Those of us who are passionate about physical fitness and achieving our lifting goals know about the importance of protein. More specifically, that your body requires an optimal amount of protein each day to get the best results: maximum gains, minimum body fat, and several other health benefits. That's why so many of us use protein powder and other dietary proteins.
Yet due to the constantly expanding protein supplement industry, it can be hard to keep up with the formulas of protein supplements and how they affect your body. So, let's take a look at exactly why protein is important for maintaining lean body mass, promoting muscle strengthening and repair, and the different forms of protein powder products on the market.
Why is protein important?
- Assists in muscle recovery
- Boosts metabolism
- Curbs appetite
- Helps your body repair after injury
- Increases fat burning
- Increases strength and muscle mass
- Promotes healthy bones
A majority of your protein should come from quality whole foods such as legumes, lean meats, fish, vegetables, nuts, eggs, dairy, and whole grains . But those that exercise heavily or are very active typically need to supplement more protein into their day to get the best results.
How much protein should I have a day?
You know what quality proteins your body needs, now the question is how much protein should you be taking in on the daily? According to the Mayo Clinic, protein should make up for around 10% to 35% of your daily diet. This varies from person to person depending on their lifestyle. For sedentary adults, the recommended amount of protein is 0.8 grams per kilogram of body weight. Yet, for us lifters, experts recommend 1.2 to 2 grams of protein per kilogram to accommodate the effort exerted by our bodies and get enough amino acid from the protein for muscle repair and recovery .
The best type of quality protein powder for major muscle gains
There are nine essential amino acids that the body cannot create that are needed to make protein. These amino acids come from either animal-based (beef, poultry, fish, dairy, and eggs) or plant-based (fruits, vegetables, nuts, grains, and seeds) foods .
Both are excellent sources of protein; however, animal-based food tends to be “complete” proteins, which means they contain all twenty-plus types of amino acids necessary to make new proteins in your body. Plant-based foods, on the other hand, while still technically complete, are usually low in one or more essential amino acids.
Finding the best protein powder means knowing exactly what’s in the product. You’ll want to look for things like the amino acid profile, potential effects on hormones, leucine content, fiber content, phytoestrogens, and digestion rates.
Whey vs casein vs soy: What’s the difference?
The most popular form of protein on the market is whey protein. Not only does it have one of the highest-quality amino acid profiles, but it’s also proven to stimulate muscle growth at higher rates. Whey protein is currently the gold standard in the protein powder industry . Yet, it’s not the only option. Casein and soy are also popular choices as far as quality protein powder goes. To get a good idea of what’s best for you, let’s take a look at the key differences between the three.
Whey is an animal-based protein that comes from cow’s milk as a byproduct of the cheesemaking process. It’s one of the “complete” proteins that we referred to above, containing all nine essential amino acids our bodies can’t produce on their own. Whey is also very acid soluble, and therefore, digests at a fast rate so that the amino acids will metabolize into the blood and muscle tissue in around 20 minutes. This makes it an excellent pre or post-workout choice to quickly grow and rebuild muscles.
Another protein derived from milk yet has a much slower digestion rate in comparison to whey, is called casein. Because it breaks down proteins much more slowly than whey, casein protein offers different benefits. For those that don’t participate in strenuous workouts or those that eat their meals spaced far enough apart, casein is the way to go. It’ll protect your muscle mass and taking it before bed is a great way to curb those dangerous late-night cravings .
For those who are vegan or lactose intolerant, soy is a plant-based, nutrient-rich source of protein. It’s a good option if you’re looking for a protein boost without increasing the number of carbs or calories you’re taking in. Also, it offers plenty of vitamins and minerals.
How does processing affect the quality of whey protein powder?
There are two forms of whey: native whey and standard whey. Native whey is derived directly from raw cow’s milk and because it’s not a by-product of making cheese, it’s turned into a higher quality and purer protein powder .
Standard whey, on the other hand, is created during the process of cheesemaking.  It begins as cow’s milk, which contains both whey and casein proteins. Post pasteurization, the milk contains 20% whey and 80% casein. Then, enzymes are added to the mix to separate the whey from the casein and you’re left with solid and liquid particles. Casein is collected for cheese-making, while the liquid particles that contain whey, are sent to further purification.
The liquid whey is filtered through massive machines until the fats and lactose is separated from the solution. Next, it’s dehydrated and turned into a powder. It’s at this stage that the substance is referred to as “whey concentrate.”
In this form, whey concentrate still contains a decent amount of fat and sugar. But, with more processing, it can be stripped of those and turned into whey isolate, a more protein-rich product. However, it has its drawback because whey isolate also loses a lot of the nutrients that naturally occur in whey.
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- Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research. (2021, February 23). Nutrition rules that will fuel your workout. Mayo Clinic. Retrieved December 15, 2022, from https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/nutrition-and-healthy-eating/in-depth/nutrition-rules-that-will-fuel-your-workout/art-20390073#:~:text=Protein%20is%20important%20because%20it,per%20kilogram%20of%20body%20weight
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