Picking the best protein for your goals
With so many protein powders on the market, how do you know which one to buy?
With more evidence supporting the benefits, debunking the myths of health issues associated with increased protein intake, supplementing with this incredible nutrient has never been as popular as it is today. There is no denying the benefits of consuming the proper amount of protein through diet and supplementation and its positive effects on composition, strength, and muscle building. Conversely it’s never been more confusing to make a decision on what type of protein to purchase. Here is the good news, we’ve taken out all the guess work and made it simple for you with this guild.
The concentration and processing of protein in powder form can yield different compositions, based on the degree of removal of “non-protein” parts.
There are several protein types to choose from, each with their own unique aspects and potential benefits. When it comes to protein powders, milk proteins, egg, and pea are among the most desirable.
Whey is by far the most popular protein supplement because it has been shown to promote muscle growth and fat loss. It is digested and absorbed faster than other proteins, making it the ideal choice to consume either immediately before or after a workout.
Whey is approximately 20 percent of the protein in cow’s milk and has the highest branched-chain amino acid (BCAA) content, including roughly 11 percent leucine and 9 percent combined isoleucine and valine, yielding a 2:1:1 relationship.
Leucine is a very desirable amino acid since it plays a direct role in optimizing muscle-protein manufacturing after strenuous training and in response to a protein meal by increasing the activation of the mTOR pathway. Moreover, whey is probably the most thermogenic protein, meaning that the increase in calories burned per calorie consumed is greater than other proteins. This is likely tied to a more acutely potent effect on muscle protein synthesis.
Casein, the main protein you’ll find in milk, is a slow-digesting protein—especially when compared to whey. Depending on how much you consume, casein can take more than six hours to be fully digested and absorbed by the body, which makes this protein great for a sustained amino acid delivery to muscle.
Although it has a lower anabolic, or direct muscle-building effect, when compared to whey, casein is a good source of BCAAs as well as glutamine, which helps it reduce muscle-protein breakdown. Remember net gains in muscle protein reflect the imbalance between muscle protein synthesis (anabolic) and breakdown (catabolic). Thus glutamine lends support more on the anticatabolic side.
Because of its slow-digesting properties, casein is often recommended before bed or in between meals, either by itself or in blends with other proteins.
We know milk is great for dunking chocolate chip cookies into, but did you also know it’s great for speeding up recovery after an intense workout? Milk protein contains all of the essential amino acids in a natural 80/20 ratio of casein-to-whey blend, which allows for the fast and sustained release of amino acids necessary for muscle growth.
Milk protein isolates and concentrates are common in protein-powder blends, creamy protein RTDs (ready-to-drink), and protein bars.
Eggs are making a serious comeback now that some of the long-held beliefs about their role in heart disease are being dismissed. The egg protein found in protein powders is mostly egg-white protein isolate, and is an egg-cellent alternative for people with milk allergies!
Egg protein is also at the top of its class when it comes to quality. With a score of 100 on the biological value (BV) index, egg protein contains all the essential amino acids necessary for protein synthesis, and is easily digested by the body.
Perhaps not as well-known as its protein counterparts, pea protein is a great option for vegetarians and those with allergies to dairy and eggs. Not only is it hypoallergenic, it’s high in BCAAs and boasts a 98 percent digestion rate—meaning the body is able to use and process the majority of amino acids per serving. This makes pea protein far superior to other plant-based protein powders, which can be difficult to digest and are not well-utilized by the body.
PROTEIN TARGETING AND TIMING
Most sport nutritionists agree that athletes and individuals who train hard in the gym need to make protein a major nutritional consideration and target it throughout the day. The rule of thumb is to set a target at or around 20-30 percent of total calories, or 1 gram per pound of lean body weight—or your lean body weight target—with personalization based on calorie level and meal frequency. For example, a lean 190-pound athlete eating 3,000 calories would target roughly 190 grams of protein per day, which approximates 25% of caloric target.
Furthermore, each meal should be based on protein, whereby you consume at least 20-30 grams of protein (depending on body size and protein type) every three hours of so. This will help optimize muscle-protein synthesis (MPS) throughout the day. Further still, there are three key meal targets during the day whereby protein is critical:
Overnight, muscle protein breakdown (MPB) is increased, and losses can be as much as 5-15 grams depending on body size and diet throughout the day and leading up to bedtime. Protein and some carbohydrates first thing in the morning help reverse this negative impact on muscle protein and stimulate MPS. Shoot for at least 20-35 grams of protein at breakfast, again depending on body size, protein type, and total protein targets for the day.
Pre- and Post-Workout
A strenuous training session can elevate both MPS and MPB. Your goal is to maximize the former and minimize the latter with both protein and some carbohydrates, either immediately before or after training. Like breakfast, aim for around 20-35 grams of protein.
During the night in an unfed state, muscle-protein balance slides more toward MPB than MPS to generate free amino acids to help fuel the body. Consuming at least 20 grams of casein or whey and casein blend, or a lesser amount protein combined with supplemental BCAAs or more specifically leucine, will help keep MPS higher as you sleep.
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