Protein powders used to be reserved for bodybuilders and strength training athletes. Protein supplements have now been recognised as a great way to keep healthy and supplement your diet with a very high quality convenient protein source. Protein supplements have elevated to be one of the top selling nutritional supplements in the world.
Although you can get protein supplements in some very interesting forms now, the most cost effective and versatile would still be the simple protein powder. But don't mistake its simplicity as a sign that it's less useful.
As the protein powder market grows there has been a massive increase in the various types of proteins available in respect to ingredients & nutritional composition along with flavour variants. When looking to buy a protein powder you may want to keep in mind that there is a diverse range of protein sources that have proven to have different effects on the body - These differing protein sources include whey protein, milk protein, egg white powdered protein, and even protein derived from soy. How these protein sources affect the body can influence your choice of protein supplement depending on your goals.
With thousands of protein powders on the market, you can surely appreciate that where some may fall short of what is required, others will exceed your expectations.
If you have ever stood in front of a wall of protein powders in a health food store or sports supplement outlet and been completely confused about which one to purchase then you're not alone! We want to try and help you find the best protein powder for your conditions!
Let's look at making it a little easier to navigate through the products to find the one that best suits your needs in terms of nutrient requirements, body composition & training goals.
To start you have to decide what nutritional function the protein powder is going to play in your daily meal plan:
If you are looking at replacing a main meal then you need to look for a protein powder product that provides sufficient energy per serve provided via adequate levels of protein & carbohydrate low to moderate total fat and fortified with at least 25% RDI for essential vitamins & minerals. This will help you get the right balance of macro & micronutrients to replace a regular meal.
For people looking at simply gaining lean muscle or muscle tone then look at using a protein powder with a higher protein to carbohydrate ratio. These powders can be used pre- or post-training, as a between meal snack or at any other time of the day when protein is required. You would be looking for high protein, low fat, and low carbohydrate protein powders.
If you are looking at gaining muscle mass to use pre- or post-workout you need to ensure it has adequate carbohydrates to fuel the body during exercise & replenish carbohydrate energy stores (muscle glycogen) after training. In addition you need a formulation that is high protein and low in fat. These powders can be used pre- or post-training, when fuel in the form of carbohydrate is an important nutrient consideration.
Type of Protein
So the next step when looking at protein powders is to explore the different types of proteins. You may have seen names like WPI, WPC, Whey Protein, Hydrolysed Whey all thrown around - but what do these actually all mean?
What are the benefits of all these different forms of protein?
Before discussing the different types of protein powder available, the biological value (BV) of protein must be explained. BV measures how efficiently a protein source is digested and then used in protein synthesis. If all of the protein you digest from a particular source is made available to the body to make different proteins it is incredibly effective and receives a high BV score. However, the less protein from a particular source that can be made available for protein synthesis receives a lower score.
* Note: Acknowledging protein synthesis levels is not the only factor to take into consideration when choosing a protein powder. As an example Whey Protein Isolate (WPI) will be compared to Whey Protein Caseinate (Casein).
Whey protein isolate has a BV score of about 160 (the highest BV score of any protein source at the time of writing). Although whey protein isolate has a higher biological score it is digested very quickly and spikes blood plasma amino acid levels very highly and very quickly but then levels drop off very quickly also.
Whey protein caseinate comes in with a score of about 90. Although whey protein caseinate has a lower BV score and therefore doesn’t increase protein synthesis as dramatically, whey protein caseinate digests slower and actually increases blood plasma amino acids levels for a longer period creating a greater overall net increase in nitrogen retention.
Whey Protein Powders
Let’s get started with the most popular source of protein currently available. Whey protein has elevated in terms of protein sales - It is superb value and attains the highest BV rating out of all protein sources. There are three main whey protein powders that are contained in protein supplements.
* Whey Protein Concentrate (WPC)
Whey Protein Concentrate or WPC is slightly less filtered than whey protein isolates and is usually between 70-85% protein by weight. Milk is filtered to remove almost all of the unwanted fat and carbohydrates and unlike whey protein isolates still contains many of the bioactive fractions that support immune function. It contains slightly higher amounts of carbohydrate & fat than whey protein isolates but these nutrients are still at relatively low levels and the natural sugar (lactose) level in WPC makes it more palatable. Whey Protein Concentrate is a great everyday protein, and because it is less expensive than whey protein isolates it is an extremely popular protein choice. It can be used post-training as well as taken throughout the day to increase overall protein intake.
Whey protein concentrate contains more bioactive sub fractions than whey protein isolates and is less expensive. Whey protein concentrate spikes amino acid levels, so it is very effective taken post workout when a fast acting source of protein is required.
A rapid spike in amino acid levels is good post workout when a fast source of amino acids is needed but levels also drop at a fast rate after ingestion. Whey protein concentrate also contains slightly more lactose and may spark small allergic reactions in lactose intolerant individuals.
Hydrolysed Whey Protein
Hydrolysed whey protein is pre-digested in a lab in order for it to be digested quickly when it enters the body.
The proteins are ‘pre-broken down’ allowing fast digestion. Anyone with lactose intolerance (or who get gas from drinking protein supplements) will benefit from taking hydrolysed whey protein. Hydrolysed whey protein also causes a large spike in amino acid levels so it is very effective taken post workout when a fast acting source of protein is required.
