Whey protein is the most popular & most expensive health and fitness supplement on the market and probably will continue to be for the foreseeable future, but with so many brands, types and additional ingredients it’s hard to know which product to choose.
For those of you who were using whey in the ’90s when it first hit the market you’ll remember how cheap it was! Since then the price has sky rocketed. New technology has brought new production and filtration methods and the quality of whey being offered today by many companies has improved and the quantity of products has saturated the market. It seems a new company appears every week!
So what are protein shakes and why use them?
Protein shakes are a powdered version of a concentrated source of protein and the main purpose is to repair muscle tissue to assist recovery immediately after a resistance workout. The types of protein powders can be divided into two categories: Animal proteins including milk derivatives like whey and casein and egg white protein. Vegetable proteins include soy, rice, pea and hemp proteins.
Whey is by far the most popular type of protein used in shakes and with good reason it is the best choice when it comes to quality and taste. Whey protein is derived from milk and comes in 3 main varieties:
The best seller, whey concentrate is the most economical per gram of protein and has been concentrated to primarily contain protein (hence the name).
The quality varies with whey concentrate massively; with lower end concentrates being 29% protein and higher end concentrates being 89%. The low-end concentrates are used mainly by food manufacturers for bulking out products (baked goods, etc…).
The higher end concentrates are what you would typically find being used in protein shakes (some manufacturers use the really, really cheap stuff too). Some consumers may find that whey concentrate causes bloating or indigestion due to an allergy or sensitivity to lactose (milk sugar).
90% protein, whey isolate starts out as whey concentrate but is further processed (cross flow, cold filtered, ion exchange etc…) so that it is virtually fat-free and lactose free for those few individuals who are very sensitive to the low-lactose levels found in whey concentrate. Whey isolate tends to taste slightly better than whey concentrate too, yet its consistency is a little thinner, without the fat. The extra processing also makes it slightly more expensive.
Whey Protein Hydrolysate:
Also known as pre-digested protein as it has digestive enzymes added to it. Your body needs to break down proteins before it can absorb and use them. So by ingesting a whey protein hydrolysate you’re cutting out part of this process & speeding up the repair process.
That’s not all, your body will actually produce 28% more insulin than whey isolate which is responsible for pushing more fuel into your muscles.
Casein protein is also a milk protein derivative. The difference between whey and casein is that whey is digested & absorbed quickly, whereas casein is absorbed slowly and steadily, which makes it a great protein to have before bed as it will slowly drip feed your muscles.
Casein protein usually appears on labelling as calcium caseinate & is also more expensive than whey often containing many artificial ingredients to help make it more palatable. If you are sensitive to dairy you may wake up looking and feeling worse though (bloating, gas etc).
Casein is often added to whey protein shakes to make a protein blend. This clever way of blending proteins together will ensure that not all the protein is digested and burned for energy replenishment post workout. Use your expensive protein to build muscle not to replenish energy stores.
Egg White Protein:
Egg white protein is a complete protein made by separating out the yolks and dehydrating the egg whites. It was the most popular type of protein supplement for many years before milk proteins surpassed its popularity due to their better taste and lower cost. But like milk proteins egg white is naturally very low in fat, cholesterol and carbs & is a good choice for those trying to avoid products containing lactose, although allergies to eggs are common and similar to milk allergies.
Want to bulk up? Mass gainers combine protein, often a form of whey, with a mix of high-carbohydrate ingredients that makes it much more calorie-dense than typical protein powders. With an infinite amount of products on the market it is impossible to cover them all but this article should give you a good idea of where to start when studying the labelling.
Don’t feel like you have to buy a ‘mass gainer’ to gain mass, you can always just eat more food or even make your own mass gainer at home getting the additional carb calories from things like honey or fruit.
Pea protein comes from the yellow split peas, making it a popular choice for vegetarians. As with most plant-based proteins, pea protein is hypoallergenic and has few additives or artificial ingredients.
Isolated pea protein is often considered complete because it can contain the full spectrum of essential amino acids. Even so it remains low in certain amino acids and should not be used as a primary source of dietary protein.
Brown rice is becoming a standard source for vegetarian protein powder & is also a good source of complex carbohydrates, vitamin B and fibre. It is also hypoallergenic making it easily digestible. The problem with rice protein, like pea protein, is that its deficient in some amino acids and therefore you should add additional amino acids when supplementing with this. Or leave it out all together and just use aminos.
Soy protein contains all of the essential amino acids and is concentrated or isolated after the soybeans have been hulled and dried into soy flour. The isoflavones in soy provide antioxidant benefits, improve the body’s immune function and promote bone and heart health. There is also evidence to show it can help reduce the risk of certain cancers.
BUT in recent years soy has come under heavy scrutiny because research has shown its negative effects on hormone levels, especially oestrogen in men and testosterone in women. Although the effects are minor, my personal opinion would be to try your best to avoid any supplement which disrupts the balance of key hormones responsible for growth and repair.
Hemp protein is derived from the seeds of the cannabis plant & is often referred to as a “superfood” due to its mix of essential fatty acids. Hemp has been shown to improve metabolism, brain function and circulation, and can help treat a host of medical conditions. Hemp also includes all 21 amino acids (making it a complete protein).
The vegan-friendly supplement is also extremely hypoallergenic & high in fibre, aiding digestion. Since hemp is only harvested in mass quantities in select countries due to its association with cannabis it is often an expensive protein powder to purchase.
Plant protein blends
The problem with plant based proteins like, pea, hemp, brown rice etc is that they tend to be low in or completely lacking certain amino acids so its always a good idea to buy blends. This way if one source of protein has a low level of a particular amino acid you can be sure an intelligent manufacturer will blend it with another source with high levels of that particular amino acid.
Beef protein, Bug protein, fish protein – there are a few other products emerging on the market at the moment but there isn’t enough research, they aren’t cost effective or viable option or the quality of the product is to poor to be included here.
Use my table to find which is best for you