensive than standard whey concentrate.
Recommendation: Optimum Nutrition Gold Standard Whey
During cheese production, casein is coagulated with acid and several other ingredients to form a solid. Casein is a slow digesting protein found in milk along with whey protein that has a gel-forming capability similar to that of fiber, giving it the ability to be digested slowly. This prolongs gastric emptying and allows the amino acids to enter the bloodstream gradually rather than all at once. Casein is a good source of protein that allows the consumer to feel full for longer without the excess fat and carbohydrates that’s usually associated with other protein supplements. Casein and other protein sources are complementary due to their different properties and can be used concurrently for optimal muscle growth. For example, casein is usually recommended to take in the evening before bed while a fast-acting protein like whey is often consumed post-workout.
Recommendation: Optimum Nutrition Gold Standard 100% Casein
3. Egg White
Egg white protein is exactly what you think: egg whites! The whites are pure protein and are a great way to get the added protein benefits without the sugar and fat. However, in powder form, flavoring is added for a more favorable taste, so there’s usually around 4-6 grams of carbohydrates depending on the brand.
Recommendation: Optimum Nutrition 100% Egg
Beef protein is sourced from beef that is boiled into a liquid that is then skimmed to remove the fat and carbohydrates, leaving a 98% liquid protein. The resulting liquid is spray-dried to create a powder that can then be reconstituted in water just like any other protein supplement. However, beef protein supplements contain high amounts of glycine, which is a filler amino acid that is classically added to low-quality protein supplements to save on cost and to skew lab test results. Glycine shows up as protein in lab tests due to the nitrogen content, so some products are able to pass as containing higher amounts of protein than they really do.
Recommendation: There are far superior protein sources, so save the cows and move on to another one!
Most vegan proteins contain at least some pea protein. Peas are surprisingly high in protein, but have a distinct chalky taste and texture that can be off-putting to some. However, individuals who have digestion issues or food allergies can benefit from pea protein, as it’s highly bioavailable and more easily digested than whey protein.
Pea protein is made by drying and grinding peas, discarding the fiber and starch, and drying the paste to create a mixable powder. The carbohydrate content is slightly higher than whey protein at around 7 grams because of the remaining fiber, but otherwise it’s a pure protein isolate. Pea protein contains all nine essential amino acids, but only a small amount of methionine, which can be accounted for by adding foods like rice, eggs, chicken, or fish into the diet.
Recommendation: Vega One Organic All-In-One Shake
6. Brown Rice
Brown rice protein is a good vegan option for those who don’t like pea protein or for individuals with egg, milk, gluten, or soy allergies. After separating the protein from the starch, the finished product yields around 20-24 grams of protein per serving. Although brown rice protein is more slowly digested than whey or egg white proteins, it contains all nine essential amino acids and provides a more cost-effective alternative for other plant protein blends.
Recommendation: MyProtein Brown Rice Protein
Soy protein is made from soybeans that have been separated from the fats, dried, and ground into a powder. The powder is a complete source of protein that contains all nine amino acids and bioactive compounds known as phytoestrogens, which have chemical structures similar to those of estrogen. Soy protein has been a heavily debated topic in the fitness industry and nutrition research has come a long way in shedding some light on its potential benefits. Cancer prevention, inhibition of breast and prostate cancer cells, and positive effects on bone density all show promising results, but further research is required to confirm any theories.
Although soy protein was thought to decrease testosterone in males, that claim was also disproved, as there is no scientific evidence to support it. In a study involving 20 male participants, no significant changes in testosterone levels were reported after supplementation of 50 grams of soy protein per day for 12 weeks. In fact, a significant increase in lean body mass was observed!
Recommendation: Optimum Nutrition 100% Soy Protein
Last but not least, hemp protein is another great source of plant protein that is made from the ground hemp seed and is hypoallergenic and also a good source of calcium. Although it contains more fat than other plant proteins, hemp protein provides about 20 grams of protein per 30-gram scoop. Additionally, it’s high in fiber and easily digested for those with gastrointestinal complications. Containing as high as 80 percent protein and all of the essential amino acids, hemp protein is an excellent choice for someone looking for a high quality, relatively inexpensive source of protein that’s as heart-healthy as it is vegan.
Recommendation: Manitoba Harvest Hemp Pro 70
Prices range depending on the protein type and quality, but generally for a 1-2lb container, the prices are consistent with the following:
– Optimum Nutrition Hydro Whey: $37.26 (https://www.membersonlysupplements.com/shop-supplements/protein/whey-protein/optimum-nutrition-platinum-hydro-whey-chocolate-mint-1-7lbs-detail)
– Optimum Nutrition Whey Isolate: $16.42 (https://www.membersonlysupplements.com/)
– Myprotein Casein: $20.99 (https://www.myprotein.com)
– Vega All-In-One Protein: $59.99 (https://myvega.com/products/vega-one-organic)
Plant proteins are generally more expensive, but have also been known to contain fewer fillers, additives, and artificial dyes and flavorings.
Protein dosage depends largely on an individual’s goals, activity level, and dietary needs, but examine.com provides detailed guidelines that are consistent with most other online sources:
“If you are an athlete or highly active person currently attempting to lose body fat while preserving lean muscle mass, a daily intake of 1.5-2.2g/kg bodyweight (0.68-1g/lb bodyweight) would be a good target.
If you are an athlete or highly active person, or you are attempting to lose body fat while preserving lean mass, then a daily intake of 1.0-1.5g/kg bodyweight (0.45-0.68g/lb bodyweight) would be a good target.
If you are sedentary and not looking to change body composition, a daily target of 0.8g/kg bodyweight (0.36g/lb bodyweight) and upwards would be a good target.”
Which One is Best?
Many fitness gurus will try to sell you on their favorite product (or most often the products from the company that signs their paychecks), but it really comes down to personal preference! Whether you’re a vegan yogi or a flesh-eating bodybuilder, choose the supplement that you like using and that makes you feel and perform best!
Typically, those who are lactose-intolerant should try to stay away from whey protein and aim for either a vegan or egg white-based protein supplement, but everyone has a different level of tolerance and whey isolate or native whey can sometimes be consumed comfortably.
Finding the protein supplement that’s right for you comes with a bit of trial and error, so don’t get discouraged if you feel overwhelmed by the amount of unknown products on the shelf!
– Protein comes from either plants or animals and the common sources are pea, brown rice, soy, hemp, milk, eggs, or beef.
– High protein diets have been shown to be beneficial and not harmful in healthy individuals. Only in certain cases such as existing kidney dysfunction or disease can protein supplementation be potentially dangerous.
– Although fitness professionals and gurus will argue about which source is best, no protein source is inherently bad and all will help you achieve great results.