Protein powders offer many advantages. They are low in carbohydrates, fat and are relatively cheap. They also help you maintain muscle and burn fat. So what are the best types of protein supplements you can take?
9 Best Protein Supplements
- Whey Protein
- Casein Protein
- Collagen Protein
- Beef Protein Isolate
- Egg Protein
- Pea Protein
- Hemp Protein
- Brown Rice Protein
- Plant Protein
Protein shakes can easily be digested and converted into nutrients for the body. In addition, whey protein has some special bioactive peptides that are of great benefit to the immune system.
Protein powders are common among athletes who want to improve their performance and individuals who want to build muscles and keep fit. Protein powders are also common among individuals who want an additional healthy source of protein to supplement their diet.
Protein powder is a great way to deliver protein to the body quickly. However, there are various protein powders made from various sources available on the market today. There are animal-based protein powders which include casein, whey, and collagen, and also plant-based protein powders which include pea, rice, and hemp.
To select a protein powder that is suitable for your needs, you need to determine the ingredients that are best for you. It is advisable to select protein powders that have few ingredients. In addition, always watch out for any additives, sugar, artificial colors or flavors.
As a consumer, your needs and the intended outcome determines the type of protein powder you should buy. The intended outcome could be for losing weight, building muscle, or supplementing your daily protein needs.
If your goal is to reduce your body fat and build muscle, Whey and Casein are the best choices if you eat dairy. However, a vegan or vegetarian will need to avoid these types of protein powder and choose a lactose-free diet.
Another factor to consider is side effects. Before you select any protein powder, you need to be sure the powder will not affect your hormone levels, especially if you have any estrogen, insulin, or thyroid issues.
Some protein powders are designed specifically for men or women. Men who want to gain muscle and lose fat may prefer to select whey or casein powders. There are also good plant-based options like soy, pea, and rice proteins. For women, there are animal-based options which include whey, collagen, and egg white proteins. Pea, hemp, and brown rice are also available plant-based choices.
If you look on the shelves of health food stores or in the supplement section of supermarkets, you’ll notice that a lot of the protein supplements available are whey based. While nothing is inherently wrong with choosing whey—in fact, there are many benefits to consuming it—it’s not for everyone, whether that’s due to allergies or intolerances, personal preference, or simple distaste.
As protein supplements become increasingly more popular among not only athletes but the general population, the source of protein powders is increasing; and it’s not just whey powder that dominates the market. Below is a list of the best protein supplements for people looking to get additional protein into their diet.
Whey protein is derived from milk. It is the product that gets separated from curd during the process of making cheese. Whey protein contains a lot of protein and at the same time contains lactose, a milk sugar that is not easily digestible. However, the isolate version contains a little amount of lactose because lactose is lost during the manufacturing processing.
Amino acids, when absorbed into the bloodstream after digestion, become available for the creation of new muscle and muscle protein synthesis (MPS). Studies show that whey protein can help to increase and maintain muscle mass and also promote quick recovery from arduous activities.
A study of young men has shown that whey protein increased muscle protein synthesis 31% more than Soy protein. Furthermore, a 10-week research study on the effect of whey protein in postmenopausal women found that the women who took whey protein had a more positive response to resistance training compared to those women who took a placebo supplement.
Further research in normal-weight, overweight and obese individuals has shown that whey protein reduces fat mass thereby improving body composition. Interestingly, whey protein has been shown to decrease appetite compared to other types of protein. To prove this, a study was carried out with four lean men. They were given different types of liquid protein meals on different days.
The study found that the whey protein meals resulted in a great decrease in appetite and calorie intake during the next meal. Other studies on whey protein have indicated that protein helps to reduce inflammation and ameliorate some heart issues in overweight and obese people.
Types of Whey Protein
There are three primary types of whey protein that can be used as a supplement. Let’s have a look at them:
Whey Concentrate: contains 70-80% protein and higher amounts of lactose than other types of protein. However, whey concentrate still contains minimal amounts of fat and carbohydrates.
Whey Isolate: is purer than whey concentrate, as isolate contains around 90% protein with minimal amounts of lactose, fat, and carbohydrates.
Whey Hydrolysate: is a “pre-digested” form of protein that is easily absorbed and digested. In general, it’s better to take whey hydrolysate after a workout.
Compared to whey protein, casein is lower in essential amino acids (EAAs) which makes it lower in quality. The rate of digestion and absorption is also lower, but it is also dependent on the type of casein powder. There is Micellar casein, Casein hydrolysates, and Caseinates.
Casein protein produces a gel when it comes in contact with stomach acid, slowing down digestion and absorption of amino acids into the bloodstream.
