Which Type of Protein Supplement Should You Choose?
I wrote this blog at the request of several of my patients, who were interested in learning more about protein supplements. In short, there are many choices for protein supplementation available; however, in my opinion, whey concentrate is the best option.
One of the reasons I prefer whey protein is that it is one of the most biologically available of the proteins, meaning that it is readily usable by the body. This is in contrast to other forms of supplements; including vegetable-based proteins like pea protein and hemp protein powder, that are less biologically available.
Whey, the clear-ish liquid that remains after milk has curdled and strained, is a byproduct of cheese production and hosts many beneficial proteins. For instance, lactoferrin functions as an antibacterial and helps strengthen the immune strengthening and the proteins alpha lactalbumin and beta lactoglobulin can lower blood pressure.
Whey protein contains branched chain amino acids, i.e., leucine, isoleucine and valine. These amino acids are the building blocks of proteins and regular consumption may have anti-aging properties. Eating whey protein has been shown to improve longevity in certain species, as these proteins fool the body into believing it is restricted in calories, which as I've said many times before, can mean improved longevity. Whey also helps prevent muscle wasting in the elderly, and if taken 30 minutes after a workout, can help build muscle. Studies have suggested that whey protein consumption may help lower the risk of diabetes, cancer and dementia, as well as release hormones from the gut that helps control appetite. Whey protein also helps control cholesterol levels by slowing the production of very low-density lipoproteins (VLDL) in the liver. VLDLs particles convert to LDLs, commonly known as bad cholesterol.
Whey contains only trace amounts of lactose; so, it’s usually not problematic for people who are lactose intolerant. And since casein (the other major constituent in dairy that causes sensitivities in many people) separates during the cheese making process, whey protein contains even less casein than lactose.
What is the difference between whey protein isolate and whey protein concentrate? Concentrate has a little more fat and lactose, but is much less processed. This means that less heat is used to produce it. Less heat means less denatured (damaged) proteins which means better for us. Isolate is pure protein, but more processing is required and therefore more damage to the proteins occurs during that high heat processing.
What about other proteins? My second choice is egg white protein powder. It’s highly bioavailable and complete in terms of all of the right amino acids. Another option would to simply eat eggs. One potential drawback to this form of protein is that some people are allergic to eggs and egg white protein.
I would avoid soy altogether. Soy is processed at high temperatures which oxidizes and damages the proteins and oils and makes them potentially dangerous. In addition, soy contains tryptase inhibitors which block our ability to digest protein and contain high levels of phytic acid, which limit the absorption of certain minerals like zinc, calcium, magnesium, and iron. Protein from grains functions in the same manner.
As for brown rice protein concentrate, it is poorly absorbed and has less biologic availability. Hemp protein is high in fiber, vegetarian friendly and tastes better than many other protein supplements. However, when compared to whey, it is lower in protein and not as complete of a protein source. Lastly, pea is protein tends to not be absorbed efficiently; further, it is lower in protein, expensive, and probably not a great option.
Although supplements are a convenient way to get high quality protein into your diet, you should also consider your food sources of protein. Continue reading to learn more about animal-based and vegetable-based protein.