The Beginner's Guide to the Proteins (not just for beginners)
Which protein is the best for you? Which one is absorbed better and what makes the difference between different protein types? Read on: you can find the answers in this article.
The Beginner's Guide to the Proteins
Which protein can be ideal for you and why? Why do the absorption properties of protein supplements matter? Which type of protein is recommended at different times of the day? Is it worth using several types at all? What makes the difference between different protein types? If this sport or supplementation is new to you, you might have thought about these matters. True. It’s easy to get lost in the details until you find the answers for these fundamental questions. In this article we will provide you a detailed overview of different protein types and their proper application.
On protein supplements in general
Many people are still relatively unfamiliar with supplementation. Protein products – just like mass gainers – are often considered some “mythical” stuff which are supposed to boost muscle growth. We can see the same or very similar stereotypes:
“How much can I gain from X kg of protein?”
“Does it boost strength or does it rather bring mass?”
“Will proteins make me leaner?”
OK, the last question does not typically come up in the case of mass gainers, but we have seen similar ones. So, let’s sort things out: protein supplements are concentrated foodstuff. To put it more formal: “foodstuff intended for specific nutritional purposes”. Proteins as macronutrients are the basic building blocks of all tissues in the body, but most of all, muscles. Without proteins, we wouldn’t have any muscles, as muscle tissues are basically made of protein. Knowing that, you don’t need to be a brain surgeon to find out why it is necessary to consume this nutrient in higher amounts if you wish to enhance your muscle mass. It’s really simple: the proteins you consumed are broken down to amino acids during digestion. Then, they will be used to recover and build muscle tissues – among others, but now we are only talking about muscle building. Whether you eat meat or drink a protein shake, the same will happen. Proteins are made up by amino acids. Your body needs them in the right amounts and proportions to build muscles.
Basically, protein supplements can be based on two sources: animal or vegetable. The amino acid profiles of animal protein sources are the most optimal for the human body. Vegetable sources are somewhat of a lower quality. So, protein powders, regardless of type, are not instant muscles: you won’t gain one pound of muscle from one pound of protein powder. It will neither boost your strength nor will it bring mass in itself. It will not boost anything. Nor will it make you leaner in itself.
OK. So, we are talking about concentrated foodstuff. But what makes the difference between a protein supplement and traditional protein sources? Actually, there is not much difference: your body won’t be able to build muscles from such a product more efficiently than, say, from chicken. No wonder that these products are only used as supplementation. This means, ensuring your whole protein intake from such products is a no-go. However, there are several factors which still make it worth adding a protein supplement to your diet.
- Convenient: it is easy and fast to consume and most of them taste pretty good. You can chug a protein shake in less than half a minute, while consuming an equivalent amount of meat or other protein source is more complicated.
- Easy and quick to digest (depending on type): this is especially important when you need amino acids instantly to outweigh catabolism and “ignite” anabolic processes. Post-workout is typically such an occasion.
- Multi-purpose usage: apart from being quick post-workout amino acid sources, protein shakes are also suitable for meal replacement, as they don’t contain nutrients which may be unnecessary in a given situation (fats or carbs), or just to enhance the protein content of a meal.
- In many cases, they have properties that traditional protein sources lack: they might contain extra added amino acids, which makes the amino acid profile of certain protein products more favorable. This way, they can supply your muscles more optimally with the amino acids that are essential for your progress.
However, there is one thing you should always keep in mind: protein supplements should not make up more than 50% of your daily protein intake; you should basically provide your protein intake from traditional quality sources.
Types of protein
As mentioned above, protein powders can be made of animal or vegetable sources. There are purely animal protein sources like whey protein and its different variants (concentrate, isolate, hydrolysate etc). And there are purely vegetable sources: soy protein concentrate or isolate and wheat protein are the most common ones (although the latter is a bit less popular because of gluten sensitivity). However, lately, other products have also appeared on the market, which may seem extraordinary, for example, hemp protein (!!!) or rice protein. These products are usually advertised with some fake arguments, but in practice, you will not make much use of them.
And, we should not forget about mixed proteins, which contain both animal and vegetable sources. Plus, there are so-called designer proteins which are likely to be made up of several sources and are usually intended for a specific purpose.
As a rule of thumb, provided that you are not allergic to any kind of animal protein sources and you don’t wish to avoid them for ideological reasons either, you should definitely opt for those. And the reason: This is quite a common question, and the answer is quite simple: the biological value (BV) of animal protein sources is the closest to what the human body needs. Vegetable protein sources are of lower quality, with lower biological value.
Biological value? What the heck is that?
Cottage cheese also has a biological value. However, biological value is primarily for ranking different protein sources, mostly protein products on a designated scale. In principle, this is a scale of 100, with a little twist. Now we will only examine the biological values of the most common protein types, available in supplement format:
|Whey protein isolate||159|
|Whey protein concentrate||104|
|Egg protein concentrate||91|
|Soy protein concentrate||74|
Wait! Have you seen that? We were talking about a scale of 100, but the biological value of whey protein isolate is 159. How can that be? First of all, let’s make the concept of BV clear: this scale shows the utilization rate of proteins. If the value reaches 100% for a certain nutrient, that means 100% of this nutrient is utilized. And here comes the twist: a protein can have a BV of 159 because this value also shows how fast and how efficiently your body can use the proteins you consume. These are the extra factors that can raise the BV of certain protein types above 100.
The above values clearly reflect the difference between vegetable and animal protein sources. Animal protein sources have the highest biological value, so they should always have priority when choosing your protein supplement. And, although from a bodybuilder’s point of view, vegetable protein sources are less useful, still they have a raison d’etre: they can be an excellent alternative if you are lactose intolerant or allergic to milk or egg protein or, if beef protein is also a no-go, for vegans, for example. A quality soy protein product can be useful in such scenarios.
The benefits and drawbacks of each type of protein
Whey protein isolate
As the source with one of the highest biological values (the BV of hydrolysate is even higher), you would be right to assume that this is the “Holy Grail” of proteins. However, it isn’t: remember the essence of BV? The speed of absorption is a strong factor in defining the BV. However, fast absorption is though a good thing, it is not everything. It is perfect after workout, because you can supply your muscles with amino acids quickly and in the right proportions. Super fast absorption, super efficiency. Can that be unfavorable? Well, for example, if you want to replace a meal with a protein shake, those 30 minutes while such a shake rushes through your system is very short time. This means, it won’t supply you with amino acids as long as a piece of meat, for example.
Whey protein concentrate
The golden standard. Its BV is above 100. Jus like isolate, it is rich in BCAA amino acids and glutamine, both of which are of key importance for muscle building. And its absorption rate is also relatively fast. So, basically, it is ideal any time. It will provide you amino acids quickly after workout. And, if you wish to replace a meal with whey protein concentrate, that is not a problem either: you will be fine with it for about one hour. It is good in emergency situations when, for example, you have to delay a meal. Or, in the morning when you also need amino acids quickly. If you are not lactose intolerant or allergic to milk protein, and you are not a vegetarian either, you should opt for this protein for everyday use.
Egg protein concentrate
Egg protein is a classic protein source in bodybuilding. In the golden age of bodybuilding it was considered the best quality protein source beside meat. It has had its wonderful years as a supplement as well. However, with the appearance of whey protein, it fell back a few places in the rankings. It boasts an excellent amino acid profile; its absorption rate is somewhat slower than that of whey proteins. However, it can be a perfect alternative if you cannot tolerate milk-based proteins. If possible, you should opt for this protein if you have to avoid whey protein.
It may be the most innovative protein source since the appearance of whey protein. Although its biological value is lower than that of milk-based proteins or egg protein, it is still an animal protein source.
Its amino acid profile is weaker than that of egg protein. However (as a hydrolysate), its absorption is fast, so it is also great after workout. Beef protein can be the best choice if you have to avoid both milk-based proteins and egg protein.
