I assume that if you talk to any professional athlete they will tell you that along with all things you’d expect (training/coaching/a strong mindset) it is essential to fuel your body with high quality nutrients to perform and recover effectively. I am no professional athlete, but I still see benefits using protein powders along with other supplements. (Read: Should I Try Sports Supplements). The protein market is huge, and its very easy to get super confused, super fast.. So hold on to your seat.
There are a whole host of different types of protein, all made from different things and good for different purposes. The main types you will come across in the market are:
- Whey Protein – Milk protein is comprised of casein and whey. Casein can cause digestion issues for some people, whereas whey protein, with heavily reduced fats and lactose, is generally more tolerated. Whey protein is the richest natural source of the essential building blocks for muscles, Branch Chain Amino Acids. You will find you can buy ‘WPI’ (whey protein isolate) and ‘WPC’ (whey protein concentrate).
WPI WPC Made directly from milk using a micro-filtration process. Is a liquid by-product of cheese making. Contains very little lactose/fat/carbs.
Has a higher amount of BCAA's in it.
Contains a small amount of fats and carbs.
Retains more natural amino acids than most other whey products.
90% Protein per serve 80% Protein per serve Best used post-exercie, to assist in a calorie restricted diet and suitable for lactose intolerant people. Makes you feel fuller for longer, slower digesting and cheaper to buy.
- Casein Protein – Casein is the other main protein in milk. It is a slow digesting protein that provides a steady stream of amino acids to your muscles. For this reason a lot of people take it right before bed to keep nutrients and fuel repairing muscles while you sleep. Surprisingly I find I actually wake up hungrier when I have a shake before bed. It also has a naturally high glutamine content which can assist muscle repair and immune system strength.
- Rice & Pea Protein – This one isn’t just for the hippies! Both brown rice and peas (legumes) contain protein. When treated with enzymes the protein and carbohydrate can be separated and the powder used for protein shakes. This type of protein is good for people with allergies or food intolerance, as it contains no lactose or gluten. Obviously also a good choice for vegetarians and vegans. The 2 compliment each other well; rice protein is higher in some amino acids which pea protein lacks, and vice versa. The combination of rice and pea protein offers a superior amino acid profile that is comparable to dairy or egg proteins. It is thicker than whey protein which some people don’t enjoy.. but you get used to it.
The Next Step
So once you have worked out what kind of protein you want to use, generally depending on what result you’re after the real hard work starts. I’m generally always trying to gain lean muscle and drop weight because I drink too much beer. So my experience has mostly been with WPI in the early days and Rice & Pea Protein for the last few years. Go in to any supplement store or gym and you will immediately realise that there is a big market for protein powder. Companies pay huge amounts of money to market and advertise their brands, but realistically almost all of the products are pretty similar. Protein powders made with whey usually taste and mix better, and have a much larger range of flavours. They are also likely to have fillers and additives in them, sometimes so they can be manufactured cheaper, and sometimes to give you added results. For example ‘Thermowhey‘ has additives to help speed up your metabolism and help burn fat faster. I generally avoid mixed products and take each supplement individually (again, see Should I Try Sports Supplements).
I find using an online comparison pretty handy, that way you can look at products side by side and compare ingredients/price/nutritional value. If you go in to a supplement store the staff will obviously be able to help, but there is potential for bias depending on what is most popular/has the best markup.
I found ‘Earth Protein’ on Bulk Nutrients about 2 years ago, as I am not a huge fan of dairy. The logic was, if the product gave the same results then why not? At first the taste and texture was a little different, but now I actually prefer it. I use a scoop of it in my smoothie every morning, and one immediately after every training session (weights or football). There are a few different theories on when and how much to have which I will explain in another article, but general rule of thumb (for me) is: high protein smoothie at the beginning of the day gets everything firing and gives my body energy to get going. Then a shake immediately after a workout provides my body with essential nutrients to start repairing and rebuilding muscles. This is key as they have just been exhausted doing exercise, and eating dinner isn’t really possible 20 minutes after training.
- Use them to supplement a healthy diet and exercise, not to try and replace meals altogether.
- Do your homework and research what product is going to best assist you get on the gain train.
- Keep an eye out for fillers and sweeteners (especially aspartame).
- Make sure you clean your shaker IMMEDIATELY after use… anyone who has opened a dirty protein shaker knows why…