Some of the bioactive sub fractions are lost in the purification process. Hydrolysed whey protein also clears the stomach quickly so it will not feed amino acids to muscle for a prolonged periods.
* Whey Protein Isolate (WPI)
Whey Protein Isolate or WPI is a very pure form of whey protein. Whey Protein Isolate is a protein powder that contains more protein and less fat & lactose per serving than any other protein powder derived from milk. Isolate protein powders undergo several purification processes that filter out virtually all of the fat and carbohydrates and offer about 95% pure protein by weight, and have a fast digestion rate making them rapidly absorbed by the body. Whey Protein Isolates also contains high levels of Branched Chain Amino Acids (BCAAs) which may assist muscle recovery making WPI a great choice both pre- and post-training.
There are two types of Whey Protein Isolate supplements, categorised by the way they are filtered.
One system uses ion exchange and the other uses filtration (there are many types of filtration processes including micro filtration and ultra filtration). Using a filtration process tends to preserve more bioactive fractions than using an ion exchange process (bioactive fractions have health benefits).
Whey protein isolate is easily digested, contains very low amounts of lactose and also increases protein synthesis allowing for a large spike in amino acid levels.
Some bioactive sub fractions are lost due to the filtration process and also the protein empties from the stomach quickly so amino acid levels drop quickly after ingestion.
* Note: It should be noted that WPI is also the most expensive protein powder, be very cautious of purchasing WPI powders if you see it at the same price as WPC powders!
* Whey Protein Caseinate (Casein)
Whey Protein Caseinate or Casein is known as a slow release protein, meaning it takes longer to be digested and absorbed by the body. While this sounds like a negative it can be used to your advantage by allowing a steady release of protein into the blood stream while you sleep to aid muscle recovery overnight. Whey Protein Caseinate is also derived from milk and is less expensive than whey protein isolates as they are not filtered as extensively. Whey Protein Caseinate is quickly gaining popularity as an outright protein source used as a standalone supplement, and in weight gain products mixed with carbohydrates. As fast absorbing protein sources are preferable post-exercise, and Whey Protein Caseinate is slowly digested, it is not normally used in isolation post-exercise. It is not recommended that Whey Protein Caseinate be ingested in place of a rapid acting Whey Protein within the first 1-2 hours after resistance training. Whey Protein Caseinate is now a key component of many protein blended products.
Whey Protein Caseinate comes in two forms - Calcium Caseinate and Micellar Casein. Micellar Casein is a dairy protein derived from milk and accounts for approximately 80% of the protein found within milk. Micellar Casein is produced using a more expensive process that protects its structure.
Whey protein caseinate digests much slower than whey protein isolates. Whey protein caseinate actually gels in the stomach and causes a much lower spike in amino acid levels (therefore its BV score is lower) but because of its slow digestion rate, it feeds muscles with a continuous slow source of amino acids for a period of around 4-8 hours. This actually results in less muscle protein breakdown over the 8 hours period compared to other whey powders.
Whey protein caseinate digests slowly so it is not a good choice post workout. At this time the body requires a fast acting protein source that feeds amino acids to muscles quickly such as whey protein concentrate or whey protein isolate. Whey protein caseinate is not as bio available as whey protein isolates (hence a lower BV score) and therefore will not increase protein synthesis as much.
Egg White Protein (Egg Albumin)
Egg White Protein is a powdered dried version of egg whites.
Egg white protein is a very good source of amino acids, as the amino acid structure is very suitable for human consumption. Before the introduction of whey protein it was thought that egg whites were the best form of protein for humans and was given a BV score of 100.
Egg white protein is less bio available than whey proteins so actually egg white protein can be used as a source of slow release protein like whey protein caseinate.
Certainly the outsider in terms of protein supplements, Soy Protein is not as pure as other protein supplements and rates at about 70% protein by weight. Soy Protein is an obvious choice for vegans and has a relatively decent amount of amino acids.
Soy protein powder is great for individuals who are intolerant to whey protein powders or prefer not to use an animal derived product.
Most other protein sources mentioned perform better than soy protein.
* Note: Weight training individuals require about 2g of protein per kg of bodyweight daily, and that is best divided into 4-6 servings throughout the day. At various times of the day, the speed at which protein supplements digest can be of importance. In the morning, pre and post workout, a fast acting source such as WPC or WPI should be taken for maximum benefit, before bed or between meals a whey protein caseinate would probably be the choice. Some protein supplements use a blend of some, or all of the proteins mentioned for a more extensive fuel to maximise muscle growth.
We have provided a minimal but informative view into the many types of protein supplements available, all with differing cost, purity and effects on the body. It is always beneficial to attain protein from a variety of sources to gain the benefits of the various amino acid pools that they contain. If you are undecided on whether or not to buy a protein supplement just remember that they are cheaper per serving and more convenient than natural sources. Hopefully we have taken some of the confusion out of selecting the right product for your requirements.
COSMICSOLUTIONS truly hope that you will find the healthy living and dietary tips on this site useful in your ongoing quest to live the best possible life you can.