So you've smashed it at the gym... You've pushed yourself and your muscles to the limit. Time to reach for that all-important protein shake right?? Definitely if you want to repair and rebuild some of the damage sustained to your muscle fibers during your workout. This process is called "muscle protein synthesis" and it uses amino acids from protein to encourage healthy muscle recovery and growth.
While many experts suggest getting the bulk of our protein from whole food sources, protein supplements can make it easier to get those all-important aminos “on-the-go” without all the added calories of an entire meal. But not all protein supplements are created equal. It’s important to understand the two ways protein supplements are often classified:
Protein Concentrate: A powder that’s 70%-85% pure protein (with the remaining 15%-30% consisting mostly of carbohydrates and fat).
Protein Isolate: Taking the concentration process a step further to yield a premium protein that is up to 95% pure.
Complete vs. Incomplete Protein: Complete proteins contain all 10 essential amino acids, whereas Incomplete proteins contain some, but not all, of the essential amino acids.
Now we can look at the different types of Proteins and see which one is right for you!!
The most popular protein supplement on the market today, whey is a by-product in the process of turning milk into cheese.
PROS: Whey protein has been shown to promote lean muscle growth and fat loss, as well as support cardiovascular health and a healthy metabolism. Whey is also quickly absorbed by the body, making it useful for post-workout recovery.
CONS: The lactose found in milk is a common allergen that can make whey indigestible for some.
Here's another protein powder that comes straight from the udder (figuratively speaking). Casein is produced using a separation process applied to liquid milk that can isolate the milk protein from the carbs and fats.
PROS: Casein protein powder offers similar benefits to whey protein, but with a different release process. Because casein digests over a long period of time, research has found it’s an optimal protein choice before bed.
CONS: Like Whey, Casein is a by-product of milk, making it allergenic to some. Also, it’s not ideal as a post-workout supplement because it’s absorbed so slowly.
Egg protein comes from, well, eggs! It is a complete protein made by separating out the yolks and dehydrating the egg whites.
PROS: Aside from just protein, egg protein powders are rich in vitamins and minerals that can contribute to a healthy diet.
CONS: Allergies to eggs are common especially in children and young adults.
Pea protein comes from the yellow split pea, making it a popular choice for vegetarians and vegans alike.
PROS: As with most plant-based proteins, pea protein is hypoallergenic. It boasts a 98% digestion rate, meaning the body is able to process the vast majority of each serving. Highly satiating, it appeals to those looking for protein sources closest to whole-foods.
CONS: Is deficient in certain amino acids and should not be used as a primary source of dietary protein.
BROWN RICE PROTEIN
Although often thought of as a carbohydrate only, brown rice is becoming a standard source for vegetarian protein powder.
PROS: Brown rice protein is considered a good source of complex carbohydrates, vitamin B, and fibre. And like pea protein, it’s also hypoallergenic.
CONS: Is deficient in some amino acids and therefore should not comprise the main source of dietary protein.
Soy beans are one of the few plant protein sources that offer all of the essential amino acids.
PROS: Protein from the soy bean may help improve the body's immune function and promote bone health. Soy may also help prevent cardiovascular disease and reduce the risk of certain cancers.
CONS: In recent years, soy has come under heavy scrutiny because it is often genetically modified to produce greater crop yields. Some research has also singled out soy due to its effects on hormone levels (I personally avoid all soy products). Many foods are already full of soy due to its extremely low-cost protein. This has led some to question whether adding even more dietary soy (via protein supplements) is a wise choice.
Hemp protein is derived from the seeds of the cannabis plant. (And yes, we are talking strictly about hemp as a food source here!)
PROS: 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 contains all 21 amino acids (making it a complete protein). The vegan-friendly supplement is also extremely hypoallergenic and high in fibre.
CONS: Since hemp is only harvested in mass quantities in select countries due to its association with cannabis, it is often the most expensive protein powder available.
NB: HEMP PROTEIN IS NOT YET AVAILABLE FOR SALE OR CONSUMPTION IN AUSTRALIA OR NEW ZEALAND (Party poopers...)
SO IN SHORT...
When it comes to protein powders there really is something for everyone. Just keep in mind that when it comes to buying protein, as in life, "You get what you pay for." Low-cost proteins often use inexpensive protein blends that may not be very digestible by the body. It is also worth noting that the amount of protein required by the body depends on a person’s activity level, physical size, and gender. Testing various sources and quantities of protein can help determine a mix that works best. And just because it’s easy to chug a shake after a workout doesn't mean protein powders should replace whole foods entirely. Protein powders are supplements, best used to supplement a healthy diet of nutritious whole foods.