What protein should I take?
Every day we get asked the same question…“What protein do you suggest?” Now sometimes people are just asking for our opinion on what brand to take. However, most of the time, they have no idea what types of protein to take, when to take them, or even what protein is. They just know that one of their buddies or their trainer told them that they need protein. I am going to try to explain in a very simple and easy to understand way, what the different types of proteins are, when to take them, and why. I may not talk about every single protein known to man, but I am going to hit on all of the major ones that are sold in the health food market today.
What is protein?
According to Dictionary.com, Protein is any of numerous highly varied organic molecules constituting a large portion of the mass of every life form and necessary in the diet of all animals and other non-photosynthesizing organisms, composed of 20 or more amino acids linked in a genetically controlled linear sequence into one or more long polypeptide chains, the final shape and other properties of each protein being determined by the side chains of the amino acids and their chemical attachments: proteins include such specialized forms as collagen for supportive tissue, hemoglobin for transport, antibodies for immune defense, and enzymes for metabolism.
Get that??? Yeah…me neither. Simply put, protein is the building blocks of all muscle and consists of strains of amino acids. Amino Acids are the building blocks of all life as we know it. Our government will tell you that you cannot live without carbohydrates, well one…yes you can…I mean explain Eskimos…and two…try living without protein for a week and see how you feel! An old school lifter will tell you that you need to take an amino acid supplement to build muscle mass, which they are right…but not exactly. Let me explain…old school lifters used to take in huge horse pill after horse pill of amino acids to build muscle. Well, studies show that our bodies absorb amino acids faster and more efficiently through protein sources. Now, 1000mg of amino acids makes up 1 gram of protein. So, if you take in 25 grams of protein, you are basically taking in 25,000mg of amino acids.
So what are the types of protein?
It should be noted that while I am a “supplement guy,” you really should try to get the bulk of your protein intake from food sources. Good sources like meats (beef, chicken, fish, turkey, etc.) are best. However, some of us don’t have time to sit and eat that much so protein powders, and bars are the next best thing. Now to the types of protein supplements….
“King of all proteins,” as I have heard it called. Whey protein is the most popular protein by far on the market. Whey protein has the most abundant amino acids of any protein source that we have found to date. It is also the quickest to digest. It has a digestion rate of around an hour. This makes whey protein ideal for a post workout shake. All whey proteins are naturally high in protein, low in fat and low in carbs. Funny history about whey protein…Whey protein is a by-product from turning milk into cheese. They use to throw whey in the trash!! It tasted awful and just looked nasty. However, once they discovered what a valuable source of amino acids it contained….bam…now it is a HUGE multi-billion dollar market. Whey protein can be of three primary types: whey protein concentrate (WPC), whey protein isolate (WPI) and whey protein hydrolysate (WPH). (I will go into the differences of each below.) It should be noted that whey is a dairy product. Although it is very low in lactose and FDA standards allows companies to put, “Lactose Free” on the bottles if the lactose is below a certain amount…it still has trace amounts of lactose in the product. So, those that are sensitive to lactose should be leery. Due to the high demand for dairy in general worldwide (China encourages its population to drink powdered milk, Gatorade came out with their G-Series drinks, etc.) the price of whey has sky rocketed in recent years. Back in the early 2000s you could by a 5lb whey container for only $25 bucks. Now, it is around $50 to $80 for a 5lb!
Whey Protein Concentrate (WPC)
Whey Protein Concentrate or WPC, is the least expensive form of whey protein. Is it also the one that is most commonly found on the market today. The filtering process for whey concentrate removes the bulk of the fats and carbs from the whey, but not all of it. Ultimately, concentrating protein results in about 80% concentration of pure protein. What does that mean? Here is the basic way to explain it. If you had a 5lb tub of plain, unflavored, bulk, whey protein concentrate…80% of that 5lb tub would be protein and 20% fats and carbs. Unless you buy your whey protein from one of the big box retailers, it is rare that supplement stores offer just whey protein concentrate. The majority of the whey concentrates in supplement stores are blended with either another whey such as Whey protein isolate or other types of proteins.
Whey Protein Isolate (WPI)
Some of you will not want to hear this, but the only real difference between whey concentrate and whey isolate, is the filtering processes each goes through. The filtering process that whey protein isolate most commonly goes through is called, Cross-Flow Micro-filtration. This filtering process results in roughly 90% of pure protein compared to the 80% of the whey concentrate filtering process. So, using the same example as I did for WPC, if you had a 5lb tub of plain, unflavored, bulk, whey protein isolate…it would be 90% protein and 10% fats and carbs. I still have not been able to find one study that says consuming whey protein isolate vs. whey protein concentrate gives you any more benefits from a performance stand point or health stand point. Whey Isolate however is a lot more expensive compared to whey protein concentrate. Saying all of that, some benefits of WPI compared to WPC are isolates are typically lower in carbs, fats, and mixes easier, lower in lactose, and uses less ingredients to flavor than whey concentrate, which is always a good thing.
Whey Protein Hydrolysate (WPH)
Whey protein hydrolysate are predigested and partially hydrolyzed whey proteins for the purpose of easier metabolizing. Let me explain that a little better by backing up a step. All forms of whey are composed of extremely large peptide structures. Our bodies have to reduce the size of these peptide structures to digest them, so enzymes in our digestive system break the bonds between select amino acid sequences to yield smaller peptides that your body can actually use. To speed up that process, whey manufacturers can “pre-digest” the protein to create whey protein hydrolysate. So, in a nut shell, WPH is similar to WPI, but more easily digestible. In addition, whey protein hydrolysate is commonly used in medical protein supplements and infant formulas because of its improved digestibility and reduced allergen potential.
Whey Protein Blend
If you have ever taken a whey protein, you have more than likely taken a whey blend at some point. A whey protein blend is when manufactures mix whey concentrate, whey isolate, and or Whey hydrolysate, in any combination. They do this so they can claim “high quality” of using an isolate but bring the cost down of the protein by mixing in whey concentrate. Plus, like I said before, most supplement consumers don’t want to buy a 100% whey protein concentrate. They want a good whey protein without paying an “arm and a leg” for it. Well, whey protein blends are the perfect option for that.
Egg protein is “Natures Perfect Protein.” You remember Rocky, throwing raw eggs in a blender and chugging it down?!?! Yeah…don’t do that…you will probably get sick. Egg protein is a complete protein with a digestion rate of about 2 to 4 hours. That makes egg protein, an ideal protein for a meal replacement or a in between meal snack. Egg protein, has always been slightly on the pricey side. However, in recent years it has become only slightly more expensive than whey. Since egg protein is not from a dairy source, it is the ideal protein for individuals that are lactose intolerant or just have sensitive stomachs. I will tell you that most of the egg proteins on the market, don’t mix or taste that great. There are always exceptions to this, but for the most part that has been the history of egg protein powders. There are not a lot of companies that make a Egg Protein powder. You will typically find egg protein mixed with other types of proteins to make a protein blend.
Casein protein is a dairy product. Casein is also listed as “Milk Protein” on the nutritional labels. It is fairly high in lactose naturally. Around 80% of the protein found in milk is casein. Casein is a very slow digesting protein with a digestion rate between 6 to 8 hours. This makes it ideal for bedtime. You will see marketing terms like “Time-Released” or “Slow Acting” associated with casein. Again, because this protein is high in lactose, if are you lactose intolerant avoid this one like the plague. If you are not, you should really consider adding casein to your supplement regimen. Remember, you don’t build muscle in the gym; you build muscle while you sleep. By taking casein at bedtime, your body will have plenty of amino acids to use to build or rebuild those muscles during R.E.M. sleep or “deep sleep,” which takes about 4 to 6 hours to get into. Casein protein powders, are typically somewhat thicker than say a whey protein. They do mix up but not as easily as a whey protein. However, in recent years, manufactures are making casein proteins that mix and taste a lot better than they have in the past.