Gradually, this leads to an exposure of the muscles to amino acids which reduces the rate at which muscle protein is broken down. Research shows that casein protein is more efficient at increasing muscle strength and muscle protein synthesis (MPS) than soy and wheat protein but less effective when compared to whey protein.
One study carried out in overweight men noted that casein protein has an edge over whey protein in improving body composition during endurance training.
In summary, Casein is a slow-digesting milk protein when compared to whey protein. Casein may decrease the rate of muscle protein breakdown and it is helpful in promoting muscle growth and fat loss during calorie restrictive diets.
Collagen is one of the most abundant proteins and an essential building block for body structures. Collagen is a key structural protein that ensures the cohesion, elasticity, and regeneration of all connective tissues, including the skin, tendons, ligaments, and bones.
Essentially, collagen is the ‘glue’ that holds our body together, and collagen protein is becoming more popular as a supplement, even though it’s categorized as an incomplete protein because collagen doesn’t have a complete amino acid profile.
Beef Protein Isolate
Hydrolyzed beef protein is similar to whey protein. However, beef protein is “hydrolyzed’ into smaller parts for easier digestion and absorption. And like whey protein, beef protein contains all the essential amino acids, which makes it a complete protein.
A study by The University of Tampa examined the effect of beef protein on 30 male and females college athletes. The study found that beef protein isolates taken after exercise led to a significant increase in lean muscle mass and strength compared to baseline levels. These results were consistent with the findings of whey protein consumption after exercise.
If you don’t want to consume whey protein powders and you’re not satisfied with the plant-based supplements on offer, beef proteins are your best bet.
Eggs are very healthy. They are a great source of high-quality protein. An average egg contains about 6-7 grams of protein. According to the Protein digestibility-corrected amino acid score (PDCAAS), an egg has the highest score.
Eggs are a complete source of protein. The high-quality protein in eggs provides the body with all the nine essential amino acids in the appropriate ratio. In addition, egg protein is ranked second to whey protein in amount of leucine, an essential amino acid that plays an important role in muscle health.
Although there isn’t as much information about egg-white protein compared to whey or casein protein, there are still some studies we can make reference to.
In one study published in the Nutrition Journal, egg protein was discovered to have less potential in reducing appetite than casein protein when taken before a meal.
Although eggs are still great at reducing appetite and keeping you full for a period of time. Egg protein powders are made from egg whites and not the whole egg. Although the protein quality of egg whites is still beneficial, you may not be satisfied for long because the high-fat yolks have been removed.
Among both vegans and non vegans, pea protein is becoming incredibly popular as dairy intolerances and allergies become more common.
Pea protein powder is made from yellow split peas, a high-fibre legume that is a complete protein boasting all of the essential amino acids, including the branched-chain amino acids leucine, isoleucine, and valine—all necessary components to effectively build muscle.
When compared to non-vegan sources of protein like whey, pea protein may not look like anything spectacular because it doesn’t have nearly as many BCAAs as whey does.
However, pea protein does have one advantage—it has significantly more arginine than whey does. While arginine may not be an essential amino acid, it is essential to building muscle.
A study published in the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition showed that men who paired their lifting sessions with pea protein experienced very similar gains in bicep size as those who consumed whey protein.
Similarly, a study conducted on rodents to determine the bioavailability of pea protein compared to whey protein found that despite slower absorption than whey protein, pea protein retains the ability to trigger the release of hormones controlling hunger, specifically leptin, in a comparable manner to that of dairy-based proteins.
Not only can pea protein help to increase muscle synthesis, but it can also have a positive effect on blood pressure. A study conducted at the University of Manitoba showed that both human and rodent test subjects experienced a decrease in blood pressure levels following pea protein supplementation.
While not as popular as other plant-based protein sources, hemp protein is gaining popularity. Despite being a constituent of marijuana, hemp protein contains minuscule amounts of THC, thereby not eliciting any of the psychoactive effects that marijuana causes.
As a protein source, hemp is also a complete protein meaning it contains all 9 essential amino acids, is rich in omega-3 fatty acids making it easy to digest and has a high rate of absorption.
However, despite having all the essential amino acids present, hemp protein does contain low levels of lysine, which makes it non-ideal for a sole protein source. Combining hemp protein with other vegan sources, like those found in a protein blend, is a better option to ensure all amino acid requirements are met.
Brown Rice Protein
For the most part, many vegan protein blends consist mainly of rice protein, but when it comes to stigma, rice protein has always been deemed inferior to whey protein for building muscle.
Although brown rice protein contains all of the essential amino acids, which by definition makes rice a complete protein, like hemp, it doesn’t contain enough lysine to function as a complete protein. However, brown rice protein has been proven highly effective when it comes to building muscle, supporting muscle growth and absorbency.
