Confused as to which type of protein supplement you should be taking, and when? Read on.
There was a time when adding a little extra protein to your diet involved tossing back a few raw eggs, Rocky-style. Unfortunately, even if you could stomach the texture, there was always the very real threat of food poisoning. Thankfully, those days are long gone.
In the past two decades, proteins have become much safer, more convenient, and a helluva lot tastier too. High protein foods and protein supplements are now ubiquitous across the web, on store shelves, and in the daily regimens of athletes. Why? Because research has shown consuming protein helps build muscle and, in some cases, burn fat too.
All proteins, however, are not created equal, which is why it’s important to understand the differences between them. Consider the list below then as your protein cheat sheet, allowing you to make more informed decisions the next time you’re perusing 1R’s protein selection.
Whey protein is the undisputed king of proteins, and here’s why: whey proteins have the highest biological value of all proteins, which is a scientific way of saying they’re the fastest digesting, and best used, protein source in your body. Additionally, whey protein is loaded with Essential Amino Acids (EAAs) – including the three Branched Chain Amino Acids (BCAAs) that contain subcomponents (microfractions), all providing benefits above and beyond amino acids and elemental nitrogen.
But, as this type of protein is constantly becoming more refined, not all whey variations are the same. The most basic, and least expensive, form of whey is whey concentrate. Whey concentrate has the lowest amount of protein by volume (anywhere from 50%-85%) and is the least refined. Whey protein isolate, on the other hand, is a bit more expensive because it has much of the fat, lactose, and other undesirable elements, “isolated” out. This protein source ranges from 90%-95% protein by volume, and has been a staple in the sports nutrition industry since its inception.
In recent years scientists have developed a way to hydrolyze, or break down, whey isolate into its component parts for even faster digestion. This is called whey hydrolysate. It’s the purest and fastest digesting version of whey protein available, and thus the most expensive, but it has been shown to be the most effective for building muscle after workouts.
About 80% of the protein in milk is casein. Often referred to as a “slower-acting,” or, “time-released” protein because it is digested and absorbed at a slower rate than other proteins, casein proteins are especially useful before bed and during other prolonged periods without food. While they have a lower biological value than whey protein, casein delivers amino acids to your muscle tissue for up to 8 hours.
Milk proteins are dried milk with most of the fat and carbohydrates removed. Like regular milk, powdered milk protein is a blend of 20% whey protein and 80% casein protein. That said, these forms of protein come with all of the lactose and other carbohydrates you may not necessarily want in your protein, which is why milk protein products are less expensive than whey and casein.
Ask any dietitian, “What’s the best source of protein?” and eggs will probably top their list. Most nutrition textbooks refer to eggs as the “gold standard” for protein quality, and with loads of EAAs, and some of the highest scores of protein quality, who am I to argue! In terms of digestibility, egg proteins lie between whey and casein, and are great both at meals, or any time you need protein throughout the day. And, for those with milk allergies, dairy-free eggs are a great alternative to whey, casein, and whole milk protein.
If you can afford just one type of protein, consider going with a blend. These products, like BSN Syntha-6 and Elite Fusion 7, combine faster-, intermediate-, and slower-protein sources (i.e. whey, egg, and casein), to provide more sustained protein digestion than single source proteins like those discussed above.
Post Workout Recovery Proteins:
Post workout recovery products are fast-acting protein and carbohydrate combinations specifically designed for immediate post-lift consumption, i.e. when nutrient needs are great and glycogen and muscle protein resynthesis are at their peak. Many post workout proteins contain both whey hydrolysate and supplemental ingredients like creatine, BCAAs, and glutamine to further aid the recovery and rebuilding process. While the fast digesting protein sources help build new muscle, the carbs shuttle the amino acids and protein to your muscle tissue faster, speeding up both digestion and use. Therefore if you’re trying to build strength and size consider going with a designated post workout recovery shake immediately after workouts.
As evidenced above, there are a variety of proteins to be found naturally in food, and through supplementation. Think through which ones you're currenty getting in your diet, which ones are missing, and you can close the protein holes preventing you from adding and retaining lean muscle mass.
To maximize your lean muscle mass and recovery, 1R would recommend the following supplements for athletes and those trying to get their six pack on: