The sports supplement industry is a global mult-ibillion dollar market and the most popular supplement that is sold every day is protein. Every bodybuilder should have protein of some variety in their arsenal and those serious about gaining or maintaining muscle should be aware of what types of protein best suits their training needs.
Protein has the following functions within the body:
- Helps to create hormones, enzymes & pep-tides
- Builds antibodies
- Creates a stable fluid and electrolyte balance
- Repairs damaged cells and reduces post exercise muscle damage
- Helps to provide energy and glucose production
- Boosts metabolism due to increased energy used when digesting proteins.
However, it can be confusing to sort through all of the supplement advertisements and articles to determine which protein is best suited to match your needs and this is even the case for many supplement savvy athletes. However, all is not lost and this article will condense down all of the relevant information regarding protein powders and make it a whole lot easier to digest!
Therefore, this comprehensive guide to protein powders should give you a refresher on what you may already know and it will also fill in some gaps that can be used to improve your training potential. So please read on and enjoy the ride…..
Protein is a very popular choice because of the following reasons:
- Saves you a lot of money when compared to buying high protein foods such as meat and/or fish
- Contains a small portion of fat and cholesterol when compared to eating high protein foods
- A lot more convenient when compared to eating and preparing high protein foods such as meats, fish, dairy and eggs
- A whole host of additional benefits that are beyond merely eating high protein foods e.g. aids recovery post exercise.
Milk protein is removed from lactose and fat by a separation process that keeps both elements untouched. Milk is made up of two components these are casein (80%) and whey is the remaining 20%. Casein proteins are beneficial to use as a snack (before/after meals) and before you go to bed because they have a slow releasing effect and deliver a steady amount of essential amino acids to your muscles. On the other hand whey proteins have a rapid release and should be consumed pre and post work outs. Milk proteins are normally listed on the ingredient’s label as follows:
Milk Protein Concentrate
This has a protein constituent of around 80% and a lactose component of about 5%. Milk protein concentrate is created by a filtration process which involves forcing the milk through a permeable membrane. The bigger proteins can’t go through the membrane and are saved for an additional process of evaporation and then drying. The end result is the milk protein concentrate powder.
Milk Protein Isolate
This made by extracting whey and casein proteins from skimmed milk. Milk protein isolate is made by washing out the lactose with water and this leaves very little fat and lactose. It has a high percentage of protein which is around the 90% mark.
One of the major components of milk are the globules; these don’t dissolve/mix in liquid easily and this is the main rational why they take longer to digest when compared to whey proteins. As mentioned previously casein protein produces a slow and continual release, this prevents the muscle from cannibalizing itself because the body needs amino acids for fuel. Casein protein will appear on the ingredient’s label as follows:
Caseinate is created by adding calcium, sodium or potassium to casein. It is made up of around 90% protein and in this form it mixes very easily with water. This is the main rationale why supplement companies use this type of casein in their merchandise.
Micellar casein is made by removing the casein section of the milk via microfiltration. This process removes the casein from the whey, lactose and fats and it work by filtering the casein through ceramic filters. These filters are set so that they don’t spoil the casein and remove all of the fat content that ultrafiltration fails to do. When you add water micellar casein is produced, it is difficult to mix with other liquids and the slowest digesting of all the casein proteins. Many manufacturers specifically use this form of casein protein in their products so that it can be used before bed time.
Hydrolysed Casein Protein
This is created by the hydrolysis of casein protein and this process breaks down the links between the amino acids. Hydrolysed casein proteins have a shorter chain than other casein proteins, making them far easier to digest and absorb. The best time to digest this type of protein is before and after your work out but be aware they do have a bitter taste!
This is the most popular type of protein that is bought by many bodybuilders and athletes across the board. Whey proteins are easy to mix with fluids and are rapidly absorbed and digested which makes them an excellent choice before and after your training session. This is a vital time for your muscles to have enough protein for them to grow and/or recover properly. Whey protein is also made up of the following components:
- Beta-lactoglobulin which is the largest component of whey protein
- Alpha-lactalbumin which is a relatively small component of whey protein which is easy to absorb
- Bovine serum albumin peptides which plays an important role as an antioxidant
- Immunoglobulins that boost your immune system and aids recovery
- Lactoferrin/lactoperoxidase that support and boost your immune system.
Whey Protein Concentrate
This is made by filtering the whole milk protein and this process leaves the whey protein unspoiled. Whey concentrate has about 75% protein and they do have some additional fats and carbs combined with it. Therefore, this type of whey protein is the lengthiest to be absorbed and digested by the body.
Whey Protein Isolate
Whey protein isolate is a lot purer than the whey protein concentrate because it has a lengthier filtering process. Typically whey protein isolate has concentrate levels of around 90% protein with a reduction in carb/fat content and this makes it a lot quicker to digest. Unfortunately due to some of the filtration methods used some of the benefits associated with whey protein are lost in translation.
Goat’s Milk Protein
Some people are allergic to cow’s milk and this was the catalyst for companies to create a goal milk substitute. There are two components of goat’s milk and again this is casein and whey. One advantage of using goat’s milk protein is that it is derived from goats that are grass fed and not pumped full of chemicals. Plus the goat’s casein is far easier to digest than casein derived from cows. They are beneficial to pre and post work outs but they can taste bland as no flavourings are added to the powder when manufactured.
It is created in similar method to the cow milk protein; however the protein levels are lower at around 65% with the surplus being carbohydrates and fats. In terms of the whey protein is has a lower range of around 20% protein and for this reason it is not the greatest muscle mass builder!
Egg Protein Powder
This type of protein is one of the highest grade proteins on the market. It is very easily absorbed and digested, plus it has zero fats and carbs. Egg protein powder is an excellent choice to use before and after your work outs. It is very high in amino acids that are essential in the creation of muscle building hormones and again it is a top choice for individuals who are allergic to cow’s milk.
Egg protein powder contains a substance that counteracts avidin. Avdin is a glycoprotein located in egg whites that breaks down the biotin within the body. Biotin is a vitamin which has the following important roles within the body:
- It is vital for the breakdown of the macronutrients into energy i.e. fats, carbs & proteins
- It is vital for optimal cellular health and growth (this includes muscle tissue).
Plant Derived Protein Powder
Soy Protein Powders
Soy protein has all nine of the essential amino acids and it is created by filtering the defatted soy to take out any of the carbohydrates. The soy protein that is left after the filtration process is far easier for the body to absorb and it is high in arginine and glutamine, which are essential amino acids in building muscle. It is a good source to use pre and post work outs and it has lots of health benefits attached to it because it is high in antioxidants. Bodybuilders who use soy protein powder have the same anabolic effects as whey protein users. There are 2 types of soy protein and these are as follows:
- Soy concentrate which contains around 70% protein, with the surplus being fats and carbohydrates
- Soy isolate is further filtered to take out the fats and carbohydrates and has a higher amount of protein which is usually around the 90% mark.
Hemp Protein Powder
This is made from hemp seeds where the oil is taken out and made into protein. Hemp protein is made up of around 50% protein and it is high in branched chain amino acids, fibre and essential fatty acids. It is recommended to consume hemp protein before you go to bed and/or in between meals.
Blending the Proteins
All proteins have different benefits and if you can afford to buy different proteins at the same time then a good strategy is to mix and match them. The following is some key strategies to use when mixing whey, casein, egg, soy and hemp proteins:
- Mix up 40 grams of whey, egg and soy proteins into a shaker and consume in the morning and this will halt the muscle break down that has occurred whilst you were sleeping. This mix can also be used per and post work outs.
- Mix up 40 grams of casein and hemp proteins before you go to sleep, as this will ensure a steady supply of amino acids when you are asleep. This prevents the muscle from breaking down and you can also use this mixture in between meals or as meal replacement.
