the protein and supplement debate
It’s certainly a well established belief that protein matters. But with so many types of protein powders on the market, it’s easy to understand why people are confused about which to purchase.
One thing we do know for sure - gone are the days of chalky protein powders that you choke down with the hopes of preserving every last bit of muscle you’ve worked hard for. The conversation has shifted from simply, “Am I getting enough protein” to “What is best, tastes best, has the least amount of fillers or other ingredients?” And, truth be told, “Will any of them help with actually building muscle as promised?”
While whey and casein often reign superior among the loyalists, plant-based options are certainly gaining popularity. What’s most important though, regardless of protein type, is making sure you’re choosing high quality options. One way to ensure quality is met is to look for products that have the Informed Choice for Sport or NSF certified for Sport certifications. While these aren’t the only two measurements of quality, you can be assured that products with this earned seal of approval are on point. These are third party certifications that rigorously test each batch of a supplement for banned substances such as anabolic steroids and prescription drugs.
Let's walk through some explanations of the different types of protein powders to help work through some of the questions and confusion I hear daily from clients.
Whey protein is naturally found in milk. Based on decades of evidence, whey protein continues to stand out due to its amino acid content. Whey is a complete protein, meaning it has all the essential amino acids, making it a convenient, quality option. When unflavored, it also has a neutral flavor that mixes well with anything, whether it be smoothies, in oatmeal, or to boost the protein of a typical baked good.
One of whey proteins ‘secret weapons’ is that, “It is high in the amino acid leucine, which research continues to suggest maximally stimulates muscle protein repair after training,” says Kelly Jones, MS, RD, CSSD of kellyjonesnutrition.com. One con, she continues, is that “Some people report gastrointestinal discomfort with standard doses of whey isolate, even if they typically tolerate dairy. In that case, I’d recommend another option.”
Like whey, casein is a component of dairy–about 80% of milk is casein (the other 20% is whey). Casein is also a complete protein and hangs its hat on the fact that it’s more slowly absorbed than whey protein, when compared side by side, meaning there could be some benefit of using casein at different times of the day.
Several studies have demonstrated pre-sleep protein may increase protein synthesis during sleep, including a 2015 study by Dr. Tim Snijders at Maastricht University. In this study, researchers gave subjects a pre-sleep protein shake with 27.5 grams of a casein-based protein and found the protein before bed group gained significantly more muscle strength and size than the group that did not get the same protein.
Researchers are unsure if the beneficial effect is due to the increased total protein or its specific timing, warranting further research.
Pea protein has emerged on the scene as one of the premier vegan options when it comes to protein powders or ingredients in meat alternative type foods that are available. But is it as good as some other options? Maybe.
“While more research is needed, recent studies have shown [pea protein] to be just as effective as whey for stimulating muscle growth after both resistance and endurance training” Kelly Jone notes.
Of course more research is certainly needed to verify the effects on muscle protein synthesis, but if you're looking for your best option when it comes to vegan protein, look no further than pea protein.
Protein’s golden child of the last several years, collagen continues to claim superiority among influencers – the true indicators of scientific validity…insert sarcasm.. Here’s the truth.
Collagen is a protein that binds tissues in fish and animals. Consider it to be the body’s scaffolding that makes up about 80% of the skin. Because of this it has been touted for improved hair, skin, collagen stimulation, muscle repair–pretty much everything. Keep in mind though, collagen is a low quality protein based on its amino acid makeup. However, that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s useless and it may still help with ligament strength and tendon health. Dosing and timing may also matter. One recent study found doses of 15 grams one hour before exercise (or physical therapy) may be of benefit, since it seems to take about an hour for the amino acids in collagen to peak in the bloodstream, which would be useful when the muscles are moving and bringing blood flow to tendons and ligaments.
This is the OG of vegan protein powders, but it quickly fell from grace after the rumors spread that soy made men into boys by plummeting testosterone levels faster than the stock market drop on Black Friday Market Crash. While this rumor quickly spread among the male population, true science has not supported this nonsense. One 2018 study published in Scientific Reports was in agreement with previous findings that soy protein did not significantly alter hormone status, meaning you can use it without hormone concern.
Further, additional data has found similar outcomes, in comparison with animal based protein options, when it comes to the effects of soy protein in producing gains in strength and lean body mass in response to resistance training. TLDR: soy protein is certainly an option to consider having in your arsenal.
This is one of the new kids on the block and pretty unique, as it’s made with one trustworthy ingredient: almonds. That means you can forget the laundry list of ingredients among so many other powders. Almond protein is simple, packs 20g of plant-powered protein, and has the bonus of naturally occurring fiber and calcium because it’s from, well, ground up blanched almonds. It’s versatile and blends well into smoothies or to give a nice protein boost (and flavor) to oats, baked goods, or the like.
There you have it – a roundup of some of the latest protein supplements you might see at your local supplement shop.