If you are a multisport athlete, a triathlete, or even just a health conscious individual you may consider adding some sort of protein supplement to your daily diet. Most people understand the importance of protein but when standing in the aisle at the grocery store they swamped by a plethora of options. So which protein is the best one for you? Most grocers and health food stores carry a broad range of protein supplements from animal based protein to plant based proteins, only further complicated by every flavor you could dream of. Should you get a strawberry flavored whey-based protein supplement or a vanilla flavored soy-based protein supplement? Let me break it down for you.
Protein is essential to our diet and it wasn’t until recently that people have begun to realize the benefits, especially in athletes. Protein is broken down into amino acids. To put it plainly:
Protein/Amino Acids = Protein Synthesis= Greater Recovery and Longer Performance
Although protein is not the first choice of energy it is essential for the body to perform and recover (preventing the loss of lean tissue).
This table compares 9 different proteins using different rating scales. The protein efficiency ratio is not a perfect source because the research was performed on rats and does not perfectly translate to the protein needs of humans or athletes. However, the trends with these numbers does translate to humans. The Biological Value purely measures the protein’s maximal potential quality. What this means is that they look at all nutritional aspects of the protein source which includes the energy value, amino acid concentrations, etc. As you can see, they are higher in animal products because they take into consideration the complete sources of nutrients. The most commonly used rating scale is the Protein Digestibility Corrected Amino Acid Score (PDCAAS). This is the most broadly used method of measurement and the one that should be focused on when looking at this table.
As you can see, Casein, Egg, Milk, Soy, and Whey are all perfect 1’s on the protein scale. However, since we are focusing on protein supplements and not whole foods like milk or eggs, I am only going to cover the three 1’s that are commonly found in supplements.
3 Most Common Protein Types
Whey is the liquid that sits on top of cheese, it is separated and purified to form different concentrations. Whey concentrations such as whey protein powder, protein concentrate, and whey protein isolate. Each type of whey offers something different. For instance whey protein powder is versatile and can be added to baked goods, salad dressings and snacks. These are most times are demineralized, so they are not usually used for athlete supplementation. Whey protein concentrate contains more biologically active components and proteins , thus this is consumed highly by athletes. Lastly whey isolate contains a protein concentration of 90% or higher. Whey isolate is lactose free which can be a great option for some, but keep in mind isolate is most times denatured. Denatured means that by heating or acidity the characteristic compounds of the whey protein are lost. Because of their altered structure and broken bonds the protein is not effective. Whey is such an attractive choice because it is a complete source of protein. Whey protein contains a high concentration of BCAA (branched chain amino acids) which aids in prevention of muscle breakdown.
Casein is a popular complete protein because it forms a gel like clot that slowly releases nutrients into the bloodstream. Since casein has a prolonged absorption rate it is not something that should be used for recovery. With the absorption sometimes lasting for multiple hours, casein protein isn’t what a fatigued and energy depleted multisport athlete should immediately replenish with. Multisport athletes need a protein source that provides instant nutritional benefits.
Soy protein obviously derives from the legume family. Soy protein has been around for many years but not widely used in the United States. It is a great alternative for those looking to avoid animal products, This also like whey has high protein, and a large concentration of BCAA’s. Soy can also be broken down further into flour, concentrate, and isolate. Soy flour is used for baked goods and giving a longer shelf live to processed foods and even some meats. Soy concentrate is made from defatted soybeans, the concentrate is more favorable in taste. Soy Isolate are most refined but like whey contains the highest concentration of protein and are used in health beverages and sports drinks. Other benefits of soy protein is lower incidences in certain cancers and decreased cardiac conditions.
After reading over the research, it was obvious that it came down to Casein or Whey. However, research has shown that whey protein stimulated protein synthesis by 68%, while casein ingestion stimulated protein synthesis by 31%. For this reason, whey protein supplements should be used by multisport athletes immediately following workouts. It is possible that consuming a both casein and whey can have the greatest results for athletes because of the short and long duration of absorption. Consider a whey supplement after a workout and a casein supplement prior to bed or during prolonged periods of time between workouts.
Which Whey Protein Tastes the Best?
Since nutritional value isn’t the only thing a multisport athlete wants in a protein supplement, I went out and searched to find which one tasted the best. Since The Sweethome had already done such a study, I decided to direct you there.
Hoffman, J. R., & Falvo, M. J. (2004). Protein – Which is Best? Journal of Sports Science & Medicine, 3(3), 118–130.