Whenever someone thinks about changing how their body looks (gaining muscle or losing fat), the plan almost always includes adding more protein to their diet. Many people choose to supplement with protein powders to increase their protein intake. With so many different companies, products and types of protein supplementation on the market, which types are the best? To understand which protein supplements are the best, we should learn a little more about proteins and their vital role in the human body.
Proteins are molecular bundles of chains, built from amino acids. When you consume whole foods higher in protein (think fish, chicken, steak, quinoa, beans, nuts) the body breaks the protein molecules down into their basic amino acid forms. The body uses these amino acid/protein combinations to do amazing things.
- Proteins create hair, skin, nails and cartilage.
- Proteins allow for the movement of sperm cells.
- Proteins make up every muscle in the body.
- Proteins create cellular binding sites and transport channels for enzymes and other molecular reactions.
- Proteins form enzymes which accelerate chemical reactions including digestion.
If it’s not yet obvious, proteins are a VERY big deal!
Why do people increase protein when trying to change their body composition?
For adding muscle tissue or reducing fat, increasing protein intake may be beneficial for several reasons.
For losing weight – Protein is a high satiety food. What that means is that eating 100g of lean protein is going to make you FEEL more satisfied than eating 100g of easily digestible carbohydrates. This means that you will feel full longer! When food is digested, a biproduct is heat. When compared to carbohydrates and fat, protein has the highest heat creating abilities (also known as the “Thermic Effect of Food” or TEF) and as you may know, the more heat your body puts off the more energy it is using. For gaining muscle – When working to create lean tissue, a process called muscle protein synthesis must occur. There are many factors that contribute to the cascade of muscle protein synthesis happening, however several studies have found that a minimum level of L-Leucine (an amino acid) MUST be present.
Types of Protein Supplements
Soy Protein - Many people enjoy soy for its price and taste, however for a protein supplement it falls short on the spectrum. Most soy (even organic) has been genetically altered which is a process that many countries have banned due to its lack of evidence for safety. Soy protein also lacks an abundance of the specific amino acid that allows for muscle protein synthesis to occur, L-Leucine. Without this vital amino acid, it would take an incredible amount of protein to assist in the creation of lean muscle tissue.
Pea Protein - From my research performed, it appears that most peas have not been genetically tampered. Pea protein is always a bit more expensive than soy and still doesn’t have nearly the amount of L-Leucine that animal-based products do. In the end, pea protein ends up being the best type of supplemental protein for those who prefer vegetarian or vegan options. Amino Acids – Many people supplement with branch chain amino acids (building blocks of proteins). If you are okay drinking processed hair from humans and horses, feathers from ducks and chickens, along with a variety of animal skin…. than it is a great option! Amino acid supplementation is incredibly low in calories which make it fantastic for someone who wants to add or maintain muscle mass while enjoying their calories elsewhere. Amino acid supplements are usually more expensive than their protein counterparts due to the processing requirements.
Proteins derived from milk
Casein Protein - Casein is a derivative of milk. It has grown in popularity due to its slower absorption rates which may help people stay full longer. The slower rate of absorption may also be why casein protein is not necessarily the best for muscle protein synthesis. For MPS to happen, a certain amount of L-leucine must be present and within a certain time window. Studies have shown that Casein has adequate levels of L-Leucine, however it appears to take too long for digestion to occur which lowers chances of MPS.
Whey Protein - For the different criteria for which we recommend protein supplements, Whey comes out on top. Whey protein contains enough L-Leucine and digests fast enough for MPS to occur.
Things to think about:
The supplement industry is unregulated. Our recommendation at Balance Chiropractic is to only purchase from a reputable source and to do your homework on the brand before purchasing. Many protein supplements contain additives, fillers, fake colors and artificial flavorings. We recommend purchasing a product that is unflavored and/or sweetened naturally with things like stevia or xylitol.