Soy protein is derived from soy beans. Soy protein is in fact a complete protein. A complete protein is a protein that contains all nine essential amino acids. (These are amino acids that our bodies cannot make and we must get them from food sources.) Soy Protein is very popular with vegetarians. Soy protein has a lot of health benefits especially but not limited to women. Soy protein is used to help lower LDL cholesterol, lower high blood pressure, and slow the progression of kidney disease, and on and on. That being said, here is the “controversy” with soy for guys. Soy Protein contains “isoflavones” which are changed in the body to “phytoestrogens,” which are similar to the hormone estrogen. When men specifically, consume phytoestrogens in high enough quantities, they may experience gender-bending effects. Over the past two decades the FDA as promoted soy protein as a great healthy addition to everyone’s diet. Well, I encourage everyone to do their own research on this. This is just my opinion, but I believe from my own research that men should avoid soy at all cost. Again, there is plenty of information out there for both sides of the argument. So, I strongly encourage you to do your own research and form you own opinion on soy. With that being said, soy digests very slowly in the body similar to casein. So, soy is a good bedtime protein as well as a protein to take as a meal replacement or a protein to take during long periods without eating. Another benefit to soy protein is, it is very inexpensive. A 2lb Soy protein, should cost you between $19 to $29. (Sorry Herbalife Distributors.)
Beef protein Isolate, was introduced to the supplement market a while back but never gained popularity until recently. Even today, it is not the most popular protein on the market. However, it is gaining some steam. Beef protein isolate, is really a great form of protein. Unlike red meat, beef protein isolate is very low in cholesterol if it has any cholesterol. So now, you can get some of the benefits of red meat without the saturated fats and bad cholesterol. Beef Protein isolate is a complete protein and actually has a digestive rate similar to whey. So, beef protein isolate makes a great post workout protein and since beef is not derived from milk, it is completely lactose free. There are two big hurdles that I see beef protein isolate has. One issue is the taste perception. When people think of beef…chocolate, strawberry, and vanilla does not come to mind. However, there are some on the market that actually tastes really good. Two, is the cost. Beef protein isolate was thought by some companies to be the solution to the unstable dairy market prices. However, due to recent droughts, high cost of feed, and other factors, beef protein isolate is NOT a cost effective protein source for the supplement industry.
Buckwheat protein is a plant based protein source that contains all of the essential amino acids to be called a complete protein. It is a great protein source for vegetarians and for people who are lactose intolerant and/or just want to avoid dairy sources. Buckwheat is easily digested with a digestion rate slightly similar to soy protein. You will typically only find Buckwheat protein, in a health food market and not a supplement store.
Hemp protein is derived from the seed of the cannabis sativa plant. Hemp protein is a plant based protein that is a complete protein. It is in my opinion the best plant based protein on the market. It is a good source of essential fatty acids, is easily digested, and has a broader range of amino acids than other plant based proteins. Hemp protein is very popular amongst endurance athletes like MMA fighters due to it being a more alkaline and natural protein source. Hemp protein, like other plant based proteins, digests slower than whey protein.
Pea Protein has recently become a popular protein source in the supplement market. It is considered a “green” protein because it comes from a plant source. Pea Protein is considered a complete protein. Most supplement users are taking in pea protein and not even knowing it. The FDA now requires companies to manufacture products in GMP (Good Manufacturing Practices) facilities. While the GMP does some good things, the one thing it does that is negative, is it raises the cost of doing business. So, since it costs supplement manufactures more to produce a product, they pass that on to the consumer. However, I’ve got some bad news for you. There is always a “threshold of pain” when it comes to the amount the consumers will pay for any product and that is no different when it comes to protein powders. Since the price of protein keeps going up, supplement manufactures are always looking for ways to reduce the cost of product. One way to reduce the cost of protein powders, especially whey protein, is to put more carbohydrates or fats in the product. ***Spoiler*** Another way they can reduce the cost of producing whey protein is to mix in some pea protein and that is just what is happening. With the GMP, comes certain testing’s. When they go to test the purity of a whey protein batch with the GMP testing methods, they cannot detect the pea protein. Supplement companies can reduce their costs up to 20% by introducing pea protein to their 100% whey protein powders.
