Need More Protein?
So you’ve read our Protein Primer and decided that you need a protein supplement in your diet. Which one should you use? Here’s some basic information to help you decide.
Animal or Vegetable?
Compared to vegetable protein sources, animal protein sources are more bioavailable, which means they are better absorbed and utilized by our bodies. But if you are vegetarian, vegan, or interested in a supplement with fewer added ingredients, you will likely gravitate toward the vegetable-based supplements.
Animal protein sources:
• Whey – The protein found in the watery part of milk (the part that separates from the curd in cheese making). Whey has the highest bioavailability of any protein supplement, and has a rapid release into the body.
• Casein – The most abundant protein in milk and also an excellent source of all amino acids. Casein is digested slowly over a period of several hours.
- Note: those with lactose intolerance should be able to eat whey/casein: to be sure, look for products that say “lactose free.”
• Egg – Made from dried egg whites. One scoop contains the same amount of protein found in 4 whole eggs.
Vegetable protein sources:
• Soy – Highest bioavailability of all the vegetable protein sources. Contains isoflavones, natural compounds with cancer-fighting properties.
• Hemp – Protein isolated from hemp seeds is well tolerated and absorbed. Products usually contain omega-3 fatty acids, which means more calories but anti-inflammatory benefits.
• Brown Rice – An incomplete protein by itself, but works well as a mixture with other vegetable proteins. Low allergenic, so it’s great for those with food sensitivities or allergies.
• Pea – Becoming more popular, pea protein is also best used in combination with another vegetable protein. Low allergenic.
Isolate vs concentrate: does it matter?
The short answer: no.
Supplement makers will claim that isolates are absorbed faster and thus are best taken right after a hard workout, whereas the concentrates take longer for your body to digest and are best taken at other times of the day. However, studies have not borne this out.
In the end, two things matter for seeing results from hard training.
Your total protein intake for the day. When you are training hard, you cause micro-tears in the fibers of your muscles. In order to rebuild those muscles stronger than before, your body needs to have the proper amount of protein coming in from your diet over the course of a day.
Making sure to eat a post-workout snack that contains a combination of protein and carbohydrate. It’s important to consume enough carbohydrate to replenish glycogen stores in your muscles and provide glucose for your bloodstream right after your workout. If your glucose stores drop too low, your body will start breaking down your muscles for fuel, and that is the LAST thing you want.
You may have heard that a glass of chocolate milk is a great post-workout recovery drink, and it's true - it's the ideal combination of carbs + protein to replenish your body! A protein shake can do the trick as well, just make sure it also contains at least 30 grams of carbohydrates per hour of intense exercise.
Tip: Look for a supplement that is a blend of proteins, such as combinations of whey AND casein. This will ensure that you have all your bases covered.
When choosing a protein supplement, one of the most important factors to consider is added ingredients in a product. Since supplements are not regulated by the FDA, it’s hard to be sure if you can really trust the label.
To that end, the website www.labdoor.com independently tests protein supplements and provides rankings and grades based on the safety and efficacy of each product. They examine whether the label is accurate in the type and quantity of nutrients, as well as testing for harmful or controversial ingredients (such as heavy metals, artificial sweeteners, preservatives, and artificial colors). Finally, they determine how bioavailable the protein is: will it really be absorbed well by your body, or are you just flushing your money down the toilet?
Lastly, you’ll want to consider the following other factors, and you’ll likely want to try a few different brands and types to find out what agrees with you the best.
Any allergies or food preferences you may have (lactose-free? gluten-free?)
How much protein per serving (see our previous blog post, [Protein Primer], to calculate your protein needs)
How many calories and carbs per serving – some supplements are meant to be “weight gainers”, while some are geared as high protein but low calorie.
Price (LabDoor also provides a list of “Best Value” protein supplements)
Additional ingredients in the product that you’d like to avoid (i.e. artificial sweeteners or sodium), or you ’d like to enjoy (i.e. omega-3s or fiber)
And remember, if you want assistance in deciphering how to apply all this to your training program, reach out to us at BodySpec!