Casein has the lowest BV of all animal protein sources. It is not such a multi-purpose protein as those mentioned above. This protein has the slowest absorption rate: it will sit in your stomach for about 2 to 2.5 hours, while you are gradually digesting it. This means consistent amino acid supply, but think for a minute: if 20g of whey protein isolate will “flood” your muscles with amino acids within half an hour, how much of amino acids can the same amount of casein (with a weaker amino acid profile) provide to your body in a 2.5-hour cycle, if we take a 30-minute interval? Apparently not too much. So, it is a good idea to consume more of it. Most of all, before bedtime, so that you can digest it for hours. This relatively weak amino acid supply is sufficient during nighttime, when you are passive and your body is recovering. Consequently, you can make the best use of it before going to bed. Or, as a component of mixed or designer proteins, it also slows down the digestion of other sources. So, these products are more suitable for meal replacement purposes. Micellar casein can do no wonders either. This is just casein in a purer form. It is made through a more sophisticated process, and the result is a purer protein with a somewhat more favorable amino acid profile.
It basically contains all the amino acids you need, so we can say it is an absolutely whole source of protein. However, your system can utilize it less efficiently. Plus, it contains the key amino acids for muscle building in smaller amounts.
The absorption rate of soy protein is average, so, it is not the best after workout. But the main reasons are weaker amino acid profile and a lesser utilization ratio. If you have to or want to avoid all kinds of animal protein sources, soy protein is the ideal choice for you.
Mixed proteins usually contain two or more animal sources and a vegetable source, usually soy. In principle, these proteins combine the benefits of all of their components. However, it looks different in reality: if there is casein and whey protein isolate in the same product, you will not benefit much from whey protein, as casein will slow down its absorption. Soy protein is not of the best quality, and the manufacturers tend to “forget” about informing you about the proportions of the different sources. All in all these proteins are of lower quality. You can opt for them if you are looking for a cost-efficient solution for morning meals or before going to bed. It is not recommended to consume these proteins after workout, as you cannot rely on the essential absorption and quality factors which would be vital for a post-workout shake.
The case is similar for mixed proteins which are solely based on animal sources. However, there is a “slight” difference, as you don’t have to make a compromise regarding quality. Nevertheless, consider absorption properties before investing into such a product. Plus, remember that there are mixed proteins which contain whey protein isolate, hydrolysate, concentrate, egg protein and beef protein as well. Feel free to use them after workout or similarly to a whey protein product. Only one thing matters: always look at the ingredients thoroughly before you choose.
The case is similar for designer proteins, but many of these products also contain some extra ingredients like extra amino acids. Or, they contain some proteins in specific proportions, depending on the specific purpose they are intended for.
One type or more?
This solely depends on your goals and budget. In my opinion, you can basically cover your whole day with a quality whey protein product. Bit, if you want to be very precise and your budget allows it, you might even use 3 types of protein in your program, each for different times of your day. For example:
- For a morning meal, with oat: whey protein concentrate.
- For post-workout use: pure whey protein isolate (IsoGreat), mixed concentrate-isolate (Dymatize Elite Whey) or a combination of both boosted with some hydrolysate (Gold Standard Whey); doing so, you can take it for granted that your exhausted muscles will get the necessary amino acids ASAP.
- Protein before bedtime: casein or a product which contains milk proteins and casein like Milk Complex.
As a budget solution:
You can give a chance to those mixed proteins which contain vegetable sources as well. They are absolutely suitable for a morning meal, before bedtime or for replacing a meal or two during the day. But, hard as it may sound, you’d better renounce creatine, amino acids or other extra supplements and get a basic whey protein concentrate instead, for at least post-workout. The quality of the post-workout shake is always much more important than any other extra supplement.
All in all, you can choose from a multitude of proteins, but you should not fall for any brand only because of its marketing. It is especially typical of bigger manufacturers overseas that they make their products appear to be some mythical potions. However, there is nothing new under the sun, not even on the opposite side of the Atlantic Ocean. Always examine the ingredients, check the protein source(s) each product is made of, and fit them into your diet adjusted to your goals and based on common sense. In general we can say that no significant differences can be expected within a given category among the products of more prominent brands, so you might as well choose by sympathy. All that matters is that you should always use your common sense and take overhyped marketing slogans with a pinch of salt. No matter how good it may sound that a product is made up of 6 protein sources: if casein is one of them, it is simply not suitable for a post-workout shake, for the reasons detailed above. No matter how (seemingly) logical the explanation might sound like “this protein will keep you in an anabolic state for hours”... because it won’t.
To sum it up: if you use your common sense and choose your protein for its intended function, a suitable product can be an excellent and inseparable part of your diet.
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