In an 8 week study of 24 healthy male subjects taking either rice protein or whey protein, results showed that consumption of rice protein post-exercise is comparable to an equal dose of whey protein in its effects on body composition and exercise performance after periodized resistance training.
One of the most appealing uses of brown rice protein as a whey alternative is that it’s hypo-allergenic and can be easily digested by most people. As such, there are few cases of adverse reactions when using this protein.
Mixed Plant Proteins
If you look at the ingredient list for most vegan proteins, they usually contain a blend of several different protein sources, which may include brown rice, pea, hemp, alfalfa, chia seeds, flax, or quinoa.
This is because the combination of two or more proteins means the blend will act as a complete protein, containing all the essential amino acids in appropriate amounts.
Due to the high fibre content of plant based proteins, they are slower to digest than animal-based proteins, so for people who struggle with mild digestive issues, lower fibre blends would be more beneficial.
The slower digestion rate also limits the availability of amino acids immediately post-exercise for protein synthesis, which may slow muscle synthesis and recovery.
In a small study of young men participating in resistance training given a supplement of whey protein, a rice and pea blend, or a rice and pea blend with supplemental enzymes, the enzyme supplemented blend was comparable to that of whey protein in terms of the speed at which certain amino acids were transported into the bloodstream.
This suggests that when enzymes are present to increase absorbency, mixed plant proteins are highly comparable to animal-based proteins.
The Best Protein Supplements
When it comes to protein powders, it’s very individual. Some people will prefer animal-based proteins while others will not, regardless of dietary restrictions. Certain types of protein will be more effective for your body and provide everything your body needs to function and recover optimally.
It’s important to remember that protein supplements shouldn’t serve as a meal replacement. They can, however, enhance a balanced diet to ensure protein requirements are met. When choosing a protein powder, there are a few key things to look for:
Less is more when it comes to an ingredient list, especially with supplements. Often times, companies will add unnecessary fillers, preservatives, artificial coloring, and artificial sweeteners to bulk up the product and make it taste better.
Opt for powders that contain minimal ingredients, natural sweeteners (stevia, honey, maple syrup, etc.), and no additives, dyes, or preservatives. As a general rule, if you can’t pronounce an ingredient and don’t know what it is without research, you shouldn’t be putting it into your body.
Absorbency and Digestibility
This aspect is crucial. As plant proteins can sometimes be difficult to digest if any gut issues are present, finding a plant based protein that works for you is key.
This means it doesn’t cause flatulence, bloating, or any digestive distress upon consumption. This may take some experimentation, but it means your body is digesting and absorbing the protein properly to ensure efficacy.
Amino Acid Profile
As we mentioned above, ensuring all essential amino acids in appropriate ratios is critical for muscle building. While most plant-based protein blends won’t specify the amino acid ratios, do your research prior to purchasing to make sure you’re getting a blend that is complete to support optimal growth and recovery.
Besides the ‘technical’ side of choosing a protein powder and how it benefits your body, there are also some not-so-technical aspects to consider before purchasing:
Taste of Protein Supplement
Of course this is a big one. Regardless of what type of protein it is, if it doesn’t taste good, you won’t want to take it. Some proteins supplements can taste chalky, while others taste downright awful.
Instead of wasting your money on buying product after product to find one you like, ask around and read reviews before purchasing. Alternatively, purchase single-serve packets to test them before committing to a large tub.
Ease of Mixing
Plant based proteins are notorious for being chalky, which makes them less than ideal to consume. Choose a brand that dissolves well and isn’t prone to clumping.
Although it may take up more storage room, there’s no way around the fact that buying in bulk is more cost effective. Most protein supplements are available in various sizes ranging from 454 grams to 10 pounds.
If you haven’t used a protein before and are experimenting with it for the first time, we suggest buying a smaller container or single-serving until you find one that you like and works for your body.
Quality and Safety
Before buying a product, make sure it is third party tested, like NSF certified or Informed Choice, so it doesn’t contain banned substances.
The Right Protein for You
If you’re looking for a substitute to animal-based proteins, there’s no shortage around, vegan blends are your best bet to ensure you’re satisfying all of your nutritional requirements and amino acid ratios.
As protein supplements gain popularity, there are even meal-replacement protein blends that contain several other nutrients, like greens powders, so you’re getting more bang for your buck.
However, it’s your responsibility to purchase a product that works for you. Take some time to experiment with different brands and blends and find what works for your body. But remember: your body is continually changing, so adapt your protein supplements, usage, and intake amounts to where your body is currently at.