If you’ve been looking into protein and feel a little overwhelmed, you’re not alone. With so many types of protein available, it’s only natural to feel confused and uncertain of which protein to use and when. Taking in enough protein is essential for optimizing your training results and supporting your goals, but selecting the right type and coordinating timing of protein intake is also important to maximize benefits. Read on to learn more about the most common types of proteins and how you can incorporate them to look and feel your best!
Whey protein is a naturally occurring protein found in milk and is made from the leftover liquid used when turning milk into cheese. Whey represents about 20% of the protein in milk, and contains all of the essential amino acids the human body requires. Whey concentrate is one of the most common and most affordable forms of protein, and as has long held itself as the gold standard among proteins.
In addition, this protein…
- Has been shown to support the greatest anabolic (growth) effects on muscle (1-4), it has high nutritional value, and scientific studies have revealed numerous health benefits.
- Digests quickly, and is rapidly absorbed and available to repair working muscles making it a “fast” acting protein able to both stimulate and support muscle growth (5).
- Contains high levels of branched chain amino acids (BCAA), and greater amounts of the amino acid leucine than other proteins, which have been shown to stimulate muscle synthesis.
- Is ideal for both pre and post workout, or as a snack between meals.
- Has the ability to offset age-related muscle loss, improve strength, and promote a lean body composition.
- Lowers blood pressure, boosts immunity, treats type two diabetes, and for reduces inflammation (6-10).
In addition to its most common form as a concentrate, whey protein can also be taken as an isolate or as a hydrolysate. The main difference being that an isolate has had other components removed to “isolate” the whey protein allowing for even faster breakdown and absorption. Hydrolysates are proteins that have been partially broken down, making them the fastest form to break down and be absorbed. Given the additional cost of isolates and hydrolysates and the fact concentrates are already fast- digesting, the additional cost of isolates or hydrolysates should be considered with your goals.
Casein, like whey, comes from cow’s milk and accounts for about eighty percent of the protein in milk.
Casein is insoluble and also referred to as calcium caseinate, due to the calcium ion attached to it. There is evidence to support the calcium component naturally occurring in casein protein can further accelerate fat loss and promote a lean body composition.
Unlike whey protein, casein protein breaks down more slowly, requiring about five to seven hours to fully digest. This makes casein a “slow” acting protein and therefore a more ideal source to use as a meal replacement as it provides longer lasting energy and satiety.
In addition, due to its slow breakdown, casein supplies a steady stream of protein to support muscle repair over time making it an ideal option to enjoy before bed to support muscle repair while you snooze! Given its slow breakdown, casein alone is not ideal post workout, but it can be paired with fast acting whey to achieve both slow and fast release proteins, which can be found in Complete Nutrition’s V Core Protein.
Soy protein serves as a popular vegetarian source of protein containing all nine essential amino acids.
It’s rich in BCAA’s and the amino acids glutamine to prevent muscle catabolism (breakdown) and support muscle growth. It is also rich in the essential amino acid arginine which promotes increased blood flow to working muscles and stimulates anabolic hormones to promote muscle growth.
Although soy protein may have been the subject of controversial debate in the past regarding its naturally occurring phytoestrogens, compounds that mimic the hormone estrogen and were thought to boost estrogen and decrease testosterone, recent research suggests soy protein does actually does not increase estrogen and decrease testosterone levels as once thought (12, 13).
Similar to whey protein, soy also comes as a concentrate and as an isolate. You may have also seen soy protein as “textured” which is commonly found in imitation meat products. More recent research is indicating soy protein’s potential health benefits including reducing the risk of coronary heart disease and certain cancers (15-17). In addition, there is evidence to support soy’s unique benefit in combating free radical damage which accumulates during exercise and therefore decreasing recovery time(18).
It’s important to keep in mind the body can only utilize a given amount of protein at any time, so taking in more than you need is not beneficial. Conversely, to achieve muscle growth, taking in adequate protein is essential to maximize gains as is proper strength training. Incorporating a variety of proteins and paying attention to timing of protein intake can be an ideal way to maximize gains and boost overall health.
Sarah Mattison Berndt, MS, RD, CD
Owner Fit Fresh Cuisine & Hybrid Athletic Club
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- Zhou LM1, Xu JY2, Rao CP3, Han S4, Wan Z5, Qin LQ6, Effect of whey supplementation on circulating C-reactive protein: a meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials. Nutrients. 2015 Feb 9;7(2):1131-43. doi: 10.3390/nu7021131.
- Pal S1, Ellis V. The chronic effects of whey proteins on blood pressure, vascular function, and inflammatory markers in overweight individuals. Obesity (Silver Spring). 2010 Jul;18(7):1354-9. doi: 10.1038/oby.2009.397. Epub 2009 Nov 5.
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- Altorf-van der Kuil W1,Engberink MF, Brink EJ, van Baak MA, Bakker SJ, Navis G, van ‘t Veer P, Geleijnse JM. Dietary protein and blood pressure: a systematic review.PLoS One. 2010 Aug 11;5(8):e12102.
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- Dangin M., Biorie Y., Rodenas-Garcia C., Gachon P., Fauquant J., Callier P., Ballevre O., and Beaufrere B (2001). The digestion rate of protein is an independant regulating factor of postprandial protein retention, Am. J. Physiol. Endocrinol. Metab, 280 E340-E348.
- Bosse, John D, Dixon, Brian M. Dietary protein to maximize resistance training: a review and examination of protein spread and change theories. Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition, 20129: 42. 1550-2783.
- Hartman JW1, Tang JE, Wilkinson SB, Tarnopolsky MA, Lawrence RL, Fullerton AV, Phillips SM. Consumption of fat-free fluid milk after resistance exercise promotes greater lean mass accretion than does consumption of soy or carbohydrate in young, novice, male weightlifters. Am J Clin Nutr. 2007 Aug;86(2):373-81.
- Tang JE1, Moore DR, Kujbida GW, Tarnopolsky MA, Phillips SM. Ingestion of whey hydrolysate, casein, or soy protein isolate: effects on mixed muscle protein synthesis at rest and following resistance exercise in young men. J Appl Physiol (1985). 2009 Sep;107(3):987-92. doi: 10.1152/japplphysiol.00076.2009. Epub 2009 Jul 9
- Pennings B1, Boirie Y, Senden JM, Gijsen AP, Kuipers H, van Loon LJ Whey protein stimulates postprandial muscle protein accretion more effectively than do casein and casein hydrolysate in older men. Am J Clin Nutr. 2011 May;93(5):997-1005. doi: 10.3945/ajcn.110.008102. Epub 2011 Mar 2.
- Anthony, A.S, et al, Soybean Isoflavones Improve Cardiovascular Risk Factors Without Affecting the reproductive System of Peripubertal Rhesus Monkeys. J. of Nutri., 125: 43-49, 1995.
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- Samantha Rubin, Douglas Kalman, Michele Martinez, Diane R. Krieger, Nutrition Miami Research Associates.(2005). A Randomized Double-Blind Clinical Pilot Trial Evaluating the Effect of Protein Source when Combined with Resistance Training on Body Composition and Sex Hormones in Adult Males. Experimental Biology 2005, April 5.
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- Rossi A.,Disilvestro R.A., Blostein-Fugii A. Effects of soy consumption on exercise-induced acute muscle damage and oxidative stress in young adult males. FASEB J 1998:12(5); A653