Picking Your Protein
Part of the Inspire Wellness Supplement Series
The health and fitness supplement market is loaded with countless bottles, jugs, pills, and potions all claiming to help you lose weight, build muscle, live longer, or live stronger. However, the majority have no actual scientific evidence behind them and some can even be dangerous. Fortunately, one of the most popular supplements on the market, protein powder, can play a legitimate and effective role in a healthy and active lifestyle.
Your body relies on the three Macronutrients - Fats, Carbohydrates, and Protein - for energy, structure, and function. In particular, Protein and Carbohydrates are incredibly important in workout recovery, muscle building, performance increases, and general health for any active individual (for more information, check out this article). Since Protein and Carbs are so important, and since most people do not get an adequate amount of protein in their daily diet, supplementing with a basic protein powder is an easy and effective way to enhance the quality of your diet, when done correctly.
Whey & Casein Protein
Whey and Casein protein are both derived from cow's milk. The protein in milk can basically be divided into the two categories - Casein or Whey - with each having its own unique characteristics and impact on your body. When milk is heated and coagulated, the Casein protein forms semi-solid lumps while the Whey protein remains liquified. Once this process is completed and the two types are extracted, health food suppliers can further refine the products into the commercial Whey and Casein powder we are familiar with.
Once they are bottled up and placed on the store shelves, which one should you pick - Whey or Casein? The answer to that question depends on your goals, your activity level, and when you plan on consuming the protein.
Whey protein is a faster digesting protein, meaning it will absorb into your system rapidly and help replenish your muscles, curb your cortisol level, and increase protein synthesis faster after a hard workout. Whenever you workout, whether it is strength training or cardio, your muscles undergo stress. If your workout is sufficiently difficult, your cortisol levels will rise (a stress hormone linked to muscle breakdown) and your muscle protein will start to breakdown. Consuming a fast-digesting protein during or after your workout will help control your cortisol levels, provide additional amino acids to the damaged muscle, and initiate protein synthesis. All of these things are important to maximize the recovery and results of each workout.
As such, Whey protein is recommended immediately after a workout. Also, the average person should consume 15-25g of protein post-workout as that is generally considered the most effective and efficient dosage.
Casein protein, on the other hand, is slower digesting and slower absorbing. Casein also seems to have a higher calcium level, supporting bone health. Generally, Casein protein is recommended during the day or before bed, as it stays in your system longer and prevents catabolism (muscle breakdown) over the course of several hours. Due to its slow digestion, it is not recommended as a post-workout option.
Protein powders come in a variety of forms and are derived from a number of sources, with the most popular being Whey Protein, Casein Protein, Egg Protein, and Soy Protein. These four have the most research behind them and are generally considered the most reliable.
For individuals prefering a non-dairy protein source, Egg Protein is a good option. Egg Protein is essentially dehydrated egg whites. It has a similar digestion rate to Whey Protein, and nearly as much Leucine (an amino acid associated with muscle protein synthesis).
Egg Protein is a good alternative to Whey protein before, during or after a workout. Due to the similarities between Egg and Whey, unless you are lactose intolerant or have some other dairy allergy, the difference between the two is negligible.
Soy Protein is a great vegetarian option for adding protein to your diet. It is a complete protein, meaning it contains all of the essential amino acids needed by our bodies to function, which is rare among plants. Soy is digested and absorbed faster than Casein, making it another solid post-workout option.
Unlike some other protein powders, Soy Protein often contains some fat and carbohydrates. Ideally, you should look for a product with over 90% of its calories per serving coming from protein.
Some research suggests that heavy Soy supplementation in men could be linked to decreased testosterone levels and increased estrogen, though conclusive evidence has yet to be established.