Collagen protein, is kind of the new kid on the block to gain some popularity. Collagen is the most plentiful protein in the body. It’s one of the major building blocks of bones, skin, muscles, tendons and ligaments. Collagen is also found in many other body parts, including blood vessels, corneas and teeth. To sum it up, collagen is a protein that provides structure to much of your body, including bones, skin, tendons and ligaments. Two types supplements are gaining popularity: hydrolyzed collagen (collagen hydrolysate) and gelatin. Gelatin is created when collagen is cooked. These have already broken the large protein down into smaller peptides, which are more easily absorbed in the body. Unfortunately, there aren’t many studies on collagen supplements, but those that exist show promise for benefits in the following areas:
Muscle mass: A 2015 study in elderly men showed that a combination of collagen peptide supplements and strength training increased muscle mass and strength more than a placebo.*
Arthritis: Another study gave supplements to people suffering from osteoarthritis. They experienced a significant decline in pain over the 70-day study, compared to those who took a placebo.*
I personally could not find any good sources that could shed some insights on when the best time to take collagen protein. The majority of people who use collagen, cook with it. Collagen can be found in powder form, pills, and gelatins. I could not find any source that shows the digestion rate of collagen, either. Again, most of the studies I saw and articles I read, just said people take it throughout the day. While we know a lot about collagen, we don’t know a lot about collagen supplements at this time
A protein blend, is when supplement manufactures put two or more different types of proteins in their product. Example – Whey Isolate, Egg, Casein, Whey Concentrate. Protein blends are perfect for someone who is using a protein shake to replace a meal. You see while whey has so many benefits to it, it is digested very quickly, so it is not ideal to replace a meal. However, when you mix it with slower digesting proteins like Egg, Casein, etc., those proteins will slow down the digestion of whey. So you get the best of all worlds. Protein Blends, tend to be filling than just one type of protein. They are typically creamier and taste better as well. (That is based on customer feedback) One important note, don’t confuse a protein blend with a whey blend.
Now I realize that there are more types of proteins out there on the market, but the ones I have talked about in this blog are the most popular ones at the time I am writing this up.
How much protein should I take in?
Anyone who has ever lifted a weight is going to have a different opinion on how much protein one should take on a daily basis. Some people say you need a gram per body weight. Others say you need 1.5 or even 2 grams per body weight. There are other people who say we need much less. I don’t think anyone, including myself, is going to be right on the amount we need because we are all different. What I need on a daily basis is going to be way different from another person. Just my opinion, I think someone should take in a gram per lean body weight. (Lean body weight is your total weight minus your body fat.) Keep in mind that when someone tells you to take a certain amount of protein a day, they do not mean to get all of that from protein powders. You need to factor in the food sources of proteins you eat and then whatever you are lacking after you eat all of your foods, and then you supplement your protein needs with a protein supplement. After all, a supplement is supposed to supplement your diet.
Now don’t fall into the trap of, “A person can only absorb a certain amount of protein at a time.” While that blank statement is true, there is not magic number that fits everyone. There are SO many variables that factor into how much a person can consume of protein at one time. The type of protein, testosterone level, metabolism, when they intake the protein (after workout), etc. So, you have to play around with your protein intake.
What is the best time to take in protein?
I suggest taking in protein every 3 hours. However the three key times of the day to take in protein are breakfast, post workout, and bedtime. Here are the reasons why.
Breakfast – You need to “break the fast” of sleep. You just gone through 6 or more hours without protein. Perfect time to get some in your body.
Post Workout – Remember, you don’t build muscle in the gym, you rip them up. That is why we get a pump. Your body is flushing blood into the muscles to try to give them nutrients to rebuild them. This is the best time to take in a fast digesting liquid protein (such as whey) to flood your muscles with the key amino acids to build the muscles stronger and faster.
Bedtime – You are going to go 6 or more hours without feeding your muscles. Plus, again, you build muscle while you sleep. It is important to take a slow digesting protein (such as casein) to slowly feed those muscles overnight while you recover.
I hope this blog was helpful to you and answered some questions you had when it comes to protein powders. There are hundreds of different brands out there, but if you know the basic information in this blog, you should be able to look at the ingredients of any protein powder and get a good idea if it is right for you. Again, our blog is strictly for information, so that is why I did not recommend any particular brands or types of proteins. Just focused on giving you the facts on each so you can decide what is best for you.
******Consult your doctor or healthcare professional before you start any diet or exercise program. This blog is strictly information to help you with your fitness goals. It is not intended to override your healthcare professional’s recommendation. ***
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