Protein is one of the three macronutrients needed by the body (the other two being carbohydrates and fats) yet it is also one of the most misunderstood food types in existence.
Whenever you speak to somebody about protein, they always seem to have an opinion on it. Some swear by it, others don’t think it’s necessary, some say you can get enough from vegetables, and others are convinced you need to eat the equivalent of three full sized cows each day.
We need protein to build muscle mass, it is vital for our cells to grow, reproduce, and function, it plays key roles in countless physiological processes internally, and it is generally considered to be the most important of all three macros. Because of this, there are plenty of protein supplements out there to help you meet your daily requirements, but which are the best for you?
Here’s a look at the most popular protein supplements on the market and the main differences between each one.
Whey Protein Concentrate
We’ll begin by looking at the most popular sports supplement in the world. That’s right, it’s whey protein concentrate.
Whey protein concentrate is a derivative of cow’s milk that is made by separating milk solids known as curds, and liquid proteins known as whey. This process occurs when enzymes are added to start the cheese-making process.
Whey protein concentrate is a fast-digesting, rapid absorbing protein that happens to be fairly high in lactose sugars.
Whey protein concentrate is so popular because it serves its purpose and is fairly inexpensive as it undergoes less filtration and processing. A good quality whey concentrate should be around 80% pure protein, with the final 20% consisting of carbs and fats.
Whey Protein Isolate
Whey isolate is just like whey concentrate, except for the fact that it undergoes additional filtration and processing, making it much purer and higher quality.
Whereas whey concentrate is around 80% protein per serving, whey isolate is around 95% - 99% protein per serving. The greater quality is reflected in the higher price.
Casein protein also comes from cow’s milk, though it is molecularly very different to whey protein.
Whereas whey protein is a fast digesting, rapid absorbing protein, casein protein is the exact opposite.
When casein comes into contact with stomach acid, it thickens and forms a gel-like paste. This delays the stomach emptying and slows down the rate in which amino acids from the protein are absorbed into the bloodstream.
Because casein protein takes so much longer to digest and be absorbed, many people consume it right before bed.
Vegan Protein Blends
If you cannot consume proteins derived from animal sources, vegan protein blends are ideal.
A vegan protein blend is a protein supplement made up of a different combination of plant-based, vegan-friendly protein sources. Blends vary from company to company, but most contain at least: brown rice protein, pea protein, and hemp protein. Though some may also contain lentil protein too.
The good thing about different plant-based protein blends is the fact that different ones provide different benefits and different rates of absorption.
These blends are often higher in fibre, B vitamins, and good fats, though they may lack certain amino acids found only in animal-based protein blends.