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Choosing A Protein Powder

Posted on February 4, 2014 at 5:14 PM Comments comments (374)

Jocelyn Shaw Many people believe that calorie intake is the key component of a healthy diet and the most important factor in determining overall body mass.  While that is absolutely true, I believe that attention must also be paid to the macronutrient content of a person’s diet (ratios of protein, carbohydrate and fat) in order to optimize body composition, energy, strength, and sexual function.  While each macronutrient is important, I believe that particular attention should be paid to protein consumption.  Recommended intake varies wildly, but I am of the school of thought that a higher intake is better than just meeting the minimum requirements.

Sufficient protein intake is a crucial component to a healthy diet for a number of reasons; it is an important building block of bones, muscles, cartilage, skin, and blood, and is used by your body to build and repair tissues. Hair and nails are predominantly comprised of protein, and your body uses protein to make enzymes, hormones, and other body chemicals. Because proteins are part of every cell, tissue, and organ in our bodies, they are constantly being broken down.  Our bodies use the protein in the foods we eat to form amino acids, which are used to replace the protein used during every day activity. 

General recommendations state that 10–35% of your daily calories come from protein, however, recommendations for popular health and weight loss diets often go as high as 45%. In today’s fast moving society it can be difficult for a lot of individuals to get enough protein into their daily diet, in which case they may choose to rely on powdered forms of protein to supplement their intake.

There are a myriad of products available for purchase, and many different types of powders to include whey, whey isolate, casein, soy, beef, egg, hemp and rice proteins, just to name a few. With all of these choices, deciding on the right product can become confusing. A brief introduction of the major types of protein and their benefits may be helpful to deciding which variety is best.

Whey Protein: 

Also available as whey protein isolates, whey protein concentrate, whey protein hydolysate, and hydrolized protein, whey is the liquid that is left behind after the first stages of the cheese-making process, when the liquids and solids are separated. It is the most popular type of protein powder due to the significant improvement of muscle protein synthesis and promotes the growth of lean tissue mass.  A study published in the International Journal of Sport Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism concluded that "whey protein supplementation during resistance training offers some benefit compared to resistance training alone." In addition,  

Whey protein is also largely touted as a weight loss supplement; according to one study, published in Nutrition & Metabolism, people who took a specialized whey fraction (Prolibra™) that was high in leucine, bioactive peptides and milk calcium, "lost significantly more body fat and showed a greater preservation of lean muscle compared to subjects consuming the control beverage." Many people are familiar with whey protein’s benefits, but the lesser-known casein protein can be an even more viable option in many situations.

Casein Protein: 

Casein proteins are comprised of animal milk, and are often chosen because of their slow rate of digestion and absorption.  The specific types of casein protein differ in proportion according to the species from which they're synthesized, however, generally casein accounts for roughly 80% of the total protein content of the product. While casein, much like whey, is effective at promoting muscle protein synthesis, its differentiating feature is the ability to provide a sustained rate of amino acid uptake versus a rapid increase that would arise from whey protein consumption.  Because of this, casein protein may be more beneficial to individuals who are looking for a supplement that can provide several hours of nourishment and satiety versus a quicker digesting protein like whey. As noted earlier, this gives casein longer-lasting anti-catabolic properties and is why people often refer to it as the optimal “bedtime” protein; casein’s prolonged digestion helps promote a positive nitrogen balance during extended hours of sleep.  For all of its benefits, for those who are averse to dairy-based protein, casein is not an option.  In those circumstances egg protein powders are another viable option.

Egg Protein: 

Egg protein albumin (dried egg white) is made from the white of the egg primarily, though depending on its formulation, it may contain trace amounts of yolk.  It's often fat-free, very high in protein, and is considered a perfect source of protein due to its complete makeup of essential amino acids.  The essential amino acids are those that the body cannot synthesize on its own; histidine, isoleucine, leusine, lysine, methionine, phenylalanine, threonine, tryptophan, and valine.  Egg protein albumin is also high in branched chain amino acids, which help to prevent muscle breakdown, and glutamic acid, which is essential for cognitive brain functioning.

Once egg protein is in your system, it is completely absorbed by your body. When other proteins are measured for quality and effectiveness, egg protein is at the top of the list and is the standard for measurement. The benefits of egg protein aside, some individuals choose not to consume any of the aforementioned varieties due to intolerances, or for humanitarian reasons.  In that case, vegetable and soy proteins are a good option.

Vegetable and Soy Protein:

There is a wide variety of plant-based protein powders to choose from, to include; soy, hemp, pea, and rice proteins.  Each type of plant-based protein offers its own unique benefits.  Soy and hemp protein powders are complete proteins, in that they contain all of the essential amino acids, while hemp and pea proteins are incomplete and may be paired with other protein sources.  Soy protein, however, is highly processed and some studies have linked soy consumption in women with a history of estrogen positive cancer to an increased risk of breast cancer. Studies have also shown that soy protein supplementation for a period as short as 14 days can cause lowered testosterone levels in men, which can contribute to muscle loss and strength decline, decreased libido, erectile dysfunction, depression, decreased masculinity, fat gain, decreased energy and work performance, and even height loss due to waning bone density.

Brown rice protein is another option in this category, and is hypo-allergic and easily digested, making it an excellent alternative for anyone with a sensitive stomach or allergies to soy or dairy. Pea protein, another popular choice, is highly digestible and has a fluffy texture, and is high in glutamic acid, which some experts also believe helps convert carbohydrates into energy instead of being stored as fat.  Hemp offers the inflammation-fighting power of omega-6 essential fatty acids and is high in fiber.  Hemp is a great choice for those following a vegan diet.  Some studies have also suggested hemp protein may be more helpful in weight loss, thanks to its high fiber content.

Dairy-based proteins like whey and casein are great choices for their muscle-building benefits as well as their bioavailablity for those who are not vegan or suffer from dairy allergies.  That’s not to say that there isn’t a strong case to be made for integrating plant-based proteins into your diet as well, even if you’re not vegan or allergic. These proteins are easily digested and have been shown to fight inflammation and reduce muscle soreness more effectively than dairy-based proteins, which makes them a good choice for any athlete or active person.  Ultimately choosing the right protein powder should be based on the needs and wants of the individual. 


Jocelyn Shaw

About The Author: Ms. Jocelyn Shaw is currently studying for her degree in Personal Fitness Training. With close ties to the military, Ms. Shaw's interests include both indoor and outdoor sports and fitness. A Summa Cum Laude candidate, as well as an IMI Student Ambassador, we expect great things from Jocelyn.

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