An Overview of the Proteins
|Protein Type||Optimal Time to Take||The Main Benefits|
Using the Right Dosage of Protein Shakes
Research has indicated that as a minimum you need at least 0.8 grams of protein per kg of body weight to induce enhance levels of protein synthesis. However, if you training strenuously then the maximum protein you should consume should be 2.5 grams of protein per kg of body weight to build muscle mass. However, if you are trying to lose weight on a high protein diet, try to lower your carb intake and increase your protein intake to around 1.5 grams per kg of body weight, as some of the amino acids will be utilised as fuel.
These total amounts of proteins in relation to your body weight should include all of the foods, beverages and supplements that you have consumed. Your protein allocation should be spread over the 4-6 meals throughout the day, as this strategy will enhance its absorption and usage by your body. If you have large amounts of protein in your diet from lean meats, oily fish and dairy products then you will get away with having smaller amounts of protein shake for that crucial hit. Vegetarians on a higher carb diet will benefit from a higher plant based formula such as egg proteins.
A top tip is to make your protein selection and stick with it for at least 60 days. After this time period you can evaluate and modify your nutrition plan if necessary by adding more or less proteins. If you feel that your physique goals are not on target then you may need to change the protein and/or brand altogether.
When should you consume your protein?
In the morning
Try to consume a fasting acting whey protein within 45 minutes of waking up. A key point to consider is that when you are sleeping is actually the longest period that your body will go without any nutrients and essential macros. Breaking your fast with protein is vital because your body is in a slight catabolic state and essential amino acids are required to counteract this. Proteins also provide you with a stable source of energy that should last you until the mid-morning and beyond. Plus they don’t cause major spikes in your insulin levels that are associated with weight/fat gains.
Pre Work Out
Consume a fast acting protein at least 1 hour before you begin training, this will boost your BCAAs and essential amino acids ready for your muscle to use. Whey proteins and egg proteins are an excellent choice because they quickly digested and absorbed.
Post Work Out
Within 45 minutes is the window of opportunity for you to supplement with protein. This is a very important timeframe as enzymes and hormones are actively repairing and rebuilding muscle tissue, as well as restocking your glycogen stores. This makes your muscle tissues very susceptible to the nutrients and building muscle hormones. You be using whey, casein and egg protein along with some simple carbs to ensure that you are ready for your next training session. Simple carb such as maltodexrin will raise your insulin levels and this will drive the amino acids into the muscle tissue.
In Between Meals
By consuming a protein shake into between meals will ensure that muscle growth is maximised. Your muscles need constant feeding and eating protein when snacking will ensure that it remains well fed. Protein also stimulates ghrelin which is a hormone that triggers to the brain that you are full and not hungry. Milk proteins are considered the best appetite suppressors than other protein sources especially when paired with dietary fibre. If weight loss is your main goal then this is something to take into consideration.
For the long fast a head consume a casein protein 30 minutes before you go to sleep. Remember that casein proteins are slow digesting and absorbing amino acids that will see you through the night whilst you sleep. It is an anti-catabolic protein because it contains glutamine which protects your muscle from breaking down.
Excessive Protein Intake
Be aware that excessive protein intake can also have some serious implications on your kidney’s health and can cause kidney stones. This has been related to the increased amounts of oxalate that binds with the calcium which can cause the kidney stones. It can also place a strain on your liver and kidneys causing lean tissue loss, electrolyte imbalance and glycogen depletion. In addition, very high protein intake creates ketones and this process can facilitate irritability, create a horrible body odour, headaches and can send your kidneys into overdrive. If you are pumping iron and building muscle then don’t go overboard with your protein intake. Therefore, stick to the maximum 2.5 grams per kg of bodyweight per day to get the full benefits of proteins and not the health ramifications for being excessive!
The best proteins to use for a variety of training goals
As discussed through this article there are many types of proteins that have different roles and properties. The table below will summarise these proteins in relation to your training goals.
Training Goals Table
|Building Muscle and Strength||All proteins|
|Health & Well Being||Whey and Casein Proteins & Egg|
|Energy Endurance||Branched chain amino acids & some simple carbs|
|Sports Performance||All Protein Types|
|Diet and Weight Loss||Casein|
|Lean Muscle Gains||All proteins|